It’s tough to sugarcoat the situation–tough to discern the silver lining around those clouds hanging over the financial districts. These are not the best of times.
The bullish economy we enjoyed throughout the latter half of the ’90s was lassoed and de-horned quite some time ago. The raging bull is now a sluggish old bear, and very few have made it through this transformation unscathed.
Couple the present economic situation with the uncertainty that hangs over the electric power industry as deregulation still tries to make its way, stumbling in fits and starts, across the United States, and it’s easy to agree with the conventional wisdom that says we should all cinch our belts, pull tight the purse strings, lock the company safe and downsize the guy who knows the combination.
If you think about it, though, there’s no reason we shouldn’t have seen the tough times coming. The economy, after all, does follow a cyclical path–ups and downs, crests and troughs. Gravity and the economy both follow the same basic law: What goes up must come down. We were riding the wave’s crest for quite a while, but the folks in Southern California–surfers and power professionals alike–will tell you that the wave can’t crest forever.
So now we’re in the trough. Conventional wisdom says we should sit tight. Put innovation on hold. But is that really the appropriate response?
There’s an old adage that states something to the effect that “During war is the time to prepare for peace, and during peace is the time to prepare for war.” With minor modification, that adage applies well to the highs and lows of the economy. During times of prosperity is when we must prepare for the lean times, and during the lean times is when we should prepare for prosperity.
I’m not sure the transmission and distribution side of the energy industry did a good job of preparing for the lean times, though. The fact that the towers, wires, substation equipment, etc. that make up the power delivery infrastructure have been ignored has been hashed and rehashed ad nauseam. Implementations of technologies, such as substation automation, automatic meter reading and field workforce management systems, were often put on hold. The need for power reliability has been a popular topic of discussion for some time now, but, outside of an occasion or two where a catastrophic collapse of the power delivery system has forced the hand of certain utility companies to make much-need system improvements, it has been just that–a topic of much discussion, not enough action. Not even during the good times.
Now we’re in a lean time, and no one wants to talk about what we should have been doing during the good times. But the current economic lull will turn around (some analysts indicate we’re already on the upward swing). Now is the time to prepare for prosperity–to plan how and where your T&D systems can be bolstered, whether through needed maintenance or the application of automation technologies.
A slew of energy industry conferences and exhibitions are upcoming (PennWell Corporation’s DistribuTECH happens to be one of them). Everyone’s travel budget is tight, but the airlines are competing for your business. Plan a trip to one of the upcoming conferences. Learn about the technologies that can aid the efficiency and reliability of our T&D systems. Prepare for that time, in the not-too-distant future, when the good times come back.