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While the focus of Distributech is the distribution component of utilities, the discussions spanned the “Smart Grid” gamut. Demand response, advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), distribution management systems, clean energy production, and securing the grid were some of the highlights of the opening keynote presentations.

It’s no secret there is demand on the grid like never before. The last 10 years have provided technological advancements that are putting the need for demand response and distribution management solutions at the forefront. As Patricia Hoffman, Assistant Secretary, Department of Energy pointed out, these are enabling technologies that will help us manage the demand, but has also allowed a whole new set of challenges to creep in, particularly cyber security. Grid modernization will help us balance the load while control rooms are starting to look more like data centers and substations components are adding IP addressable endpoints.

In usual fashion the keynote presentations stayed at a high level talking about broad challenges across the industry. Renewable energy for example is seen by most as the way to go, but there are obvious limitations; if the sun isn’t shining, your solar array is worthless. Hoffman discussed the “utilities of the future”. He recognized that all these smart devices that are being deployed are providing something that was never available before: performance analytics. While control rooms morph into data centers they will provide an abundance of information upon which utilities will be able to make sound business decisions, and provide evidence of why the rate base will need to be increased. As Bob Woodward mentioned in his closing remarks (which was a fantastic presentation by the way) “You don’t know what you don’t know, and what you don’t know could be the most important.”

As these changes occur over the next decade it will be interesting to watch how various utilities react. Who is leading and who is following? And most important, which of these are actually the most beneficial to the customers.