Navigant Research Blog

For Utilities, New Technology Brings Promise and Pain

Richelle Elberg — January 15, 2014

The double-edged sword of technology is on full view in the electric utility industry today.  Conservation voltage reduction (CVR) and demand response (DR) programs are helping utilities reduce load and adapt to the effects of distributed generation (DG) on the grid – but what about replacing the revenue “lost” through DG?  Distribution automation (DA) can improve reliability and reduce outage times, but it also comes at a price.  The need for resiliency in the face of increasingly severe storms is adding further stresses to utility industry bottom lines.  Meanwhile, big data is both exciting in its potential and intimidating in its volume.  “May you live in interesting times” is often called a Chinese curse, and indeed, these are interesting times.

A glance at the jam-packed program for the electric utility industry confab DistribuTECH, to be held in San Antonio from January 28 through the 30, highlights just how critical new technology is to the industry.  The presence of exhibitors like Verizon, AT&T, Oracle, Accenture, and Waterfall Security Solutions, to name just a few, demonstrate just how important new communications, information technology, and cyber security have become.  Transmission and distribution may be the nuts and bolts, but the other smart grid technologies are clearly top of mind for utility executives.

Progress and Possibility

The show boasts 15 tracks and 74 panel discussions, as well as 5 mega sessions, including “Lessons Learned From Superstorm Sandy,” “Chapter 2:  What Happens to Smart Grid Initiatives After DOE Funding,” and “A Global Look at Smart Grid’s Progress and Future.”

More than 9,500 attendees participated in DistribuTECH 2013, held in San Diego last January, up 15% from the year before.  This year more than 400 companies will be exhibiting their products and services.  In conjunction with the conference, Utility University will offer in-depth courses for utility execs on topics ranging from communications and customer strategies to system integration and standards.

International buyers will also be on hand; DistribuTECH organizer Pennwell Corporation announced last July that the trade show is one of 26 selected to participate in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s 2014 International Buyer Program (IBP).  The show will feature an International Trade Center onsite where foreign buyers can meet and negotiate with sellers, obtain assistance identifying potential business partners, and efficiently navigate the exhibition floor.

Six Navigant Research analysts from the Smart Utility program will be at DistribuTECH this year:  myself (, Kris Torvik (, Neil Strother (, Jim McCray (, Brett Feldman (, and Lauren Callaway (  Feel free to reach out to our Smart Utility team to arrange for briefings; see you in San Antonio!

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