By Edmund P. Finamore

While many eyes were turned to the baseball world series taking place in New York City on October 27-28, 2009, the Smart Energy East Coast Conference was hitting a few home runs of its own that week. As the Yankees were in the midst of capturing their 27th world series, Spintelligent and its outstanding lineup of speakers and corporate sponsors were winning an equally important title in providing what many agreed was the best industry forum for discussion of critical smart grid issues on the East Coast this year.

Although I have attended many of Spintelligent’s smart metering and smart grid events over the years, I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of speakers that participated in this year’s conference. The presentations were spot on, and the timing couldn’t have been better, with a number of utility speakers and delegates actually learning of their company’s success at being selected for a DOE Smart Grid Investment Grant (SGIG) award during the conference proceedings.  

Adding to the excitement in this year’s conference was a discussion of smart grid programs supported by the New York State Public Service Commission, which in July 2009 approved a number of projects that emphasized improved reliability for electric distribution systems in New York State. Robert Curry, Commissioner of the New York State Public Service Commission, gave an excellent presentation on the costs and benefits of smart grid implementation and their impact on conditions in the state of New York. Commissioner Curry discussed the many synergistic opportunities that should occur as state programs combine with the SGIG and other DOE sponsored grants to leverage state and federal resources to improve electric grid reliability and energy efficiency.

Significant utility participation
Equally impressive was the level of participation by utility executives who had much to say concerning the state of AMI implementation, utility network reliability, cap and trade and a host of other issues. Jim Sheppard of Centerpoint gave an outstanding presentation on the state-of-the art home area networking initiatives currently being undertaken at Centerpoint Energy. Conference delegates agreed that the Centerpoint experience was in many respects a microcosm of the complex issues and stress points facing U.S. utilities today. Located in the rapidly deregulating state of Texas, it was clear from Jim’s presentation that Centerpoint has achieved much success while deftly managing a tricky confluence of regulatory reform and accelerated technical innovation.

Bill Cloutier, Jr. provided an informative update of the extensive AMI implementation efforts currently taking place at his utility, DTE Energy. Long considered an AMI innovator, DTE Energy has begun moving rapidly ahead with its AMI implementation, and Mr. Cloutier has been laboring at the center of a storm of installation activity involving the company’s new AMI technology programs for quite sometime. The company is now installing bi-directional communications systems and ZigBee home networking connectivity for their nearly 2.6 million electric meters, and Bill reported that significant progress is being made.

Another AMI pioneer, Wayne Young of JEA, also participated in this year’s conference. For the past few years, Mr. Young has been working extensively on JEA’s AMI and meter data management projects, and has now become even more focused on delivering the resulting benefits of these systems to JEA’s commercial and industrial customers. Conference delegates learned from Mr. Young’s presentation that JEA has made significant progress in integrating JEA’s AMI, meter data management and outage management systems. Among the benefits of these efforts is an increased ability to provide higher levels of service to JEA’s over 400,000 customers.

Smart energy landscape

This year’s closing panel session was well worth waiting for. Industry leaders, Ron Prosser, CEO of the Prosser Group, Howard Scott, Ph.D, Managing Director of Cognyst Advisors, and Robert Catell, Chairman of the New York State Smart Grid Consortium, all presented their views on the issues and challenges facing the utility industry as it grapples with the increasing limitations being placed on new generation and growing reliance on demand response and energy efficiency programs to meet future load forecasts. All agreed that the smart energy landscape is filled with potholes that must be avoided for utilities to successfully navigate through the difficult terrain of network security, reliability and implementation of new smart grid technologies.

The inspiring mixture of utility managers, energy professionals and industry leaders at this year’s conference combined to provide a unique and informative two-day opportunity to hear from and engage with some of the leading thinkers in the smart grid arena today. Spintelligent has once again produced an informative conference on smart metering and smart grid issues that even Yankee fans would agree has hit the ball out of the park…