Thursday, May 24, 2012

Smart Grid industry events

One challenge for people engaged in smart grids is determining which events to attend since there seem to be multiple conferences and seminars each week. April and early May have been exceptionally busy based on the industry events that have taken place that I thought I should attend. I attended two industry events, two major events that ABB sponsored, and a meeting with Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Chu.

The largest of these four events was the IEEE T&D Conference and Exposition that was held in Orlando, Florida earlier this month. IEEE holds this event every other year and I have to think that it is easily the largest T&D equipment conference in North America. This year the attendance was over 13,000 people and the exhibition floor was expansive. I had a limited amount of time at the exhibition but I did spend most of the second day of the conference attending the smart grid program. This program included sessions on standards; lessons learned from deployments, public education, and customer engagement; and the future of smart grid including technology, policy, standards, and customer involvement. This last session was the most valuable from my perspective and provided insight from the speakers on the direction and issues facing grid modernization and smart grid investments.

One of the factors that limited my time at the IEEE event was the Ventyx Mindshare event that was also held in Orlando at the same time as IEEE. This event was sponsored by Ventyx, an ABB company, and provided a program for the Ventyx software users. The agenda included customer advisory board meetings, organization and product updates, overviews of product roadmaps, technical sessions related to the software applications, and a Solutions Pavilion for Ventyx and its partners’ products. Attendance this year was the largest ever with additional customers in attendance based on the acquisitions that Ventyx made last year. Obvient Focal Point business intelligence software, Insert Key Solutions equipment reliability software, and the Mincom Ellipse enterprise asset management software were added to the Ventyx software portfolio last year.

From a smart grid perspective, I focused on the Mindshare sessions for the distribution management system, demand response management system, asset health center system, and integration of these applications to enterprise-level applications such as mobile work force enablement and enterprise work and asset management.

ABB hosts its Automation & Power World (APW) event each spring. This event was initially formed by combining the Automation World and the Power World events – the two events that preceded APW. Automation World was focused on customer training and automation products and Power World started as a sales training event for power products and systems. This year, APW was held in late April in Houston. We had sales training over the weekend and then the customer portion of the event immediately following Monday through Thursday. The total number of attendees this year was over 5000 people! The common element was the Technology & Solution Center that included over 130,000 square feet of product and systems exhibits – all ABB and its business partners. The customer program has been expanded to over 500 hours of educational training that included a business forum, customer case studies, hands-on training, panel discussions, and technical workshops. We had an extensive program for smart grid that addressed all facets of transmission technologies, distribution grid management, asset health management, and distributed energy resources including distributed generation and energy storage.

For me, one highlight of the Technology & Solution Center was the entrance to the exhibit area. We had this area dedicated to the ABB Industry Segment Initiatives (ISIs) which are global strategic growth initiatives that engage multiple divisions and businesses across ABB and focus on customer requirements and relationships with partners. The ISIs include smart grid, solar, wind, data centers, energy efficiency, water, rail, and electric vehicles. Leading the Smart Grid ISI for North America, I routinely work with my colleagues from the other ISIs since smart grid solutions frequently interface across these technologies, especially renewable generation, data centers, energy efficiency, and electric vehicle service infrastructure.

The Electricity Storage Association (ESA) held its 22nd annual meeting the first week of May in Washington, DC. The theme of the event was “Electricity Storage: Meeting the Challenges of an Evolving Grid.” The event included a Technology Showcase and a technical program that addressed distribution and “edge of grid” energy storage, end-user and microgrid storage applications, and large-scale applications for generation and transmission. Sessions also discussed storage economics and the aggregation, integration, and control of energy storage.

There are two conclusions that I would make after attending the event. The first is that lithium-ion battery technology is receiving most of the attention for battery energy technology although the range of battery chemistries extends from lead-acid to flow-based technologies. The second conclusion is that one of the growth areas for battery energy storage is addressing the variability of renewable energy resources, particularly solar PV which can change rapidly with steep ramp rates. I attended the presentation at ESA given by Powercorp, the microgrid company that ABB recently acquired. This presentation included an example of how fossil generation and renewable generation can be effectively managed by a microgrid that incorporates both flywheel and battery energy storage. The flywheel provides fast response regulation and the battery energy storage provides additional storage to back up the flywheel and helps to address the variability of the renewable generation.

The National Alliance for Advanced Technology Batteries (NAATBatt) is launching a distributed energy storage (DES) initiative. I joined the NATTBatt DES group, consisting of approximately a dozen companies, in a recent meeting with DOE Secretary Chu to get support for the DES initiative and to present two specific recommendations.

The first recommendation was to establish DES technology as a focus among the different types of electricity storage technology being investigated by the DOE for stationary energy storage technology. Battery technologies that must be designed to be volume and weight restricted, such as those that will likely to be used in most DES applications, offer the prospect of creating a combined market for both stationary and automotive batteries. The prospect of this combined, multi-gigawatt market would be a catalyst for innovation, additional private investment, and electrification of transportation.

The second recommendation was to strongly request continued DOE support for DES demonstration projects. Although DES is a critical technology of the future, DES system costs are still too high to justify widespread commercial investment in those systems by utilities today. The fastest way down the cost curve is to support continued deployment of DES systems by utilities in geographically diverse demonstration projects that are small, inexpensive, and fast. These projects would give participating utilities the experience with DES systems that they need to identify the cost savings and to create the innovations necessary to push these systems into full commercial deployment.

The group is proposing to develop an outline of proposed projects in consultation with other utilities, battery and materials suppliers, and automakers. One immediate goal is to expand the NAATBatt DES working group by inviting these other companies to join the group.

It is great to see that the smart grid momentum continues to grow in North America. Over the next couple of years, the market analysts forecast growing investment in smart grid technologies, with distribution grid management, utility analytics, and distributed energy resources leading the way.