DERs, IoT, Data Analytics, and Microgrids Spark Conversations at DTECH 2017


DERs, IoT, Data Analytics, and Microgrids Spark Conversations at DTECH 2017

As more than 13,000 people converged in San Diego for the annual DTECH Conference and Exhibition, I had the great pleasure to join OATI thought leaders and staff and engage with a wide variety of industry attendees. The folks at PennWell put on a great event, and I want to thank them for all of the hard work that undoubtedly went into making it possible.

From Geoff Colvin’s opening keynote on how digital transformation is impacting business, to great sessions on Grid 3.0, energy storage, Volt/VAR optimization, and applications for smart inverters, there was an enormous amount of fantastic information and new ideas on a wide range of subjects. In my conversations with other attendees, the industry seems to be most excited about new developments in Distributed Energy Resources (DERs), Internet of Things (IoT) security, data analytics, and microgrids.

Managing DERs

If one message is clear from DTECH 2017, it’s that distributed energy is here, and the entire industry has to adjust accordingly. Beyond smart meters and simple load control, the DER revolution is driving dramatic changes to utility planning and operations.
The exponential growth of DERs like rooftop solar PV, electric vehicles, and energy storage are causing very real consequences — Volt/VAR management, phase imbalances, frequency imbalances, and reverse power flows, to name a few. To cope, electric utilities are looking for Distributed Energy Resource Management Systems (DERMS) — tools to help them gain granular visibility into the secondary distribution grid and manage these system and behind-the-meter assets to improve grid reliability, resiliency, and economics. As one attendee said to me, “Running our grid is becoming ridiculously complex. We need ways to simplify our operations.”

Security for the IoT

In discussing DERs, the other major concern I heard was about cybersecurity. “How do we connect all of these IoT devices to our grid without compromising our security?” asked one IT manager. In addition, more than one attendee brought up the alleged Russian hacking of a Vermont utility. In the face of increasing cyber threats from hackers manipulating grid-edge devices, keeping utility systems secure has gone from “check-the-box” to “must-have”. This explains why so many of the attendees I spoke with were eager to learn about using “super devices”, data encryption, and robust Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) standards to protect their operations from harmful cyber threats.

Harnessing the Avalanche of Data

In his session on A Business Model for the Next Generation Utility, Miles Keogh, Research Lab Director at NARUC, said, “The change agent in today’s utility market is data.” As more and more data comes from the very edge of the grid — both smart meters and beyond — utilities are no longer just “pushing kWs,” as Keogh puts it. They are part of the information economy and need to learn how to leverage that data to improve grid performance and customer service.

Microgrids are Mega-Popular

One of the most popular parts of the OATI booth was our demo of the new OATI Microgrid Technology Center we recently built in Bloomington, MN. While microgrids used to be viewed skeptically as potential competition, I found that this year’s DTECH utility attendees view microgrids as an opportunity for utilities to partner with their larger customers and bring generation closer to loads, thus improving grid resiliency. 

About the Author

Brock Ray is Manager of Product Marketing for OATI, where he is responsible for achieving brand and business objectives by managing the strategy and execution efforts of a cross-functional marketing and creative team. For more than a decade, he has been helping a wide variety of B2B and consumer companies develop strategic, human-centered creative solutions that deliver business results. Brock manages the overall product marketing strategy for OATI solutions, including product positioning and messaging, ensuring marketing programs are aligned to the overall product strategy and roadmap. He holds degrees in Marketing and Visual Communications.