Last week, the Zpryme crew and a few thousand of our closest energy industry colleagues descended upon the city of New Orleans for DistribuTECH 2019. This was my third time at DTECH (I wrote about my first experience here.) Entering the expo floor is not as overwhelming two years later, but I’m still amazed at the effort that goes into the booths and presentations on the floor. It’s always a great experience for Zpryme as industry analysts because we get to have conversations and hear perspectives from several vendors working on a variety of topics and technologies, and it gives us a good sense of what is top of mind for our industry colleagues.

The theme that stood out to me most this year was digital maturity. The digital transformation is underway, after years of knowing that it was coming. Now utilities and vendors are starting to look at what comes next for digitalization. The consensus seems to be a fully connected and integrated enterprise where business units within a utility finally go from being siloed to being, as a presentation from GE put it, “connected and orchestrated.” Utility business decisions will more and more be driven by analytics. And a common data model will emerge from all the data utilities collect (from AMI to OMS to WAMS, etc.) to move past integration and truly optimize operations. My colleague, Erin Hardick, recently shared her thoughts on how integrating all these data types can help enable AI and machine learning.

Second, it was evident from several of our conversations that vendors are better understanding how to work with utilities. They know that large utilities can be slow to innovate and change. So instead of just insisting to utilities, “this is where you need to be,” they’re starting to meet utilities where they already are and provide a roadmap for updating and innovating. Vendors are realizing they can and should be true partners to utilities to help them move towards digital maturity.

Vendors also have insight into the large commercial & industrial customers that utilities might be missing. We heard from more than one vendor that C&I customers are looking into ways to bypass the utility and become their own power providers. It may sound dire, but realistically, there is an opportunity for utilities to engage these customers in new ways and become trusted energy providers, and there’s an opportunity for vendors to help utilities engage in new and different ways.

Finally, I was happy to see microgrids are still in the mix. Three years ago, “microgrid” was one of the biggest buzzwords. A few years later, it’s encouraging to see the technology proving to be viable and to see examples of successful projects. We heard from GE about their Philadelphia Navy Yard project and S&C about theirmicrogrid project with Ameren Illinois. (Erin Hardick and Dylan Lockwood recently spoke to S&C and Ameren Illinois in depth onour podcast.) These microgrids are also great examples of successful partnerships and many different stakeholders finding ways to work together.

Of course, two days isn’t nearly enough time to see everything and hear all the interesting perspectives at DistribuTECH. Stay tuned for an upcoming episode of Zpryme On the Grid to hear thoughts from my other Zpryme colleagues, including CEO Jason Rodriguez, coming later this week. And we’re already looking forward to DTECH 2020 – see y’all in San Antonio!