DistribuTECH: Changes Coming to the Utility Industry
First, I haven't seen this many transformers in one place since the last tornado blew through our town.
DistributTECH, produced by Pennwell, is a conference and exhibition for all things in the utility industry. Hardware, software and services were on display. While the exhibit floor has its fair share of meters, switches and other sundry hardware, the theme most consistent throughout was interoperability. For power companies that have solutions for outage management, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), commodity pricing or emergency response, there is now a need to better integrate technology solutions so more data can be accessed and analyzed. While line engineers need better mobile solutions, C-level executives need to see real-time data; they want to visualize it, understand the status on the ground and make decisions based on reliable feedback from sensors as well as the public.
A dose of reality from one keynote speaker set the stage for many discussions at the event. Stephen Berberich, president and CEO of California Independent Systems Operator (ISO), the state's wholesale electric grid provider, has a mandate to maintain reliability at the lowest possible cost. Berberich said the utility industry will change in fundamental ways that he sees in California and which he believes will be seen throughout the country.
The heart of the change is renewable energy sources and economics. California ISO has a mandate to have renewable energy contribute 33% of all energy needs by 2020. With the drive for more renewables and incentives to move in that direction, the result is an increase in the cost of other energy sources because demand will be less on the non-renewables. This, in turn is likely to drive up labor costs. Berberich said that many in his neighborhood are already utilizing solar panels. With more people putting up solar arrays, they leave the grid. Consequently, as solar usage grows, power companies are losing customers. If customers leave the grid; the business model for utilities will have change radically to survive.
But while Berbrich sees the industry evolving, some of it dictated by national policy. ,He feels that there are no greater minds than those who run utilities to face the challenge and support this change.