Live From DistribuTECH: Keynote session marks 20th anniversary of DistribuTECH

By Jeff Postelwait
Online Editor

Tampa, Fla., March 23, 2010 — Attendees and delegates at DisribuTECH 2010 gained valuable insights into the future of the power transmission and distribution industry at the event’s keynote addresses.

Katherine Hamilton, president of the GridWise Alliance, and Gordon Gillette, president of the Tampa Electric Co., were the session’s industry speakers. Also delivering a decidedly non-industry take was Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist Dave Barry.

The addresses were given today at the Tampa Marriot Waterside Hotel Ballroom in Tampa, Fla., host city for DistribuTECH 2010.

DistribuTECH Conference Program Chair and Editor in Chief of POWERGRID International magazine Teresa Hansen briefly addressed the state of the utility industry before introducing the main speakers.

With regulatory uncertainty, a global economic slowdown, halted or canceled projects and the lack of a comprehensive energy policy, 2009 was a challenging year for the industry, Hansen said.

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

Gillette took the stage to ask the audience whether they, as representatives of the utility industry, considered themselves to be innovators or merely implementers of the latest electricity technologies.

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

To decide what technologies to move forward with and (equally importantly) when to move forward, the utility industry cannot rely on its own judgment alone, he said.

The other players in the energy sector, from manufacturers and researchers to consultants and technology companies, each play their own part in the energy technology development process, he said.

Gillette gave the delegates a set of questions to ask themselves before making a decision on which technology to implement.

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

Next, Hamilton told her audience that the industry must change the entire culture around how people use electricity, using 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,” Hamilton 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, she said, adding that the smart grid itself is not the end goal, but rather the means to an end.

“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 the list of utility industry players. People have different levels of understanding of the technology, and many are used to the utility never reaching into their lives any further than the electric meter outside their homes.

“It doesn’t stop at the meter. 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,” she said. “People need to feel like they can make decisions and have control.”

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

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


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