Distributech: Where’s the customer?

By Scott Kessler – Follow us on LinkedIn or @LO3Energy on Twitter for our latest news 

Did anyone at Distributech spot the GLARING GAP in the mix?

If the future of the electricity industry is all about harnessing the power of Distributed Energy Resources and engaging consumers to get involved – which from all indications at the show it clearly is – then from what we saw, a BIG part of the picture is currently missing.

The show had everything covered, from digital twins to grid edge computing…but the truly customer-centric elements were few and far between.

We heard from multiple utilities at the show that customer engagement and local energy solutions were big pieces of their roadmap. Yet very little there offered a solution for the majority of the population.

Distributech has historically been all about distribution engineering, but it is now the premier event in North America for the electric space and, as such, covers all elements of the industry.

Given the shift to the many different solutions that are NOT distribution related but are directly related to DERs at customer sites (DERMS, VPP, etc.), it’s clear the show has grown far beyond its historical focus. In fact, the show even hosted educational offerings from the well-regarded Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative and had an entire Knowledge Hub focused on Expanding the Grid. But this interest seemed to fizzle when it came to the vendors on the show floor.

Indeed, there was a huge amount of conversation around DERs and how they can be integrated into the network.

To mention a few, we saw utility-controlled aggregations of many DER types from various customer classes and impressive new ways to visualize and draw conclusions from fleets of smart meters capable of load disaggregation.

Clearly, adapting our networks with hardware and infrastructure to smoothly integrate DERS into our energy networks is a big job.

We are seeing rapid evolution of the energy system from one that was once about distributing power from far away power stations to the grid edge to one that is now about optimizing local generation and ensuring we match consumption to variable generation at the grid edge, with any excess fed out to the most nearby users possible.

And all these elements are vital in the development of a new network structure that can utilize this ever-growing resource rapidly spreading throughout our cities.

With all this new technology, DERs can deliver the solution to replace fossil fuels – but they won’t do so without engaging consumers to make that choice and take part in their own energy future.

BOTH network tech and consumer engagement tools are necessary if we truly want to create systems that:

1) enable load to follow generation/congestion as necessary
AND
2) extract maximum value from BTM assets that impact customer lifestyles.

The global energy transition is a huge agenda now and consumers’ lives are becoming more and more involved in making choices that benefit the future of the planet.

The electricity industry is one of the largest producers of emissions on Earth and increasingly educated consumers now understand how the ‘magic in the walls’ is produced and are demanding it becomes more sustainably sourced.

Moreover, global businesses are committing to 100% carbon free goals, and that simply cannot be achieved without grasping the opportunity of harnessing power from DERs.

Platforms like Pando, which we have developed to allow utilities to support energy consumers who want to buy and sell local energy, are the gateways into this new world for the consumer.

Yet there was very little out there at Distributech that are focused on the majority of utility customers. That’s positive, of course, for us – because it means that right now we are ahead of the curve.

And clearly, from our discussions with those eager utilities, that missed opportunity is not going to be missed for long.