DistribuTECH Conference & Exhibition in San Diego Sets Records


DistribuTECH Conference & Exhibition did it again in 2013: It solidified its status as the No. 1 smart grid show in North America and set records with more than 9,500 attendees, 440 exhibitors, 14 conference tracks, 77 conference sessions and more than 350 speakers.

Journalist Bob Woodward
Journalist Bob Woodward

The show opened Tuesday, Jan. 29 with a keynote that featured The Washington Post investigative journalist Bob Woodward, who broke the Watergate story with fellow reporter Carl Bernstein. Woodward related some of his experiences with political icons such as Bill and Hillary Clinton, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama.

“Your job is to make energy policy more rational and reasonable and efficient,” Woodward said. “In my business, my job is to figure out what is going on.”

Woodward predicted the second half of Obama’s presidency will be influenced strongly by international events.

“If you try to forecast the next four years, obviously you can’t, but foreign affairs will truly dominate the Obama presidency,” he said, “which is why they need desperately to get their financial house in order.”

Woodward said the most pressing issue is financial reforms and cutting spending—something he said affects everyone in the room.

“If I were to answer the question about what we should worry about the most, I would say we should worry the most about secret government,” he said. “Problems can be solved, but secret government only gets more secret. Nixon tried it, and in the end it did not work. Democracies die in darkness, and secret government will do us in if there is one thing that does us in.”

Woodward said the most important test leaders face is whether they have the strength to make a decision that could hurt them politically but that is still the right move to make for the country.

“There is a failure to identify what is the larger national interest,” Woodward said. “This is really at the core of what political life should be and too often is not.”

Woodward used President Gerald Ford and his pardon of former President Richard Nixon as an example of a decision that made sense only in hindsight.

“So why did Ford pardon Nixon?” he asked. “What really occurred?”

Woodward got his answer by asking Ford personally.

“He said he knew that Nixon was going to be investigated further, tried, maybe sent to jail. There would be three more years of Watergate,” Woodward said. “The country couldn’t take it. Ford said he didn’t do it for Nixon or for himself, but because he thought it was in the greater interest of the country.”

Utility Products Conference & Exposition keynote speaker Gary Norland
Utility Products Conference & Exposition keynote speaker Gary Norland shares what it’s like to survive 12,500 volts.

Other keynote speakers were San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) President and Chief Operating Officer Michael R. Niggli; California Independent System Operator Corp. President and CEO Stephen Berberich; and Assistant Secretary of the Department of Energy (DOE), Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability Patricia Hoffman.

Michael R. Niggli, SDG&E president, COO
Michael R. Niggli, SDG&E president, COO

Niggli spoke about SDG&E’s challenges and opportunities, especially in operating the distribution grid and its increasing amount of rooftop solar.

Stephen Berberich, California Independent System Operator Corp. president, CEO
Stephen Berberich, California Independent System Operator Corp. president, CEO

Berberich’s message was similar. He mentioned the challenges of operating the California transmission grid with increasing amounts of renewable energy. He warned those in the audience who are watching California to prepare themselves for similar challenges.

Hoffman talked about three reports the DOE is releasing on peak demand, operational efficiency at the distribution level and volt/VAR. She said utility projects and the corresponding data, above all else, must be meaningful to customers.

Projects of the Year awards

POWERGRID International magazine Editor in Chief Teresa Hansen announced four winners of the magazine’s annual Projects of the Year awards during the keynote.

Gulf Power Co. won the Energy Efficiency/Demand Response Project of the Year for its Energy Select Program. Based in Pensacola, Fla., the Southern Co. subsidiary initiated the automated dynamic pricing program for residential electricity users to increase efficiency and sustainability while meeting growing demand. The program’s 10,000 participants can automate their home energy usage by programming intelligent devices through a Web portal.

Runner-up was Western Power in Perth, Australia, for its demand response Air Conditioning Trial (ACT). With average summer temperatures of 88 F and sustained maximums above 104 F, residential air conditioner use in Perth has increased from 45 percent of households in 1999 to more than 9 out of 10 in 2012. During 2011 and 2012, Western Power ran its ACT using smart grid technology to target residential air conditioners. Electricity consumption for participating households was reduced by an average of 0.9 kW per participant during trial events, which equates to 33 percent of the average air conditioner load. Four in 5 participants had a positive experience, and more than one-third rated the experience as 10 out of 10.

Duke Energy Corp. won the Grid Integration of Renewables Project of the Year for the Rankin Energy Storage System. In 2010, Duke, S&C Electric Company and FIAMM, a producer of sodium-nickel-chloride batteries, solved a problem Duke was experiencing on distribution circuits with distributed solar generation: Passing clouds were causing solar energy output to fluctuate. FIAMM delivered 12 sodium-nickel-chloride Zebra batteries to S&C Electric Company for assembly and testing, and the system was delivered to Duke in December 2011. Duke installed the system in the Rankin Avenue Retail Substation in Mount Holly, N.C. Since then, the battery control system has been adjusted continuously to develop the most effective way to use storage for solar integration.

Runner-up was Acciona Energy for implementing power management capability with advanced control and energy storage systems. Acciona has developed a plant management system that controls the active and reactive power injected by specially adapted photovoltaic (PV) inverters in combination with a 1-MW lithium-ion battery accumulator system being tested in Acciona Energàƒ­a’s 1.2-MW Montes del Cierzo PV plant in northern Spain. The system allows the control of the plant power fluctuations and restricts them to a predefined variation value.

Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) won the Smart Grid Project of the Year for SmartSacramento, which incorporates grid modernization, customer programs and pilot projects. The program includes more than 20 projects to modernize the grid, reduce costs, increase its electrical system’s efficiency, boost energy savings, improve reliability and introduce customers to better energy-management tools.

Runner-up was Progress Energy Carolinas, now part of Duke Energy, for its Virtual Generation on Grand Scale project. The goal of the project was for Progress Energy to deliver power more efficiently and reliably through advanced technology enhancements to the utility’s existing distribution system. The project was based on creating a virtual generator by using an automated volt/VAR optimization solution to reduce demand during peak power consumption.

NV Energy won the Smart Metering Project of the Year for NVEnergize, which integrates customers with the utility through advanced technologies. The utility has enabled immediate customer benefits by providing customers access to Web-based information about their usage and tools to manage their energy. More than half of NV Energy’s customers have signed up for the MyAccount portal, which includes access to advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) presentment and alerts. NVEnergize saves $35 million annually and eliminates nearly 17 million monthly manual meter reads.

Runner-up was Central Maine Power (CMP) for its AMI project. CMP received the third-largest Smart Grid Investment Grant (SGIG) in the country and proved to be the catalyst to move the project forward. The project involved incorporating state-of-the-art technology, data management, cybersecurity and functionality. CMP is realizing the deployment’s benefits with more than 5 million bills generated using AMI data, more than 70,000 avoided truck rolls and a 95 percent reduction in estimated bill and related calls. Greenhouse gas emissions are expected to be reduced substantially because of improvements in efficiency and increased consumer conservation.

The winning projects and runners-up will be featured in more detail in the April issue of Powergrid International magazine.

educational sessions

DistribuTECH 2013 featured too many sessions to summarize. The following are summaries of two well-attended favorites.

Green Button. The Residential Customer Strategies Track included a panel session called “Green Button is Just the Beginning: New Interoperability Standards From the Feds.”

“Green Button data is only the first data available in smart grid,” said Christopher G. Irwin, smart grid standards and interoperability coordinator for the DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability.

The Green Button launched in California in January 2012 based on a similar data access initiative for veterans called the Blue Button. Whereas the Blue Button gives veterans easy access to their medical records and employment opportunities, the Green Button gives electric utility customers easy access to their usage information. In the initial version called Green Button Download My Data, customers can click the icon on the secure utility website and download an xml file to their computers. Green Button can be used to provide whatever energy usage data a utility has available. Examples include hourly interval data (typically available a day afterward) or monthly data (available for a monthly billing period). As of January, 16 million utility customers have access to the Green Button, Irwin said.

In October, SDG&E launched the second phase: Green Button Connect My Data. The platform is an automated, more advanced level of the initial Green Button data download tool and the next step in the industry-led initiative. It automates third-party access to customers’ data upon customers’ approval.

Brendan Blockowicz, SDG&E’s manager of technology strategy, also presented during the session. He said SDG&E’s next steps for Green Button include developing native apps to provide anytime, anywhere access to usage data to support public relations and energy efficiency; developing a privacy seal program to evaluate third parties and validate and certify customer privacy practices, which Blockowicz likened to an eBay Inc. trusted seller badge; and adding third parties to the 100 that SDG&E currently supports.

“SDG&E sees Green Button Connect as a multipronged approach to meet our customer needs,” he said.

Mark S. Podorsky, senior manager of Edison SmartConnect Business Design at Southern California Edison (SCE), presented, as well. SCE serves some 14 million people in 50,000 square miles in central, coastal and southern California.

“My electric bill is about $18 a month,” Podorsky said.

Granted, he lives near the beach with no air conditioner. He said SCE customers who live in the desert often call because they have $700 electric bills.

“If I was in a call center, you know what I’d say?” he said. “Don’t live in the desert! But they can’t say that.”

If customers don’t want another nuclear generating station or coal plant in their backyards, demand must be lowered, Podorsky said. The Green Button is another tool to solve the business problem, he said.

Customer-facing Technologies. Another panel session was called “Success Stories in Integrating New Customer-facing Technologies.”

“Customer engagement is one of our top priorities,” said Gary Smith, director of customer energy solutions at NV Energy.

After being awarded a $138 million DOE SGIG to research and develop new customer programs and tools via the Nevada Dynamic Pricing Trial, NV Energy hired Vergence Entertainment to develop and run the customer education for its trial of 2,782 participants who tested dynamic rates, programmable thermostats and in-home displays, Smith said.

Vergence developed an interactive game to educate customers anchored by the ASK Platform’s social game technology, Ringorang. The multimedia education program included print, email, text message, interactive voice response, video and website development. The objectives were to deliver educated customers, incentivize participants to stay in the program 22 months, and help them save money on their monthly electric bills. Participants compete against one another in social games through Mac and Windows apps and across iPhone, Android and Blackberry smart phones. Daily game questions are complemented with weekly emails, monthly print pieces and a website. Incentives include gift cards ranging in value from $5 to $15, weekly sweepstakes and four grand prize sweepstakes.

“We have tested this with our customers,” Smith said. “Customers are engaged.”

Results from a customer acceptance test where the entire customer education program was delivered to 25 random households show that 19 households engaged with more than 80 percent of the content delivered. Each participant on average spent more than six minutes each day interacting with the Ringorang app, which does not factor in time spent reviewing emails and print pieces.

Gail Allen, senior manager of customer solutions, smart grid, at Kansas City Power & Light Co. (KCP&L), also shared her utility’s lessons learned.

“We gave away displays the day we gave away meters,” Allen said. “Good news, bad news because the meters didn’t work yet.”

One of KCP&L’s product enrollment tactics was a meter installation postcard.

“My big gotcha on this was direct mail worked,” she said.

Allen wondered whether customers would be more engaged if they had to pay for technologies such as in-home displays.

“Do we start charging for these things or not?” she said.

Panelist Andrew Blaver, implementation manager for Perth Solar City at Western Power in Perth, Australia, offered a solution.

“We would encourage you to have an opt in,” he said.

If customers pay even only for postage, they would have an immediate interest, Blaver said.

“Our approach was very simple,” he said. “A smart meter is just another tool for energy efficiency.”

Susie Derbes, an advanced technologies consultant with APS, the largest investor-owned utility in Arizona, spoke about the utility’s two-year voluntary Home Energy Information Pilot that studied residential demand response and energy efficiency technologies such as smart thermostats, critical-peak pricing, in-home displays, direct load control, a smart app for PCs and smart phones, and prepay. APS partners include General Electric Co., GoodCents Concepts Inc., Navigant Consulting and Elster, she said.


Representatives from six U.S. utilities participate in the mega session
Representatives from six U.S. utilities participate in the mega session, “Priming the Pump: What’s Working and Delivering Value From the Recovery Act.”

Representatives from six U.S. utilities participated in the mega session, “Priming the Pump: What’s Working and Delivering Value From the Recovery Act.” Akhlesh “AK” Kaushiva, who oversaw the DOE’s SGIGs, moderated.

Joseph LoPorto, manager of special projects and distribution automation program manager at Pepco Holdings Inc. (PHI), said his utility is three-quarters of the way finished getting its projects implemented. He said distribution automation will help PHI achieve its smart grid vision, which includes five steps: intelligent devices infrastructure; communications infrastructure; integration; analytics infrastructure; and optimization.

Steve Pigford, distribution design and performance manager at Georgia Power, said his utility’s smart grid project is split into five main categories with a total cost of more than $330 million:

1. Distributed energy efficiency: $66.2 million;
2. DMS/SCADA/fault location: $44.1 million;
3. Distributed automation: $82.5 million;
4. Transmission line automation: $19.8 million; and
5. Smart substations: $117.5 million.
DistribuTECH attendees let loose at the networking reception.
DistribuTECH attendees let loose at the networking reception.

James “Jim” R. Farley Jr., manager of the DA Ohio Project at Duke Energy, said his utility is installing line sensors and upgrading all circuits. The DOE funded part of legacy Duke Energy’s smart grid project.

William “Bill” Menge, smart grid director at KCP&L, said the DOE funded $24 million for smart grid projects, and the total smart grid project value is $54 million. The utility is on a five-year project timeline and has recovered more than $22 million to date, he said.

Walter Bartel, director of intelligent grid deployment at CenterPoint Energy, said his utility embarked on a $640 million smart grid project, $540 million of which was designated for AMS. (CenterPoint refers to AMI as AMS.) The utility already was putting AMS in place, but the SGIG allowed CenterPoint to “knock off a couple of years,” Bartel said.

“When you talk about 2.3 million meters, we’ve got 38 that we’re still trying to get installed,” he said.

“If we had challenges, it was in the beginning,” he said. “We’re just not used to that type of thing.”

Ken Grant, senior managing director at OG&E, said his utility’s program budget was $357.7 million. The SGIG advanced the project from a five- to six-year project to a three-year project and saved customers significant money, he said. OG&E’s AMI deployment is complete with some 823,000 meters installed.

Grant said the advantage of having been awarded an SGIG is adhering to the reporting metrics. Regulators and OG&E employees want to see those metrics, he said.


An exhibit floor demo delights the crowd.
An exhibit floor demo delights the crowd.

  • Landis+Gyr introduced a two-way residential gas metering solution.
  • Smart Utility Systems launched a hosted trading, risk management solution.
  • RouteSmart Technologies presented mobile AMR software at the Esri Theatre.
  • EGauge Systems released a new design in energy-monitoring devices.
  • Rodan Energy Solutions spotlighted its Enershift demand response program.
  • DVI, a Dominion company, showcased EDGE 1.2 with its new capabilities.
  • Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) presented in-booth demonstrations.
  • Silicon Laboratories Inc. showcased its wireless solutions for AMI.
  • Enerliance Inc. released results of a study illustrating the energy-saving and peak-load curtailment potential of its fully automated LOBOS (Load Based Optimization System) software platform.
  • Michael J. Kulesky, EnerSys director of commercial marketing for telecommunications, utility and new technologies, presented “New Solutions for the Large-Scale Energy Storage Market” at the Utility Products Conference & Exposition Presentation Theater.
  • Crave InfoTech announced the availability of Asset Tracking Solution (C-ASTRA) and Field Service Manager (C-FSM) for the utility industry.
  • Belden Inc. demonstrated its substation-hardened industrial Ethernet solutions for power utilities and the substation automation manufacturers who support them.
  • The U.S. Commercial Service, a division of the Department of Commerce, featured a special initiative aimed at providing one-stop, high-level counseling to U.S. smart grid companies that are interested in entering the European market.
  • PennWell and Powergrid International hosted a complimentary African-themed breakfast for exhibitors Jan. 30 in the DistribuTECH booth to announce the launch of DistribuTECH Africa, Oct. 30 through Nov. 1 in Johannesburg.
  • Steve Catanach of City of Fort Collins Utilities won a 2013 Ford Mustang during the DistribuTECH annual floor giveaway.
Steve Catanach of City of Fort Collins Utilities wins a 2013 Ford Mustang.
Steve Catanach of City of Fort Collins Utilities wins a 2013 Ford Mustang.
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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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