Prepare for the New Year in San Diego

Editor in chief TERESA HANSEN

As we enter a new year, much of the economic and policy uncertainty that the electric utility industry experienced in 2010 remains in 2011. The nation’s economy is improving slowly, but in most areas only slightly. As in past years, electric utilities still are waiting for a comprehensive energy policy.

In the midst of the uncertainty, however, utilities seem to be moving forward with smart grid deployments. Some of this development was spurred by the Department of Energy (DOE) through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding. The administration and Energy Secretary Steven Chu have voiced their commitment to developing efficient, sustainable technologies that will help make the country more energy independent. Judging by the content in a recent report by market research firm SBI Energy, the DOE’s commitment is real. According to the report, “The Smart Grid Utility Data Market,” the United States is pacing global investment in smart grid applications and capabilities. The SBI report says for fiscal year 2010, the DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE) Smart Grid research and development budget was $125 million, up from $83 million in fiscal year 2009. The funding request for fiscal year 2011 is up nearly 16 percent to $144 million. In addition, the report says $30 million in funding in fiscal year 2011 is set aside for energy delivery system cybersecurity.

SBI’s report also says the volume of smart grid data that utilities must manage during the next few years will increase dramatically, creating a global data market worth $2.9 billion in 2015. Although much of the smart grid funding worldwide is being spent on smart meters and distribution system hardware, SBI’s report says it is the data that these devices collect and generate that will be “the nervous system and brain of an active and fully capable smart grid.”

For those of you who read this magazine regularly, this is not earth-shattering news. Millions of meters and other devices have been installed by utilities. Data no longer is trickling in; it is pouring in. Sorting, securing and managing this data have become challenges for many utilities.

Challenges and opportunities on data management is one of many important topics we’ll discuss in detail Feb 1-3, 2011, at DistribuTECH in San Diego. Meter data management will be covered in the Advanced Metering track. Data collected by systems on the distribution network will be covered in several tracks, including Smart Grid Software Solutions and SCADA and Network Infrastructure tracks. Data management and security are among the many topics that will be discussed at DistribuTECH. You can find more details in the DistribuTECH Show-in-Print article on Page 34 or by visiting distributech.com. You still have time to register and make plans to attend this annual, must-attend event.

Although many smart grid projects received DOE funding through ARRA, utilities must provide additional funding through rate base increases, private investment or both. Many utility executives, therefore, must justify project costs to regulators and investors. If you’re one of them, you should attend the Electric Light & Power Executive Conference, which also is in San Diego, but two days prior to DistribuTECH on Jan. 30 and 31. This conference is designed for industry executives who are interested in learning from experts and colleagues who attend. This executive conference offers seven panel discussions on cutting-edge topics, two exceptional keynote speakers and several networking opportunities, including dinner at Hotel del Coronado. Visit elpconference.com to learn more. As you begin another year of mammoth challenges and opportunities, it’s important to prepare yourself. There is no better place than these exceptional events. I hope to see you later this month in San Diego.

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