DistribuTECH Sparkles in Tampa

DistribuTECH Conference & Exhibition 2010 brought the smart grid’s best to the Tampa (Fla.) Convention Center from March 23-25.

Tampa’s show topped 2009’s record attendance of 5,800 in San Diego by nearly a thousand. More than 6,600 attendees wandered through the convention center during four days of packed conference sessions and 340 exhibit floor booths.

From instructional Utility University courses to experts delivering the latest industry details, from hands-on exhibits to celebrity sightings, DistribuTECH 2010 offered it all.


Opening Keynote


Attendees and delegates gained power transmission and distribution insights plus many laughs during keynote addresses March 23 at the Tampa Marriot Waterside Hotel Ballroom.

Teresa Hansen, DistribuTECH conference chairwoman and POWERGRID International editor in chief, addressed the state of the industry before introducing the speakers.

Having brought regulatory uncertainty, a global economic slowdown, halted or canceled projects and no comprehensive energy policy, 2009 challenged the industry, Hansen said.

“Even though last year was difficult, this next year may be up,” she said, referring to announcements of federal support for utility programs, including millions of dollars for smart grid initiatives.

GridWise Alliance President Katherine Hamilton and Tampa Electric Co. President Gordon Gillette addressed industry topics.

Gillette asked whether utility industry representatives in the audience consider themselves innovators or merely implementers of the latest electricity technologies.

“Most utility companies, at the end of the day, are implementers,” Gillette said. “We wait and see what the government and the regulators are going to do, and then we implement.”

To decide what technologies to move forward and when, the industry cannot rely on its judgment alone, he said.

Other energy sector players, from manufacturers and researchers to consultants and technology companies, play their own parts in energy technology development, he said.

Gillette gave delegates questions to ask themselves before deciding which technologies to implement.

“The question of what is the right stage to jump in is a very challenging question, and maybe the biggest question,” he said. “If you jump in too early, you might not get the benefits that you really need.”

Hamilton said that the industry must change the entire culture around electricity usage, giving garbage as an example.

The Don’t Mess With Texas campaign, before it became a well-known state motto, began as an anti-litter campaign, Hamilton said.

“It was about litter, and it changed our attitude; it changed our culture towards garbage,” she said. “We have to do the same thing for electricity, and smart grid is leading the way.”

The industry is still learning how to think about the smart grid. The smart grid is not the end goal, but rather the means to an end, she said.

“It tells us where we are going to be, so we need to let people know what the benefits of the smart grid are—particularly the customer,” she said.

Customers, she said, are the great unknown in utility industry players. People have different levels of understanding the technology, and many are used to utilities’never reaching into their lives further than the electric meters outside their homes.

“It doesn’t stop at the meter,” Hamilton said. “It goes into people’s homes. That’s their stuff, their personal space that they’ve spent time and money getting set up the way they like it. People need to feel like they can make decisions and have control.”

Utilities are suited to introducing people into a new kind of technology that will change how energy is used, she said.

“Every time something new comes along for utilities, you guys are far more creative than people give you credit for,” she said.

Anchoring the keynote and despite knowing little about the utility industry, Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist Dave Barry kept the audience laughing with his stories, including how to embarrass your children.


On to the Sessions


Beginning in the afternoon of March 23, attendees could hear experts deliver papers and discuss topics from customer service to aging infrastructure to the smart grid.

“How Your Customers Will Be Operating Your Grid” opened the sessions.

“Society has an insatiable thirst for energy and technology,” said Terry G. Tyler, executive vice president, CTO and CIO of Enmax Corp., during this Customer Service and CIS track session.

As a result, companies from many industries are fighting over customers from different perspectives, he said. He listed security service, appliance service and other service providers as examples. Customers are unsure about the smart grid, and utilities will encounter multiple competitors with deeper reach and pockets than their own, he said.

The business model will evolve; the consumer value model will transform; a new energy consumer will emerge; customer segmentation will be done differently; and utilities will transform the processes and technologies, said Michael Valocchi, global leader of Global Business Services, Energy and Utilities Industry at IBM.

“Customers will have much more reciprocal value to return to energy, product and service providers,” Valocchi said. “Having this new information will enable utilities and consumers to make smarter, more responsible choices.

“Utilities will need to provide consumers with tools to proactively analyze and manage their energy usage. To accomplish this, utilities will need to update and integrate customer systems to support the technology evolution and new business requirements.”

During March 24’s SCADA and Network Management session “Securing the Smart Grid,” George Kalavantis of Industrial Defender referenced the infamous words of former President Bill Clinton when answering: Is the smart grid really smart?

“I guess it depends what your definition of “Ëœis’ is,” Kalavantis said.

The current grid is reactive, and the smart grid is reactive and proactive, he said. He used another Clinton phrase in answering the question a second time.

“It’s about the information, stupid,” Kalavantis said.

We must do three things now, he said: defense in depth, sustainable security and compliance preparedness. The threats are there, so budget as much security as possible. Then, there’s one more thing.

“Collect and save everything,” he said. “The auditor cometh.”

Any entity that owns, operates, or uses any of the bulk power system must comply with NERC reliability standards, said Dave Andrus of R. W. Beck.

That compliance process involves active self-certification; periodic reporting of compliance data and statistics; exception reporting of disturbances; and self-reporting of any noncompliance with NERC standards, policies or procedures, he said.

Andrus said that a mock audit emulates a detail-oriented, content-knowledgeable auditor who would look at and understand all details of the evidence provided.

Ronald Halbgewachs of Sandia National Laboratories Information Systems Analysis Center discussed the Lemnos Interoperable Security Project.

The challenge is to provide the research, design and development of advanced functionality and proof-of-concept, prototype control system security devices directed toward open and interoperable security architectures, Halbgewachs said.

The goal is to deploy next-generation control systems with cost-effective security solutions for new architecture designs and communication methods with minimum host impact by fiscal year 2013, he said.

Also March 24, DistribuTECH offered its first live webcast, “The GridRouter Enabling the Communications for the Smart Grid.” Participants discussed SmartSynch’s new product to a packed, onsite room, as well as hundreds offsite via the Internet.

Ravi Raju, vice president of marketing and product management at SmartSynch, discussed smart grid challenges: proprietary technology.

“There’s a multitude of technology that is heterogeneous in nature, creating a risk of obsolescence,” Raju said.

Utilities want a single, unified smart grid infrastructure. They want to minimize training costs, and they want to mitigate that risk of obsolescence, he said.

Raju discussed how the company’s GridRouter product addresses those utility desires. It has an open platform and architecture, leverages an IT ecosystem, supports the creation of microgrids, configures functionality and has a robust security platform, he said.




Despite all its education options, DistribuTECH is not all learning and no play. DistribuTECH has become renowned for networking. In 2007, DistribuTECH threw the best Super Bowl party in the city. In 2008, record numbers attended the Gasparilla Pirate Parrrrty, and in 2009, people packed San Diego’s Hard Rock Hotel for the Rock “ËœN’ Roll Networking Reception. In 2010, DistribuTECH celebrated its 20th Anniversary Networking Reception on March 24 with food, drinks, live music and fireworks.

For those who wanted to mix networking and learning, DistribuTECH offered breakfast roundtables and a breakfast keynote. The roundtable discussions provided opportunities to network with peers and meet industry experts while taking in a hearty meal. Leading professionals in each field moderated roundtables with specific industry topics.

DistribuTECH offered a March 25 breakfast keynote, “The Evolving Smart Grid Vendor Landscape: Key Trends and Implications for Utilities.” Financial professionals and industry leaders discussed how smart grid development and new technologies could create a large market that is attracting companies from small start-ups to large established ones. Many of these technology companies are considering mergers and acquisitions to become large and competitive enough to win utility contracts for smart grid projects. The private investment community remains a good capital source for these technology companies, and it will drive the smart grid momentum, panelists said.

They also commented on the number of vendors with which utilities now do business. Previously, only a few existed in each sector, such as metering, distribution automation and demand response, but now there are many. In addition, large companies from other industries—Google, Microsoft and Cisco—are entering the smart grid sector. Utilities are neither accustomed to so many vendor and technology choices, nor are they used to working with start-ups, which are becoming common in the smart grid sector, panelists said. Changes in the vendor landscape mean more choices, opportunities and risk for investors entering the smart grid market, as well as utilities, they said.


From the Floor


Besides conference sessions and networking opportunities, DistribuTECH attendees could visit more than 340 exhibitors. From software to hardware, from A to ZigBee, just about every T&D product or service was represented. The conference offered information to delegates, and the show floor offered even more.

The Z-Wave Alliance, an open consortium of global companies dedicated to enhancing home area network (HAN) energy management and home control products based on Z-Wave wireless technology, showcased home energy management solutions from its members.

Tendril announced its next-generation, in-home display. The Tendril Vision device allows people to link directly with their utilities to get meaningful, real-time information about their energy use and cost.

Control4 introduced its Advantage software, which will power the company’s Control4 Energy Management System 100 (EMS 100). Control4 Advantage analyzes residential usage data to help utilities optimize load management.

The Enterprise Mobility Solutions division of Motorola Inc. launched the newest addition to its mobile computing portfolio, the MC75A worldwide 3.5G Enterprise Digital Assistant (EDA).

S&C and Oracle revealed a new partnership to develop and promote advanced distribution management systems for the smart grid. The integration is designed to achieve complete interoperability between Oracle Utilities Network Management System and S&C’s IntelliTEAM SG Automatic Restoration System.

Itron Inc. and SmartSynch announced the commercial availability of IP-enabled public wireless communications as part of Itron’s OpenWay smart grid platform. The collaboration allows the companies to fully integrate—under the glass of OpenWay CENTRON smart meters—SmartSynch’s public wireless communications module.

Aclara demonstrated an HAN based on Wi-Fi technology. The solution was developed in conjunction with Intwine Connect, a technology company specializing in Internet-based connectivity solutions.

Sixnet announced the new Sixnet IndustrialPro wireless gateways and routers, displaying these new products and other industrial connectivity solutions designed for power and energy customers at their booth.

ABB introduced a new distribution class three-phase overhead, gang-operated medium voltage switch for emerging smart grid systems.

Calico Energy Services and Invaluable Technologies discussed their merger that combines Calico’s managed energy storage solutions with Invaluable Technologies’ demand side management solutions. The combined company will operate as Calico Energy Services.

General Dynamics Itronix launched the GDAssure program that certifies customer computer systems prior to installation.

GarrettCom talked about its expanded security offerings for substations.

Comverge and Sensus revealed a strategic alliance to support current and future utility energy management and conservation programs, focusing on integrating Comverge’s Apollo across the Sensus FlexNet AMI communications network.

With such a range of conference sessions, exposition and networking opportunities and the chance to win a Camaro, DistribuTECH 2010 brightened Tampa.

Next year, DistribuTECH returns Feb. 1-3, 2011, to San Diego.


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