Here we go again, after providing Zpryme insights at CES 2020 a couple of weeks ago, I am at Distributech San Antonio to report on innovations specifically from the electric power distribution market. As a twenty-five-year plus utility employee, my introductory question is; Can this 120-year old industry transform into a disruptor or are they simply destined to be disrupted? To help answer this question I will be capturing the voices of key industry thought leaders and interviewing the vendor community who offer a vision to help accelerate Utilities through disruption.

The conference opened with a set of five predictions from Tom Dietrich, President and CEO of conference sponsor Itron. They were:

  1. Continued Increase in Natural Disasters
  2. Exponential Proliferation of Electric Vehicles
  3. Dramatic Increase in Diversity of Energy Mix
  4. Utilities will Play a Pivotal Role in Cultivating Smarter Cities and Communities
  5. Distributed Intelligence will Transform the Energy Industry.

A solid endorsement from Tom for the Utility being a willing and needed participant in the disruptor leadership camp. Next up was a speaker that I would stand in line to hear speak on any topic including #BrisketPecanPie, Paula Gold-Williams President & CEO of CPS Energy.

Disclosure: Paula was my boss during my past career at CPS Energy but I believe she has the industry awards recognition to back up any personal accolades offered here.

Paula spoke of CPS Energy’s six strategic pillars (Reliability, Customer Affordability, Security, Safety, Environmental Responsibility, and Resiliency) that are underpinned by the guiding principle to be the most financially responsible Utility. Paula also laid out the CPS Energy plan to acquire up to 900MW of solar, up to 50MW energy storage, and 300-500MW of firming contracts to support the increased adoption of intermittent renewable energy as a continued step toward a 2050 goal of net-zero emissions. Paula closed out her keynote with a disruptive invitation, stating “let’s make this evolution happen!”

The final keynote speaker was from thought-provoking Futurist Sophie Hackford. This was a hold-on-to-your-hats fast-paced adventure in which Sophie described the impact of Artificial Intelligence as humanity “moving inside the machine” or “technology is disappearing into our environment” meaning that it will become so ingrained into our lives that it no longer appears to be a separate entity.

Before jumping into the task of interviewing as many innovative vendors as possible, I attended a session lead by Julia Hamm, President and CEO of the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA). Julia has been a strong advocate for a new energy future and last year developed the Utility Carbon Reduction Tracker that currently lists 18 major utilities in the USA that have public commitments to carbon-free or net-zero goals by 2050 or sooner. Julia mentioned that there a number of alternate Utility business models in a decarbonized future and that one-size does not fit all. She also believes that Utilities will serve to speed up not slow down this transition and they represent the fastest route to the new energy future.

Today I got through the first third of the 90 plus exhibitors I pre-selected based on the level of innovation and potential interest to the Zpyme community. I will definitely need to pick up the pace to get through all of them in day 2 and 3 posts. Here is a curated selection of 4 companies I think are worth keeping an eye on:

Appian helps address the age-old IT problem of developing and deploying customer-facing applications rapidly through a low-code software development platform that allows drag and drop approach to robotic process automation (RPA). The Appian Platform is well regarded in the analyst community (i.e., Gartner, Forrester, etc.) and has a nice customer base of Utility customers such as Exelon, PG&E, PEPCO, and Southern Company – Alabama Power. If you struggle with your IT speed of delivery and creating engaging experiences for your customers spend a couple of minutes with this platform overview video.

Ario Technologies Inc. Ario is a young startup in the Augmented Reality (AR) content management space particularly focused on asset-intensive environments such as power plants, warehouses, and military facilities. Ario did not make it into my CES 2020 reports so it was nice to see them again at Distributech. The mobile-based app makes it very intuitive to add virtual document links and supporting videos on-field assets, while the back end application allows a low code environment for more advanced workflows in an enterprise work order system. Ario is focused on providing AR capabilities with an intuitive interface for your field forces. The following video provides a nice overview of these capabilities.

Disruptive Technologies AS This company almost made it on the list by name alone. This is the world’s smallest Internet of Things (IoT) sensor (US Quarter for scale). Combining a number of sensor types (temperature, pressure, humidity, touch, leak detection, occupancy, and others) with a 15-year battery lifespan, this IoT sensor and has many facility and asset management applications. These sensors communicate via the Zigbee protocol with Cellular (LTE) gateways plugged into standard power outlets placed every 150-300 feet (optional range extenders are available) to a cloud-hosted database and analytics environment that you can access through an Application Programming Interface (API). The following video highlights the provisioning process and potential use cases.

Enervee is a customer engagement/ energy efficiency rebate program tool that helps educate your customers in making informed decisions on energy-efficient appliances, electric vehicles, EV home charging stations, electric water heaters and more. Designed as a branded plug-in for the utility website it offers comparison pricing from various internet retailers with aggregated reviews scores across multiple providers. Enervee also provides a logical breakdown of lifetime operational costs that enables informed customer decisions that sometimes lead the customer to purchase items that may not be currently rebated but are a lower cost option leading to higher efficiency levels. I recommend visiting the Enervee website link above to see the integration into utility websites over the following animated video which provides a high-level overview of the functionality.