9 Observations for DistribuTECH 2015

Each summer, the members of the DistribuTECH advisory committee begin the process of reviewing abstracts in an effort to build the agenda for the conference. We are privileged to read about many outstanding utility projects and be privy first-hand to the innovative ideas that are helping to shape the future of the industry. Then as the agenda begins to take shape in the fall, the excitement grows as the presenters accept their invitations to speak and begin to develop their presentations.

Now as the calendar turns to the new year and the conference program has been finalized, here are my top nine observations from the agenda of the 25th annual DistribuTECH conference in San Diego from a distribution operations perspective.

  1. Importance of data to drive the smart grid
  2. Criticality of damage assessment to successful utility outage management
  3. Increasing impact of weather related events to the distribution system
  4. Significance of spatial analysis on reliability
  5. How smart meters make the grid smarter than any other investment
  6. Value of providing timely and relevant information to customers during outages
  7. Role of mobile solutions continues to develop
  8. Advanced Distribution Management (ADMS) having better value in theory than practice
  9. Emergency response and utility restoration planning remains vital

Here are the sessions that I am looking forward to attending each day along with some comments.

Tuesday February 3, 2015

Webcast - The Integrated Operating Model: Creating an Advanced Outage Management Environment to Control the Grid
11:30 a.m. - 12:30 a.m.

The webcast program from Pennwell enables people who can't attend the conference to sample the type of top notch presentations that are part of the program. In previous years, presenters have included Mark Carpenter, senior vice president at Oncor speaking on smart meter integration with outage management and Paul Lau, assistant general manager at SMUD, speaking about the Smart Sacramento effort. This year Amy Hime, senior manager of engineering and asset systems, will discuss the journey taken at Enersource to move from traditional methods, to an advanced outage management system to manage the distribution grid.

Business Side Lessons Learned
Track: Smart Distribution Management
1:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.

There has been a lot of discussion at utilities recently about how Advanced Distribution Management Systems (ADMS) may have better value in theory than practice. I am eager to hear from the presenters at Alabama Power and Madison Gas & Electric (MG&E), both of which use the same ADMS software solution, discuss the actual value of the solutions they have implemented.

Strategies for Improving Distribution Resiliency
Track: Smart Grid Operations Solutions
1:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.

Storms may not actually be more severe than in previous years, but our sensitivity to outages has increased tenfold and the impact on the distribution system threatens our daily life. In this session, EPRI will share research they conducted in 2014, surveying several dozen utilities on storm restoration practices.

Advanced Technologies to Transform and Innovate Distribution Operations
Track: Smart Grid Operations Solutions
3:00 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.

This session will compliment the "Business Side Lessons Learned" session and feature Austin Energy discussing the theoretical vs. practical benefits of an ADMS. It will be interesting to hear their perspective as they use a different vendor solution than Alabama Power and MG&E. This session is then anchored by two more utility speakers from Oklahoma Gas & Electric and then CenterPoint Energy talking about transforming utility operations using technology, making this one of the best sessions of the conference.

Geospatial Analysis Case Studies
Track: Geospatial and Mobile Solutions
3:00 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.

My first observation about the conference was the continued realization by utilities on the importance of data to drive the smart grid. This session will feature a vendor presentation on the reverse: how data from the outage and distribution management systems can help to improve the GIS data quality through automated processing. This practice will help to provide feedback to the source data system in GIS based on the "as-connected" grid, which in turn can then provide better input to the other systems dependant upon quality data. I am very interested to hear how this has been accomplished, either in theory or in application.

Track: Smart Distribution Management
3:00 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.

There have been some prominent players in the industry who have noted that their investment in smart meters have provided better value and made the grid "smarter" than any other hardware or software expenditure. The integration of AMI into operational systems, such as outage management, has produced tangible benefits in both reduced outage durations and better customer service. Presenters from Duke Energy will discuss the value of integration smart meter information with volt-var control applications.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Outage Management, Response and Restoration
Breakfast Roundtables
7:30 a.m. – 9:00 a.m.

Wednesday morning will start off with some pointed discussions around OMS, GIS, ADMS and smart grid. The breakfast topic on outage management has my interest as it will focus on planning, response, restoration and communications; four key aspects of the outage management process. Having previously managed restoration process efforts while at Wisconsin Public Service, I am always excited to hear how utilities prepare for storms and about the latest in restoration strategies.

Improving Reliability and Customer Expectations Through Data Analytics
Track: Big Data and Analytics
9:30 a.m. - 11:00 a.m.

This past year I have spent a considerable amount of time developing thought leadership material around the topic of estimated restoration time (ERT). Specifically, I have been focusing on how ERT actually is comprised of an estimate based on historical information, then a projected restoration time determined once the outage is assigned to a crew and workload and drive time are known, to a verified restoration time once the crews arrive on site to a final restoration time at closure to provide more accurate historical information at the onset of the outage. Most of this information is already known to most outage management systems and, through standard algorithms, can be calculated and communicated to customers when values change. I am interested to hear the presentation from Gulf Power on the statistical analysis of ERT values, as I see this as less of a statistics calculation and more of a process and communications venture; but maybe there is room for improvement in both areas.

Mega Session: Damage Assessment and Mother Nature's Fury
2:30pm - 4:00pm

Having been heavily involved with outage and large storm management for the last 16 years as a utility engineer and now consultant, this topic remains very dear to my heart. Most recently I have been responsible for developing the vision for a software solution to meet the needs of the industry for damage assessment. That means two years of research gathering, meeting with utilities, crafting thought leadership and investigating technology platforms that can help automate the damage assessment process. I am very eager to hear the perspective of other experts in the field during this session on Wednesday afternoon.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Smarter Outage Management Using Advanced Distribution System Tools
Track: Smart Grid Operations Solutions
8:30 a.m. - 10:00 a.m.

Some utilities have determined that the desired approach to new operational systems is to select the best of breed and then integrate the solutions together using standard protocols. This is much different than the single vendor solution approach of a few years ago when grant money was made available to utilities as part of the government's ARRA program. Now utilities are indicating that they would rather have the best outage management system, the best SCADA system and the best distribution management system, as opposed to selecting a solution that can do all three things, but not flourish in any one area. The IT fears of this approach have been mitigated by how easy standards, such as CIM and MultiSpeak, have made it to integrate the solutions. Utilities such as Detroit Edition (DTE) and Duke Energy and others are operating both an OMS and a DMS system successfully. The presentation from Baltimore Gas & Electric will be interesting to hear as they are part of Exelon Corporation, as is Philadelphia Electric (PECO), which successfully operates both an OMS and a DMS from two separate vendors.

Mining and Refining Data Models to Derive Critical Operational Decisions
Track: Smart Distribution Management
8:30 a.m. - 10:00 a.m.

Smart grid solutions are rendered useless without accurate data. Processes also need to be in place to make sure that the data continues to stay current to drive the decision support ability of operational solutions. This will be a great session as three tier-one utilities, CenterPoint Energy, Duke Energy and Oncor Electric Delivery all discuss their processes for ensuring the quality of the data that feeds into their OMS/DMS systems and how they address the challenges of the addressing the the dynamic nature of the model.

Connecting, Communicating and Enabling Customers in an Evolving World
Track: Customer Strategies and Technologies
8:30 a.m. - 10:00 a.m.

As a panel discussion, this group of utility and vendor experts will discuss best practices for interacting with customers. Utilities are taking action to improve customer satisfaction through proper and timely communications during storms. I am interested in hearing the strategies for outage communications, both at a subscription level for unplanned outages to a wide area broadcast of outage information through social media.

Keeping the Lights On: Leveraging AMI Technology and Data to Improve Outage Response and Reliability
Track: Advanced Metering
10:30am - 12:00pm

With the underwhelming benefits of advanced distribution management systems, most utilities are indicating that the true value of smart grid investments have been with AMI integration to outage management systems. Being able to validate outages at the time of creation, verify power at time of restoration and leverage restoration messages to close outages are tangible, real-world benefits being realized by smart meter to outage management integration. The session on Thursday highlights three utility case studies where smart meters have been used to improve outage reliability and quicken outage response.

Using Spatial Data in the Field
Track: Geospatial and Mobile Solutions
10:30 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.

Having served on the DistribuTECH Advisory Committee for the last two years, I have also acted as moderator for sessions at the conference. I am very proud of this session and the three presentations on Geospatial and Mobile Solutions as they were selected from my specific committee and I will be the moderator. This session will examine case studies from utilities that have realized the importance of leveraging spatial data in the field to improve operations.

Visioning and Planning for DMS Implementation
Track: Smart Distribution Management
10:30 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.

This track reiterates the importance of data to drive the smart grid and will be a topic that the panel will discuss. I am interested in hearing their perspective on how a grid can be smart without (m)any intelligent devices in the field, of which can be controlled through ADMS solutions with automated processing. I am also interested in the non-operational side of DMS implementations, including the change management processes and how the multi-million dollar projects are justified with successful business cases.

As you can see, this year's conference features a great deal of useful information. I hope to see you there.

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.