The Big Power Picture is International

Steven Brown, editor in chief

PennWell Corporation, the company that employs me, publishes this magazine and produces the DistribuTECH Conference and Exhibition, will take its T&D show on a long road in 2007 with the launch of a new venture called “PowerGrid Europe” (see the promo on Page 69 and the website at for more detail).

PowerGrid Europe is envisioned as a broad-based transmission and distribution conference and exhibition with a focus on the technological solutions to Euro-specific grid challenges. The format will be similar to PennWell’s other successful conferences, both foreign and domestic, and the show will be co-located with the established Power-Gen Europe show, a generation-side show which attracted 8,000-plus attendees last time out. The inaugural PowerGrid Europe conference and exhibition will take place alongside Power-Gen Europe, June 26-28, in Madrid, Spain. I’ll be reprising my role as DistribuTECH conference program chair for this new European show, working with colleagues from our European office and a select group of international industry experts to amass the conference’s content.

But what, you might ask, does an American utility industry trade journalist know about the European power industry? It’s a question I asked myself, both before and after taking on the responsibility of helping put the show together.

The answer, it turns out, is: quite a lot, actually.

Recently, I parlayed my new “international” job designation into a trip to Paris to cover the biennial Cigré Session (with obligatory side trips to the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower and a failed attempt to find my way to the Pantheon to see Foucault’s Pendulum). It was an eye-opening experience to attend a European transmission conference and see the different ways this show is run compared with the “stateside” shows I’m used to. But what struck me more than the differences were the distinctly familiar discussion topics at Cigré. The politics are obviously different in Europe, as are the voltages (a fact proved with finality by one of my fellow traveler’s hair dryers), so surely the big issues facing European and other international utilities would be foreign to me, I thought.

Not so. The first panel session I attended at Cigré was focused on mitigating the effects of large-scale outages, the kinds caused by hurricanes, heat waves and errant tree branches. Another panel convened to discuss the perfect storm of aging infrastructure and aging engineering personnel-something I had assumed was a problem peculiar to us Yankees. One of the main topics of discussion in the Cigré exhibit hall was compliance with the IEC 61850 substation communications protocol.

Power reliability, workforce issues, aging infrastructure, communications protocols: I didn’t need to fly nine hours to hear about these! But the unique perspectives of a diverse, and heretofore foreign to me, group of international presenters was well worth the time and money spent. The solutions may differ from country to country, but the big issues facing the power industry are fairly common, no matter where you hang your hardhat.

I left Paris well-fed and energized, ready to pour myself into the work of PowerGrid Europe. If you have an interest in international utility issues I hope you’ll attend and help me spread the word.

And, if you would like to contribute a paper or panel session to the PowerGrid Europe Conference, I welcome your input as well. You can submit an abstract online at Feel free to drop me an e-mail at if you need more information. The Call for Papers deadline is Nov. 3.

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