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A Glimpse of the Future: Day 2

By Luka Papalko

COLUMBUS, OHIO (April 19, 2017) - Another day is in the books for the PUCO’s PowerForward: A Glimpse of the Future. Addressing the audience to kick off day two, PUCO Chairman Asim Z. Haque previewed the lineup by saying it was going to be “more grid centric,” and it did not disappoint.

First up was Jeff Taft, Chief Architect of Electric Grid Transformation at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, who focused on the question: why do we need to modernize the grid? Succinctly, he said, “There’s a growing gap of the grid we inherited, changing consumer needs and expectations, along with new technology and information. The grid was designed for different purpose then what we have now.”

Today’s first panel “Innovation for the Grid” included Ty Roberts, Director of Electricity Product Marketing at Itron, Inc.; Brian Bowen, Regulatory Affairs Manager at FirstFuel Software; and Pablo Barrague, Market Development Manager at AES Energy Storage.

Roberts lead off the panel, focusing on smart meter data referencing, “distributive intelligence”; which is, extracting value from unused data. 

He explained that a typical smart meter is able to take 1.3 million measurements per day and stated that “most utilities only collect 24 of those 1.3 million measurements.” He continued, “Our vision is to harness this capability and data these devices have today and create applications that can be used locally.”

Bowen was next with a look at how software can help personalize an energy experience, in particular for commercial and industrial customers. “Personalization is one of the keys to the future of energy,” he said. “To build a consumer friendly smart grid, energy data needs to be accessible to be used by humans, not just machines,” said Bowen. 

He further stated that utilities need to give consumers information to act on and incentives to inspire action. “The goal is a better and more informed consumer about the array of energy options they have today.”

Finally, Barrague wrapped up the first panel by speaking on one of the missing links of this transformation: energy storage. “We see this as unlocking the potential of the electric system,” he said. “This [energy storage] unbundles supply and demand, making it easier to manage.” He indicated with energy storage now being cost effective, it provides benefits across the network.

After a break for lunch and the weekly Commission meeting, the afternoon session began with a second panel discussing “Innovation for the Grid.” This first panel of the afternoon included, Don Wingate, Vice President Sales of Utility Solutions at Schneider Electric and John McDonald, Smart Grid Business Development Leader at GE Grid Solutions.

Sounding as though he were reading straight from the PUCO mission statement, Wingate started his presentation by mentioning the need to provide safe and reliable electric service. He focused on emerging trends worldwide and how consumption and technology are changing the energy world. “With the growing demand of electric service, twice as fast as in the past, as well as connected devices,” he stated “it leads us to opportunities to be more efficient with what we do.” He later added that, “technology is really going to drive change in the industry.”

McDonald circled back to a common theme from the day: what do we do with the data that we have? He suggests that “technology is changing energy, and changing it quickly, but the need for a foundation should not be overlooked. We need a strong grid before a smart grid,” he said. “Let’s make sure our foundation is sound before adding applications to smart grid.” 

McDonald summed things up with an analogy about challenges regulators are currently facing. “Success of a smart grid is like a three-legged stool: all three legs are important. If one is missing, everything falls down.” 

He continued, “Technology, industry standards and policy are the three legs. Without one, it’s hard to have success. All are needed to build a strong foundation of a smart grid.”

Next up were two panelists from academia, Ken Loparo, Nord Professor and Chair, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Case Western Reserve University, and Ramteen Sioshansi, Associate Professor Department of Integrated Systems Engineering at The Ohio State University.

Loparo focused his presentation on the distribution network and the advancements that can be made. “Where things are headed, I think the vision is a smart and energy connected ecosystem.” Detailing the future of the distribution systems, Loparo said “they will be more dynamic and meshed networks,” with noted importance of reliability, efficiency and resiliency. 

Talking about an important opportunity for distribution networks, he described transactive energy as, “a market with the ability for devices to transact with each other. They can collaborate then transact with the distribution utility, in a seamless and automated way.”

Sioshansi presented the final thoughts of the day, which narrowed in on distributed energy resources (DERs). “DERs can deliver real benefits to customers and the broader power system,” he said “but there are very important regulatory details to get DERs right.” The proposition of DERs do possess benefits, with examples throughout the U.S., but, Sioshansi added, “it’s a very tricky issue to get the incentives right.”

With the conclusion of the two speakers, that was a wrap for day two. Thank you to all speakers for sharing their wealth of knowledge.

PowerForward will continue tomorrow, the final day of A Glimpse of the Future. Join us back at 9 a.m. to hear from the slate of scheduled speakers for day three.