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Exploring Technologies: Day 1

By Luka Papalko

COLUMBUS, OH (July 25, 2017) - After a successful Phase 1 of PowerForward in mid-April, Phase 2 kicked off today with the same goal in mind: “to better the lives of people in Ohio,” as stated by Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) Chairman Asim Z. Haque during opening remarks.

Exploring Technologies focuses on the physical grid and the communications architecture needed to enable the electric distribution system in the future. Phase 2 also allows the PUCO and stakeholders to have, “the necessary conversations before we have the following conversations about rules and ratemaking,” said Haque.

With this three-day summit being used as a platform to help spread ideas and inspire discussions to take place, it was only fitting that “platform” was today’s buzzword.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Jeff Taft started the day by breaking down the term “platform” in relation to the electric distribution grid. “A platform is a constant; it stays the same but has different purposes,” said Taft. “It can even out uneven things; it isolates layers below it from layers above it.” The most important question, according to Taft, is what are going to be the core components in that platform and what are not.

Following Taft’s presentation, Mark McGranaghan, Vice President of Power Delivery & Utilization at Electric Power Research Institute, followed suit in mentioning that, “defining the platform is critical to implementation.” He focused on the communications infrastructure which he called, “the enabler for the architecture to work.”

The afternoon presentation focusing on integration and interoperability, was lead by John McDonald, SmartGrid Business Development Leader, North America at GE Grid Solutions. The key theme was a strong grid before a smart grid.

“We tend to focus on technology,” said McDonald. “I can have the best technology, but if it’s not standards-based then it won’t be successful.” He stressed the importance of standards and to make sure the underlying communications structure can support these requirements and applications.

Taking part in the Communications Requirements Panel was: Mark Burke, Vice President of Energy & Utilities at Ericsson; Greg Myers, Vice President of Global Marketing at Sensus; and Jim Boch, Chief Engineer of Energy & Smart Grid at IPKeys Technologies, LLC.

These three panelists all noted the importance of network infrastructure and communications. “Applications drive requirements,” said Burke. “Optimal smart grid supports several applications with different requirements.”

With the growing number of applications and the evolution of the industry, Myers talked about backwards compatibility – making sure new technologies can talk, operate and communicate with legacy equipment. Myers noted that flexibility is the key to manage change. He said the most important aspect is being able to provide interoperability from end point to application.

Concluding the panel, Boch focused on what he termed ‘edge’ products—endpoint consumer products which can affect both local feeder and overall grid stability. The challenge is these devices are not owned by the utility who have limited ability to control and monitor them. 

During the afternoon’s IT/OT convergence Panel, Bob Lockhart, Vice President of Cybersecurity at Utilities Technology Council (UTC) provided unique insight, based on survey research done in correspondence with utility companies throughout the country. UTC found that changes to organizational structure is the biggest organizational impact of IT/OT convergence. Unsurprisingly, a major concern to utilities is cyber security.

Following the issues found within IT/OT convergence panel, Steve Rawson, Assessment Team Member at Idaho National Laboratory discussed the differing goals of IT and OT and how the two sides can navigate issues to successfully work together.

Oracle Utilities’ Vice President of Industry & Strategy Brad Williams added a twist to the IT/OT discussion, focusing on a new addition: CT, or customer technology. “Connecting the edge of the grid requires IT, OT and CT,” said Williams. “We need infrastructure to support interaction between all three.”

Closing down the day was the Standards Development panel headed by Michael Murray, President of Mission:data and Doug Houseman, Grid Modernization Lead at Burns & McDonnell.

Murray led off the final panel by focusing on the question, ‘What does a customer get with a modernized grid that he doesn’t already before?’ He displayed several different apps that can interact with a smart grid to help create added value for customers.

Bringing it full circle, Houseman echoed the sentiments of standards and platforms. “The most important part is how to make an exchange between platforms as easy and seamless as possible,” said Houseman. “That way, as many organizations can participate as possible.”

That’s a wrap for the day!

Thank you to everyone that attended or tuned in to day one of PowerForward: Exploring Technologies.

We will be back tomorrow starting at 9 a.m. (EST). The day two agenda and live webcast are posted on the PUCO website.