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Living on the (Grid) Edge

Like 10,000 other people, I had the opportunity to attend the DistribuTECH conference in Dallas on May 23rd through 25th. For those not familiar, DistribuTECH is the “leading transmission and distribution event that addresses technologies used to move electricity from the power plant through the transmission and distribution systems to the meter and inside the home.”

This was my first DistribuTECH conference, which had been postponed from January until May to address concerns about the COVID pandemic. (10,000 people with no masks? I ended up with COVID 5 days later … that was just math.). The conference and exhibit hall are stimulating – the concentrated level of discussion around where the grid is going is amazing.

Before our gas and water utility newsletter readers move on, stay with me here – I’d argue that this event is completely relevant to grid management in your sectors as well.

What is the Grid Edge?

A big focus of DistribuTECH is the “Grid Edge.” Green Tech Media gets some credit (from the Alliance to Save Energy, anyway) for coining the term back in 2017. Per Green Tech Media, the Grid Edge “comprises technologies, solutions and business models advancing the transition toward a decentralized, distributed and transactive electric grid.” That’s a mouthful. I like how the Alliance to Save Energy puts it into practical terms: “The “edge” means [being close to] end-use customers rather than at power plants or along transmission lines. Grid edge hardware is the [stuff] you can touch [like] solar panels … smart thermostats, smart appliances and building controls. Grid edge software includes … demand response, real-time grid optimization … data analytics, and integrated distribution system planning systems. These get split up into the “last mile” of the grid and then “behind the meter,” as shown in the diagram below.

How would this, say, apply to the water sector? The creation of “District Meter Areas” to manage water loss around customer locations is effectively a grid edge technique. Using smart meters with customer portals, smart irrigation controllers, landscape retrofits , rainwater harvesting and automated water waste enforcement are all grid edge techniques. As population increases, climate change impacts escalate and our ability to centrally “solve” resource management decreases, working the grid edge becomes the required strategy to manage our water resources.

What was interesting at DistribuTECH?

A lot, actually.

  • Landis & Gyr demonstrated smart meters for gas and water customers including the ability to curtail service.

  • Hala Ballouz from Electric Power Engineers and Alex Rojas from Ameren Corporation gave a presentation on how controlling individual smart meters could prevent system-wide blackouts by shedding load at individual meters for limited periods of time.

  • The ESRI booth featured not only innovative applications of GIS in the utility sector but also had demonstrations of ESRI-built vendors such as CityWorks and ENER-i.

  • Numerous vendors presented solutions for dedicated utility communication channels for smart meters and smart grid controls to prioritize utility grid communications and save money from the major cellular carriers.

Based on the Exhibit Hall and presentations, there is an overwhelming set of choices available to utilities on how to navigate the evolving grid edge space, and there is no “silver bullet” technology or provider. Utilities are looking for partners to help them work through the next decade or two.

AIQUEOUS as a Grid Edge Company

I left DistribuTECH with an understanding that in addition to an “Internet of Things” there is also an “Internet of People” that is just as important to manage the grid edge. Utilities don’t just need people to be fed information, they need their customers to take action by investing in grid edge technologies behind the meter. The programs that AIQUEOUS clients have been operating for the past seven years have generated lessons and data on what kinds of programs are successful at engaging different customer types in the installation of new technologies. Our products, built on industry-leading platforms, are designed to engage utility customers, help them make the investments utilities need them to make, and give the utility a real-time understanding of how customer-owned grid assets are changing in their service territory.

In the coming months, AIQUEOUS will be rolling out webinars, articles and white papers on our and our clients’ experience can help you “live on the grid edge.” We look forward to sharing them with you.

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