Day one of DISTRIBUTECH 2019: Facing the future of the US market


The first day of DistribuTECH 2019, at the Ernest. N. Morian convention centre in New Orleans, Lousiana pulled no punches on the realities facing the US energy industry.

The overarching message was one that plainly states the future of the US and global markets – customers are embracing new technologies, and have higher expectations surrounding technology in general. The utility of the future must become partners with their customers, not just suppliers of electricity.

Paul Hinnenkamp, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Entergy, said that with evolving customer expectations, there is a need to shift to providing the products and services customers want and the outcomes they desire.

In fact, this evolution continues to be refined and re-imagined, and utilities’ long-term success is dependent on providing products and services that change the lives of customers. “If this business is going to be disrupted, why don’t we disrupt it ourselves?” Hinnenkamp asked.

Philip Mezey, president and CEO of Itron, said that utility reliability and resilience, together, are the future of the industry. With fuel sources becoming more diverse and challenges to providing clean, reliable and affordable electricity growing, utilities must learn to use data in “new and interesting ways” to gain the insight needed for greatest efficiency and efficacy.

Echoing the message of new challenges, Terence Donnelly, president and chief operating officer of Commonwealth Edison (ComEd), discussed what it really means to be a utility today. As per Donnelly, “We’re not in the utility business anymore.”

Smart cities were under the spotlight for all three thought leaders. The road to modernisation can start with smart thermostats and advanced metering infrastructure, providing access to customer data that can be used to build a more efficient and reliable grid.

Smart cities were a major focus for all three of these industry representatives. The process, it was explained, starts with smart thermostats and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), providing extensive access to customer data that can be analysed to build a more reliable and effective grid.

This was extended to the broader concept of smart cities – where information from a variety of devices and resources will facilitate more efficient utilities, and liveable, environmentally sustainable cities.

Also under the spotlight was ComEd’s Bronzeville microgrid project, the first of its kind in a major metropolitan city in the USA (Chicago). He referred to the project as a living laboratory for smart city technologies that respond to its citizens’ needs.

Other challenges addressed included decarbonisation, diversifying the fuel mix, the growing threat of cybersecurity, and the electrification of transportation in the region.

New Knowledge Hubs jam-packed:

Image credit: Electric Light & Power

New Knowledge Hubs captured the interest in standing-room-only sessions on Day 1, with sessions predicted to be jam-packed in all four hubs over the three days of the show.
Erika Myers, director of research for the Smart Electric Power Alliance, kicked off her session with straight talk on the reality of electric vehicle revolution, with a strong call to action for utilities. “Develop a robust EV strategy,” Myers said. “Know where you want to go and how you want to get there.”
She later added that utilities in many states have a maximum of 10 years to adopt the technology or risk falling far behind the market.

Henry Bailey, chief strategy officer at consulting firm Utegration, stressed Myer’s point, quoting and ERCOT report that envisions 1.6 million electric vehicles on the road by 2031 –approximately 20 percent of total passenger vehicles in Texas today.

For utilities, Bailey noted, “as slow as possible that gets the job done is better.” For larger fast-charging stations, however, it might be a good idea to work with third-parties. “DC fast charging is a tough business to pull off by yourself,” he said.

For the scoop on Day 2, our sister brand, Electric Light and Power bring us the latest.