DISTRIBUTECH 2019 speaker insights


Smart Energy International connected with some of the speakers at DTECH 2019 and asked them to share their thoughts on regulatory changes in the US, along with opportunities for utilities and the role of disruptive technology.

Patty Durand, President & CEO, Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC)

What is the biggest opportunity for US based utilities?

With all of the disruption in the energy industry today, there’s a huge opportunity for electric utilities to redefine their relationships with residential customers.

Most US consumers – and especially millennials, who will soon be the single largest generation – are generally satisfied with their electric utilities, but today’s consumers are also looking for more; they’re looking for personalised information, digital programmes and services and, of course, new ways to save money and energy. With smart meters and other smart grid technologies now in place in over half of US homes, electric utilities today have an unprecedented opportunity to design programmes and services that fully engage consumers and meet the needs and wants of today’s diverse segments of consumers.

Mike Beehler, Vice President, Burns & McDonnell

What regulation has particularly impacted your job function recently?

The recent approval by the public utility commission of Ohio to allow parts of AEP’s smart city support of Columbus, OH into the AEP Ohio rate base has far reaching ramifications. With this mainstream America precedent, mayors and city managers across America can count on their local electric utility to support smart city initiatives like innovation neighbourhoods to enhance the positive economic development of communities, cities and regions.

What is the biggest opportunity for US based utilities?

As we modernise the grid to prepare for greater opportunities in electrification in mobility, space and water conditioning and with renewable sources of generation, smarter communities and cities are the natural outcome. Smart cities improve operational efficiencies, provide a solid return on investment and give customers sustainable options for a cleaner, healthier and more prosperous future.

How is the influence of product/service diversification and disruption influencing your business strategy?

A solid business strategy would include positioning for multiple business scenarios built around technology, the economy and shifting customer expectations. Wise leadership positions for many options and succeeds with just a few. These options are tested in an innovation neighbourhood where four primary questions must be addressed: (1) Does the technology work, (2) does it work at scale, (3) what is the return on investment and (4) does the customer care?

Knowing the answers to these questions allows a utility to be influential and not be disrupted by the product and service diversification of others.

Elizaveta Malashenko, Director, Safety and Enforcement Division, California Public Utilities Commission

What regulation has particularly impacted your job function recently?

This year, the legislation that particularly impacted my job function is the passage of California Senate Bill (SB) 901 (Dodd). It is a wide-ranging bill that seeks to strengthen disaster preparedness and establish policies to respond to the increasing wildfire danger. SB 901 has numerous provisions that require implementation by several state agencies and also directs California’s electric investor owned utilities to implement specific measures to mitigate the risks of wildfires.

What is the biggest opportunity for US utilities?

Utilities are facing a dual challenge of aging assets and increasing occurrence of extreme weather events.

It is essential that utilities figure out how to ensure that their assets don’t fail in a way that results in disasters, such as devastating pipeline ruptures and wildfires. Using technology to support operational risk assessment, detect issues and facilitate timely response provides a great opportunity for utilities to get ahead of these challenges.

How is the influence of product/service diversification and disruption influencing your business?

As a regulator, I’m looking at how advanced technologies can help improve safety. In particular, I’m interested in automation of compliance and using advanced technologies for identification of potential safety issues.

There are a lot of interesting possibilities related to using advanced imaging, unmanned aerial vehicles, analytics and machine learning to transform how utilities manage their assets and regulators perform safety assurance and compliance functions.

This article was originally published in Smart Energy International 1-2019

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