The 3 Most Important Topics at DistribuTECH 2018

I wonder how long it will be before the phrase broken record will lose its meaning because the album no longer has relevance in today’s world?

When thinking about the most important concepts to be discussed during the upcoming DistribuTECH Conference and Exposition this month in San Antonio, Texas, I sound like a broken record. That's because for the past few years the industry has been talking about the importance of quality data as a single source of the truth to power the electrical grid. So while I hate to sound like a broken record, as I think about what people will be buzzing about in Texas on January 23-25, I believe it will be about the importance of data.  

There have been changes in the industry this year around data modeling, which will provide compelling reasons for utilities to seek out exhibitors at the conference. Here are the three focus areas all DistribuTECH attendees should visit.

  1. EPRI (Booth 1550) launched its Utility Consortium on Distribution Network Model Management (NMM) in early 2017. This project contains three parallel research tracks: GIS data cleanup, field enablement, and grid model data management across the enterprise. The most important deliverable out of this EPRI project will be the grid model management tool technical requirements report. The 2011 EPRI consortium on transmission resulted in the 2014 report, which was intended to help utilities understand standards-based, network modeling, help vendors gain an enterprise-wide view of required functionality and potential demand for NMM tools.That report set the strategy for the industry and was key to several projects, including  networking modeling of data at ERCOT. So with some certainty, I can say that the current EPRI consortium will build upon the success in the transmission space and will fuel utilities and vendors to take a giant leap forward on network model management in the distribution space.

  2. Hexagon Safety & Infrastructure (Booth 3019) will be at the conference and feature Michael Baker, one of the industry’s leading experts on data modeling, talking about network model management. Hexagon delivered an early prototype of distribution NMM to Snohomish County Public Utility District (SnoPUD), located north of Seattle, long before the EPRI (transmission) report was completed. SnoPUD has used the Hexagon platform to build out additional validation rules and data export routines to feed their operational systems that need a single source of the truth. Earlier this year, I spoke about the network model management concept and the work that Hexagon specifically has done with SnoPUD during the Pacific Northwest GITA meeting. At DistribuTECH this year, you will hear Mike Baker and me talking about NMM, and how Hexagon is working with EPRI to advance our solution offering as the industry matures in 2018 and beyond.

  3. Many utilities use a combination of Esri’s GIS along with Schneider’s complementary product to jointly manage their utility grid assets. So as ESRI has announced that its moving toward its own utility solution that does not require the Schneider products, there is a lot of concern of the initial product release viability. The change in architecture has been deemed very significant because Esri has proposed moving from geographical methods using points, lines, and polygons to manage the electrical data to a database driven connectivity model. This is similar to what General Electric and Hexagon have been using as the industry standard for nearly two decades. Industry consultants are advising Esri customers that they should be wary, because this is much more than a simple upgrade and will require a data migration into the new data model. Since this is no trivial matter, utilities are using this as a driver to look at competing technologies to determine if they should continue with Esri, move to Hexagon or GE solution, or risk the future of the Esri and Schneider partnership. It is expected that at the conference, there will be many discussions about which vendor can best fit the needs of the 21st century utility with data modeling capabilities.

For the last few years, I have sounded like a broken record talking about the importance of data modeling, but this continues to be one of the hottest topics in the industry. Now that the EPRI project has kicked off plus the work that Hexagon is doing and the uncertainty about the Esri and Schneider relationship, utilities will be diving deeper into these topics as they determine their path forward with network model management.

Until then, I will do my best to educate kids born this millennium about the record.

About Eric J. Charette

Eric J. Charette currently serves as Technical Manager of Business Development for Utilities, Communication and Transportation with Hexagon Safety & Infrastructure in the U.S. He is responsible defining long-term organizational strategic goals and provides technical direction, leading all marketing and presales efforts, maintains relationships with business partners and serves as product manager. Eric previously served as Executive Consultant for outage, mobile workforce and distribution management solutions. Prior to joining Hexagon in 2006, Eric worked for Wisconsin Public Service Corporation as a distribution field engineer where he was responsible for ensuring safety and reliability of the electrical distribution system by providing engineering support for design, construction, operation and maintenance. Later promoted to Senior Outage Management Engineer, he was responsible for all outage management at WPSR, providing technical and strategic expertise and setting policy. He also successfully led the client-side implementation of the corporate OMS project including serving as the system administrator and client lead responsible for change management and end user training. Eric has been recognized as an industry expert in utility operations with several industry publications and presentations. He also serves on the Advisory Committee for the DistribuTECH conference. Eric graduated from Michigan Technological University, in Houghton, Michigan, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering, with an emphasis in Power Systems. Eric is a registered professional engineer in the states of Wisconsin and Alabama.