How is Grid Modernization Progressing? ASWB CEO Lois Gordon Talks to the Front Lines at DistribuTECH
There’s nothing like being on the floor of our industry’s biggest show to get a feel for what’s on people’s minds. If you didn’t attend DistribuTECH, or were too busy to get around, read this interview with ASWB Engineering CEO Lois Gordon. Lois spent many hours at the show, working the floor and meeting contacts in the Prosper Portland booth as part of the Smart Grid Northwest contingent. Read her impressions below--it’s almost as good as being in New Orleans.
David: Why did you go? What did you want to accomplish at DistribuTECH?
Lois: I wanted to get a feel for the timing of grid modernization efforts. I tend to be an optimist in terms of what I want to see happen in the grid modernization, and how that is going to change the customer experience. But as CEO of ASWB Engineering, I often find I need to hold back on the technology at the leading edge that, for the most part, is not ready. So, I wanted to be in an environment to gauge how fast the industry is progressing, how it is progressing, and where is it really happening.
David: What would you say were the top two or three things you learned, whether new ideas, approaches, or technologies?
Lois: I definitely got the feeling that the leading utilities are not just moving forward with advanced metering infrastructure, they're also moving forward with looking at their internal ways of doing things, their internal culture, how to break down the historical silos. It's still very early, and no one leader is zooming ahead. Southern California Edison certainly came up as somebody with a clear plan that they're executing on. I worked very closely with them, so I know a bit about that particular plan.
In terms of technology, I found an interesting range of very small companies working on similar things as very large companies like GE. For example, some are working on platform-like offerings that tie together all of distributed energy resources in a building with a dashboard, and ultimately looking for how they might interact in a transactive energy marketplace. It’s all pretty nascent still.
I also had conversations around open ADR, and some of the work other companies are doing. They struggle in terms of what's really moving, where is it moving, and who's going to be here three years from now. It puts us all in the same spot as our utilities partners. If we, as evangelists pushing on that grid modernization edge, cannot predict who's going to be here in three years, it's got to be exponentially more difficult for utilities.
David: Were there any current topics that you expected to hear about, but didn’t?
Lois: I didn't hear very much about decarbonization or climate change, which are enormous drivers in several markets we work in, especially California. They have legislated goals like doubling of energy efficiency, 100% renewables, and scaling up electric vehicles, in reasonably short 10 to 15 year timeframes. I didn't hear anything about that at DistribuTECH, where the driver remains the utility business model, which is largely the old school model with some very valiant efforts to start moving in a different direction.
I did see a fair amount of attention on customer side programs, on residential versus C&I. There seems to be a higher level of comfort and more maturity on some residential solutions.
David: What was the general mood of those you talked to? What was the feeling of the attendees at DistribuTECH?
Lois: I would say that it was generally positive. Yet it seemed that some of the technology providers are worried. “Are we going to make it?" The field is growing. It's getting more competitive. One vendor really struggled when I asked him to explain his company’s value proposition, and how they're positioning themselves in the market. There is going to be a lot of clearing of the market as some of this moves forward. If you're small, can you find your space? How do you compete?
David: What was it like being part of the Northwest contingent in the Prosper Portland booth? Next year, we should be looking forward to doing it again?
Lois: I am grateful that Prosper Portland and its partner organizations made it possible for Smart Grid Northwest to have a physical presence on the event. As one of the representatives, I divided my time between the booth and the floor, and in all cases, having a physical presence elevated the conversation. Whenever I talked with people, they would ask, "Oh, and so where's your booth? Maybe we can stop by later." Or, "I'll send so and so by later." I was able to say " You can find me here along with LO3 and TripWire." The booth showed the diversity of what's going on in the Northwest in energy management.
Read more about Prosper Portland and SmartGridNW's time at Distributech here.