Smart meters? Check. Smart grid? Check. And now…?
Recently I had the opportunity to moderate an editorial and analyst panel discussion at an executive briefing hosted by Energy Central. The briefing was held in San Diego and featured Marty Rosenberg, Editor-in-Chief of EnergyBiz magazine; Christine, Research Director at the Utility Analytics Institute; and Kathleen Davis, Editor-in-Chief of Intelligent Utility magazine. This was a great opportunity to gather insights from three industry thought leaders, so that’s what we did! The following is a summary of some of the highlights of this interesting session.
With an eye on the macro-issues that are impacting the utility industry, we turned to Marty Rosenberg for his perspectives. With the 2012 elections still a recent memory, Marty commented that within the next week the current Administration will be nominating a new Secretary of Energy. While one can speculate as to who this might be, Marty noted that the President basically has a choice between “doubling down” on his policy choices from his first term or pulling back from those positions, and that given some of the President’s moves in other areas of his administration for the second term, it is a good bet that the decision will fall on the “doubling down” side of the ledger.
Additionally, Marty noted that the fuel mix for the U.S. generation fleet continues to evolve and that while the movement towards natural gas is clear and significant, there is a question as to how quickly utility leaders will move towards natural gas, and as to the wisdom of throwing all (or many) of one’s generation eggs in the natural gas basket. With many state renewable portfolio standards driving a move towards renewable and an existing fuel mix that includes nuclear at the nearly 20% level and coal still above 40% of the generation mix, the jury is still out as to what the generation mix will look like over the horizon.
Kathleen Davis shared some of her insights into what she is seeing and hearing around how utilities are moving forward in this era of an unprecedented intelligent infrastructure build out. Kathleen pointed out that one area where utility executives are concerned pretty much across the board is in the area of cybersecurity. The potential for challenges here range from not only the threat to our country’s critical infrastructure, but also to the challenges of what securing the grid will cost and to the uncertainty of the cybersecurity regulatory picture.
Kathleen made one observation that the audience whole-heartedly agreed with; that is that the smart grid will never end. It is not a project with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Rather, it is more of an evolution and the examples of where this is true pop up on a seemingly daily basis. For instance, many of the applications that leverage data generated from this intelligent infrastructure were not really given a thought as recently as a couple years ago, and as the build out of intelligent devices continues new applications will be realized.
And speaking of data, this brings us to Christine Richards and her observations on how utilities are putting all of that new data to use. Given that many of the briefing attendees were in town for a conference focused on the distribution side of the utility, we asked her to comment on the leading applications that the Institute sees emerging. Christine noted that in terms of managing the grid, conservation voltage regulation is getting traction in the marketplace as the value of this application is being realized in relatively short order. Like the adage goes, “the cheapest megawatt is the one that is never generated.”
A second area of note is around how utility leaders are developing new ways to manage assets more effectively so as to save money, prevent outages, and improve system reliability and power utility. The availability of more granular data for specific asset classes is changing these well-established asset management business processes. One quote of note from the Briefing speaks to this paradigm shift: “Change out the transformer before it blows.”
Energy Central and the Utility Analytics Institute have held a number of these executive briefings over the last seven years, and the result is always great content, outstanding networking opportunities, and hopefully a little fun in the process. Watch from the next executive Briefing again soon, and a big thanks to Marty, Kathleen, and Christine for their spirited participation!