“Our customers are demanding, clean, affordable and reliable energy. No matter our politics or our cultural backgrounds or our income levels, we can all agree that we want to leave our loved ones a home here on Earth that is comfortable, but more importantly, safe.”

– Calvin G. Butler Jr., Exelon Senior Executive VP and COO

Having weathered the worst of the recent global public health crisis while keeping power on for billions of people worldwide, the energy and power industries today continue addressing the massive overhaul underway in their operations, infrastructure, and organizational culture.

The importance of this vital industry was judged by the National Academy of Engineers in 2000 as the ‘greatest engineering feat of the 20th century.’

The overhaul, referred to as the energy transition, is a process akin to rebuilding the components of a large jetliner while in flight. Utilities can’t simply stop operations and modernize this critical infrastructure; they must do it on the fly while maintaining grid reliability and resilience. Discussion at the recent ETS22 Power Up! conference took a deep dive into the status of this phenomenal undertaking.

It’s worth noting at the outset that a well-trodden path of topics, technologies, and discussion, long familiar to industry players and conference participants alike, remains at the forefront of most utility conversations. These topics include the following:

  • AMI installation
  • Interoperability standards for devices and systems
  • EV fleet and charging station deployment
  • Battery storage
  • Integration of 5G communication networks onto grid backbones
  • Implementation of AI/ML to automate and push energy transactions and system self-healing to the grid edge
  • Blockchain and smart contract implementation
  • Reshaping electric utility business models into something more of a “utility conductor” or “electron bank”
  • Hardening grid cybersecurity as Internet of Things (IoT) sensors permeate every nook-and-cranny of grid infrastructure, providing potential attack vectors

Adding to this list, ETS22 audiences heard regulatory and industry managers onstage enthusiastically describe current initiatives on several relatively new topics attracting growing attention: the interrelationship between utilities and local economic and community development; the movement toward social justice issues, now defined as diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), which is the increasing effort by governments, industry, and activists to promote community health (environmental justice), along with job training and recruitment, in previously underserved and underrepresented low income, ethnic, and gender populations.

Breathing life back into the power industry conference circuit and these conversations after a two-year hiatus, Zpryme, sponsor of ETS22 Power Up!, is a longtime proponent of the utility industry, its transition and community development efforts. ETS22 took place April 11-14, 2022, at Hotel Zaza in Austin, Texas. The event represented a highly concentrated, lively forum of keynote speakers and expert panels from across the range of industry, regulatory, and vendor thought leaders who showcased their progress and shared their challenges as they continue the transformation of the electric grid.

Conference attendees listen to one of dozens of panel discussions at ETS22.
Austin, Texas, April 11-14, 2022.

Further, Jason Rodriguez, CEO of Zpryme, and his team, display a forward-thinking, indeed, energizing ability to bring together a diverse range of talent and topics onto the stage of their events. All genders and virtually every ethnicity representing individuals from wide-ranging socio-economic backgrounds who had risen to the top of their respective fields was accounted for in the ranks of speakers and panel composition. Zpryme events clearly demonstrate a microcosm of the future inclusive world they advocate, thus leading by reassuring example that we can all participate in the creation of a better world.

The primary driver and goal of regulatory mandates, business model adjustments, social outreach efforts, and technological integration is the decarbonization, digitalization, and decentralization of the electric grid.

That is, these actions are designed to achieve 100% clean electrical generation by 2035, as stipulated in the Paris Agreement, which the U.S. recently rejoined. Adding to the momentum, many states and cities, through their respective Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPSs) and Climate Action Plans, have developed their own roadmaps toward similar goals. Supporting these efforts, the Biden administration has dedicated billions of dollars toward critical infrastructure and grid modernization.

Most utilities see the handwriting on the wall and are making at least preliminary moves in this direction. Actions underway include the emergence of sophisticated hardware devices and software packages, but also encompass more seemingly mundane elements such as visualizing new service offerings and strategies; new ways of delivering electrons over wires bi-directionally; seeing state regulatory commissions partnering with industry to pass market-incentivizing policies; accepting the need for grinding but ultimately beneficial organizational change; launching invigorating community social outreach, training, and workforce campaigns.

To provide a clearer understanding and appreciation of this usually behind-the-scenes, rather arcane industry, consider that, as long as the lights remain on, much of the nation likely doesn’t think much about the technological and organizational upheaval their electric utilities are undergoing. Put yourself in the shoes of these neighbors of ours, who, like us, rely on these services and resources.

So, what can a conference today offer to this discussion that hasn’t been repeated at conferences many times over in the last 15-20 years? Aside from promising technologies including green hydrogen, thermalsolarvoltaics, new analytics engines, and long duration battery storage, there are no new magical breakthroughs to report. Aliens have not landed and given us the formula for dilithium crystals.

ETS22 offered an ingenious and riveting exposition of this collaboration. Onstage were frequently gathered top execs of utilities alongside their vendors intimately involved with that utility’s specific project, providing sharp, relevant, and highly informative discussion on both the benefits and the challenges encountered with the effort.

One panel provided a rather spell-binding account of the information-sharing and security complexity involved with orchestrating an MOU for a public-private collaboration between the Edison Electric Institute and the U.S. Army. The microgrid project is designed to harden energy security and redundancy at the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos, California. This project is being documented to provide a blueprint for other utilities and bases to build resiliency systems.

“We must stay relevant to our customers, some of whom have educated themselves and are installing their own DIY solar and home energy management systems. They want and need us to support them and their efforts to transition the grid.”

  • Rudy Garza, CPS Energy, San Antonio, Texas

Another panel hosted CEOs of three major municipal utilities – CPS Energy in San Antonio, SMUD in Sacramento, California, and Austin Energy. These and executives on other panels came across as forthright, humble, realistic, and determined to persist in what one speaker described as a “ceaseless devotion to a mighty task.” That is, to transform their formerly insulated organizations into agile public service utilities of the future.

Below are excerpts from interviews conducted by this writer during the summit. These quotes provide insight into the current status of the energy transition and the challenges these executives face, as well as advise to fellow executes on potential solutions.

Calvin G. Butler, Jr., Exelon Senior Executive VP and COO:

“So, what is new? Why all this conversation about energy transition? I think a couple of things. One, our local jurisdictions at the state level and even at the local level are now putting out renewable portfolio standards. And they’re saying in Washington, DC, for example, their climate action plan calls for zero emissions of CO2 greenhouse gases by 2035. That means that we, as a utility, and industrial customers within that service area, have to clean up what we do. Eventually, 100% of our generation stack will come from renewables. I have a clear line of sight to 80% reduction. That last 20% is the challenge, and that’s where hydrogen, renewable natural gas, electric transportation, electrification come in. Technology companies can now invest with a sense of confidence that these technologies are going to be needed to push this forward.”

“Regulators are viewing this transition in a new light. You see it from a couple of ways. More jurisdictions are moving away from traditional annual rate cases by utilities. In partnership with the regulators and our customers, we’ve now created multiyear plans in which we’ve said, over the next three years, we’re going to invest this amount of dollars into our system. That’s a conversation that never took place before. What that tells me is that level of transparency from the utility, in partnership with the regulators and customers, they understand the shifting dynamic and how we have to build a system that is bringing in renewables, how we have to build a system that is secure, how we have to build a system that is resilient because of climate change. Those are all the things that are impacting our industry, that demonstrate we can’t continue to do things that we’ve been in the past.”

“100-year storms are happening every 2 to 3 years. That’s climate change in real time. And our electric system, our grid wasn’t built for that. But how are we utilizing technology and capital investment to make it more resilient? If we can reduce the number of outages and the number of customers impacted by an outage, how quickly can we get you back online? Because as we go to this electrification of everything effort, you will need to charge your car, right? Our whole culture and our whole society has changed.”

“The grid is going to be used differently in the future. We now have a two-way flow of electricity, where people like yourself, if you have  rooftop solar, you’re going to be able to sell capacity back to the energy company. We’ve never had to worry about that before. When people have their electric cars, they may have extra capacity for some of these cars to say, okay, let’s put it back. Time of use data and pricing is going to be key. All of these things are forcing us as a distribution company to interact and engage with you differently and to use the grid differently.”

“From a small co-op or smaller utility perspective, there’s a couple of things that we need to be aware of. I talk about the reliability and resilience, but you can’t forget about the security of the system. Large utilities have the resources where we’re investing hundreds of millions of dollars a year in both physical and cyber security. What my concern is, those smaller municipalities or co-ops do not have those same resources to upgrade, modernize, and protect their systems. We can just look at what’s happening across the world right now in cyber warfare that’s potentially threatening us. If smaller utilities don’t have the resources to put in and to protect their systems, they’re going to prove vulnerable. It’s going to require public-private partnerships and an understanding from regulators and legislators and customers that this investment is needed. It’s all customer money, and how I go about investing that in a prudent way is key.”

“One of the issues that we’re going to have to address as an industry is the issue of equity, because of net metering works. Say you can afford rooftop solar, right? But I may not be able to. And because you’re using the distribution system less, all those costs shift to those who are still on it. What’s happening is that as that occurs, those who cannot afford to own a home, they are carrying the burden now because of how our system is monetized. Equity has to be at the forefront of what we do as an industry.”

Deane Rodriguez, President and CEO, Entergy New Orleans:

“Now we as utilities have to tell our customers a different story; we have to reintroduce ourselves as partners. We have to allow our front-line employees to try new solutions to customer requests, to meet the customer where they are and anticipate where they’re going to be.”


A comment heard frequently at ETS22 was “It’s good to see everyone in person again.” After the two-year lull in live conference activity, clearly attendees and speakers were glad to be back able to talk face to face with each other. ETS22 felt more like a large family gathering than a business conference. Many speakers told stories of how their organizations had weathered the sanctions imposed on their organizations. It felt as if everyone had been through a war and were now regrouping to resume a voyage with fresh wind in their sails. Many appeared eager for passage of the Build Back Better infrastructure bill, which will provide significant additional funding for grid modernization, and also for next year’s Energy Thought Summit.

Note: Interested readers will be able later in April 2022 to view most ETS22 keynote and panel discussion sessions at the Zpryme Energy Thought Summit You Tube site. The following quotes represent the tip of the iceberg of knowledge shared during the summit.