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DERMS Is the Word at DistribuTECH

Brett Feldman
Jan 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!