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  • January 24, 2018

How utilities can help make a city smart without breaking the bank (and the back)

Cities, they are a-changin’, to paraphrase Bob Dylan. They’re getting smarter and more efficient, as well as both more connected and more distributed—at the same exact time.

Juggling the tech and timing that goes along with those changes can be difficult for city stakeholders, from electric utilities to water companies to city transit.

How to manage that juggling act—to save time, to save tech, to save money—was the theme of the “Stakeholder Engagement for Energy Transformation of Cities” session at DistribuTECH 2018 in San Antonio this week.

“If you have pride in being able to solve unrealistic problems on unrealistic timeframes, raise your hands,” H.G. Chissell, Founder and CEO of Advanced Energy Group, who run a smart cities platform for city stakeholders looking for a better, brighter, bolder future.

The question Chissell asked is: What do we do to make those problems disappear on the timelines that seem impossible?

His answer? Getting everyone involved and everyone talking.

There was a grid operator, two utilities, industry management specialists and global vendors in the room, and Chissell noted that this was a microcosm of just what he suggests is necessary to make the problems of smart cities opportunities won.

Chissell introduced Mike Desocio, Senior Manager, Market Design, New York Independent System Operator, who opened with how much and how often they’re thinking about what the grid—what they exist to support directly—will look like in the future.

“There’s a lot of power in markets, and New York is a great example of that,” Desocio told the audience. “Markets are very possible, and we need to harness those markets to conquer the challenges of the future.”

Desocio added that that the future will have more distributed energy, energy storage, variable resources on the bulk system and behind the meter, along with some major changes in public policy. (To get a look at some of their thinking on distributed energy, read NYISO’s DER roadmap here.)

“We envision tomorrow’s grid to be much more dynamic that today’s grid,” he added. And to smooth that change, Desocio carried the torch that Chissell championed at the start of the session: stakeholder integration. For the New York ISO, that a lot of integration of public policy, working on both a little “harmonizing” (as Desocio put it), along with market assessments when it comes to policy.

Desocio and Chissell were also supported by Steve Wemple, General Manager, Utility of the Future, ConEdison. (ConEdison is a delivery company working on getting things “that final mile” to the customer, as Wemple noted.)

Wemple added that the game changer to get to their utility future is actually figuring out whether utilities can trade out big builds for customer-located tech and customer-reliant two-way grid.

“We’re investing in a platform ahead of the [customer] adoption to make that [future] adoption as seamless as possible,” Wemple revealed. “In the past, we had curtailment programs with one-way notification. Now we need a must more dynamic process where we try to keep a pulse on what customer behavior looked like yesterday and this morning so I can plan for this afternoon and tomorrow.”

On the customer stakeholder side, ConEdison is looking at updates and changes to net metering and other programs to find the right price and the right program to move customer behavior and get them into the smart city community picture.

The rest of the session panel included James Cater, Boston City Liason, Energy Efficiency, Eversource; Tom Eyford, Global Industry Specialist, Operations, Oracle; David Glenwright, Principal Consultant, Black & Veatch; Michelle Isenhouer, Lead Associate, Booz Allen Hamilton; Doug Staker, Vice President of Global Business Development, Demand Energy.  Together, they offered this advice on how we can move forward on the smart cities concept and get past the that’s-not-possible pushback. Here are their top tidbits:

 

  1. Look at infrastructure efficiency to the smallest level: lightning changes to the light bulb and utility pole use across departments.
  2. Evaluate pockets to start new infrastructure build-out: where to put EV chargers, for example, and how that will impact consumers and businesses.
  3. Tackle the political issues you know are coming head on: build relationships, listen, but understand that step one may involve in lots of defensive thinking (and it will take work to get past that).
  4. Believe that your utility can be the trusted energy advisor in this project: even when the customer behavior needle isn’t moving and the partnership engagement is faltering, you’ve got to keep the faith (to quote Billy Joel).
  5. Understand that smart city cybersecurity is scary but manageable: just keep that in mind and talk about it constantly, especially to your vendors. The more you think, strategize and plan and communicate, the less scary it will be.
  6. Think about scale: how can you make this slice of the project bigger and better? How do you make that bigger and better easier from step one not step five?
  7. Get flexible cuz things will continue to evolve: this isn’t a one-and-done project. You’ve got to be able to replace, change, update and adjust everything in the future. This isn’t a static project.

 

Read more from DistribuTECH 2018: 

 

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