Navigant Research Blog

DERMS Is the Word at DistribuTECH

— January 30, 2018

After attending DistribuTECH in years 2014 through 2016, I took 2017 off because it seemed like there was less emphasis on demand-side management (DSM) and behind-the-meter distributed energy resources (DER) like demand response, energy efficiency, and energy storage. The biggest standalone public companies in the space at the time, Opower and EnerNOC, had seriously pulled back or ended their presence at the show. Acquisitions added additional doubt of direction in the industry; in 2016, Opower was bought by Oracle—putting into question its future focus on the space—and in 2017, EnerNOC was acquired by Enel.

DSM and DER Back in Focus

With that backdrop, I did decide to make the return trip to San Antonio in 2018 to see if anything had changed. I can’t speak to whether last year’s conference was any kind of transition, but I was floored with the level of attention given to DSM and DER topics by both DistribuTECH stalwart companies and startups alike.

From the big boys, like GE, Siemens, and Schneider, a common theme emerged of connecting advanced distribution management systems with DER management systems (DERMS). I alluded to this trend in Navigant Research’s 2016 report, Demand Response Management Systems, and my experience at DistribuTECH solidified the notion. Those vendors had intricate displays showing how the systems integrate, but there is still little real-world experience with such cases. The Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) held a concurrent session aimed at standardizing DERMS requirements and terminology since it means something different to every vendor and utility.

On the startup side, a plethora of newbies were hawking their technologies for energy efficiency, and in particular, customer engagement. The majority of these applications are based purely on software, analyzing meters and other forms of data, as opposed to any new hardware that the utility or its customers would need to install. Companies like Grid4C, Powerley, Mach Energy, and Bidgely—along with more-established players like Oracle, Itron, Landis+Gyr, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, and AutoGrid—touted their algorithms, segmentation tools, and disaggregation capabilities designed to help utilities and end-use customers save energy, detect anomalies, and engage in more meaningful ways. The Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative held its annual Consumer Symposium onsite to highlight these technologies and strategies.

DistribuTECH or ConsumerTECH?

Of course, the majority of the show floor was dominated by the usual suspects with transmission and distribution equipment and operational systems, but I was more interested in what was bubbling up around the edges. If things keep progressing in these directions, the show might have to change its name to CustomerTECH!


Transformative Winds Moving Electric Utility Industry in New Directions

— February 13, 2017

AnalyticsThere is a new wind of transformation blowing through the North American electric utility industry, and this change was palpable during the recent DistribuTECH conference in San Diego.

Evidence of a transformation came during numerous conversations I had with technology vendors and utility representatives at the conference. There has been similar talk of change at past D-Tech events, but this year the words have action and momentum behind them. Granted, the transformation taking place now remains at a relatively early stage in certain domains—microgrids and energy storage, for instance. Furthermore, some of the shifts currently taking place might still be struggling to gain traction 10 years from now. But as whole, changes in the industry are tangible and are moving beyond theoretical talk and pilots.

Among the innovations on display at D-Tech:

  • Microgrids: Schneider Electric and Duke Energy jointly announced the deployment of two advanced microgrids in Montgomery County, Maryland. The two systems will provide service to the county’s public safety headquarters and its jail. The goal is to ensure these facilities have more reliable and efficient power and to improve resiliency in the event of major storms or natural disasters. Perhaps the most unique aspect of this project is its microgrid as a service (MaaS) financing model. This arrangement eliminates many of the upfront costs to the county, making the microgrids more affordable to the municipal entity.
  • Customer-centric grid: Utilities are starting to more fully embrace the concept of customer-centricity. Oracle unveiled its new Network Management System version 2.3, which enables a utility to aggregate data from distributed energy resources (DER) like solar PV, EVs, customer-sited storage systems, and connected home devices. Oracle is not alone in providing tools for a deeper view of these customer energy resources, but the announcement does point to the demand the software vendor is seeing from utilities that recognize the shift taking place and the need to comprehensively manage the two-way data flow from grid-tied customer assets.
  • Demand-side solutions: Companies like Powerley and Tesla used the conference to demonstrate their solutions for enabling utility customers to better control their use of energy. Tesla, for instance, did not showcase its famous EVs, but rather its new Powerwall 2 residential battery system. The Powerwall 2 has 14 kWh of capacity, a significant increase from previous versions, and can enable a four-bedroom home to power lights, plugs, and a refrigerator for a whole day. Powerley’s solution helps utilities integrate the smart grid with smart home technologies, thus enabling residential customers to be more efficient energy users and save money.

Part of the transformation on display at D-Tech is being driven by regulators, which see the new technologies as helpful to a more efficient use of energy. But many of the new technologies on their own are driving the change, having been tested and proven to help solve utility business issues and demonstrate a positive ROI, either in real dollars or in softer benefits (such as increased customer satisfaction scores and greater engagement).

We at Navigant have seen this transformation coming for several years, as noted in our Energy Cloud report. Now those forces of change are closer to reality and catching some new air. The coming years should continue to move the industry forward, though some turbulence is to be expected.


For Utilities, New Technology Brings Promise and Pain

— 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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