After missing DISTRIBUTECH International in 2022 and the absence of the event in previous years due to COVID-19 restrictions, I was very pleased to again join the IQGeo utility team at the 2023 DISTRIBUTECH conference in San Diego. Having not attended for several years, it was a great opportunity to view the industry with a fresh set of eyes, and I was impressed by the sheer ambition of the event.
The conference hosted hundreds of electric utility industry topics and the tradeshow floor held more than 600 exhibitors. The exhibition was truly vast with companies selling everything from galvanized pole hardware to state-of-the-art Artificial Intelligence software. With so much at play and so many different strategies being discussed, it’s impossible to pick out one key message from the sea of voices and agendas. This said, I set myself the task of making sense of DISTRIBUTECH 2023 from an IQGeo perspective.
While visitors to our booth kept us busy with the announcement of our new IQGeo Adaptive Grid solution, I found time to explore the show floor and speak with a number of exhibitors, partners, and customers. From my conversations, three high-level takeaways emerged that I wanted to share in this blog.
- Grid modernization is accelerating
- The grid ecosystem is increasingly complex
- Change is rooted in the grid lifecycle
Steve Tongish, CMO at IQGeo, discusses the utility industry ecosystem
1. Grid modernization is accelerating
While the industry has been discussing grid modernization for some years, the rate of change and sense of urgency is accelerating. Driven by net-zero and decarbonization mandates, we’ve seen a rapid evolution of DER, EV, battery storage, and microgrid technology. While many electric utilities are still evaluating where to place their bets, others recognize the need to move quickly and are putting their foot on the gas to keep pace. It’s become clear that operators must re-evaluate unsustainable business models an adapt to new technical and commercial dynamics to remain relevant.
From my own conversations I can see that utilities are looking for innovative alternatives to legacy technology that is not optimized for electric grids, impeding change and saddling them with massive technical debt. Many are now moving quickly to deploy new technology and anticipate new legislation in order to retain high-value, lucrative customers.
2. The grid ecosystem is increasingly complex
The 600+ exhibitors and 17,000 attendees at DISTRIBUTECH are irrefutable evidence of the growing complexity of the electrical utility industry. Walking around the show you are bombarded with messages and terminology that is difficult to contextualize without a detailed conversation. In many ways, it’s not a single market but a cluster of inter-related submarkets, each with its own vocabulary, technology, and value propositions.
Without a clear set of priorities and a vision for the future of the business, grid operators can easily be caught in a storm of greater and greater entropy. The Second Law of Thermodynamics tells us that the only way to manage entropy is to take action. Honestly evaluate the ability of legacy technologies to deliver on the challenges of the future, set firm priorities, and stay focused on your mission.
3. Change is rooted in the grid lifecycle
With so many moving parts it’s easy to lose sight of the important building blocks of change and for electric utilities the foundation for change is the quality of their grid data and its management across the operational lifecycle. This was driven home to me by several conversations I had with customers and prospects in our booth (all of whom will remain anonymous).
Those organizations that focus on the quality of their grid data and how it can be shared and constantly improved across operational processes are miles ahead of others that get side-tracked with technology wormholes or orthodoxy. It may not be sexy, but it’s a fact that you can’t modernize your grid if you can’t model and manage it. We have some very impressive customers that have a strategic focus on the quality of their grid data, and this is the foundation upon which they are building a modern, resilient grid that meets decarbonization targets and climate change realities.
Andy Gay, Utilities Director at IQGeo, shares the key themes from DISTRIBUTECH 2023
Embracing grid modernization with Adaptive Grid
DISTRIBUTECH 2023 was a fascinating few days for me personally. It was a terrific opportunity to listen and learn from many stakeholders in the increasingly complex ecosystem, to judge the speed of essential grid modernization initiatives, and understand organizational priorities.
It was a particularly interesting year since we used the event to formally launch our Adaptive Grid software solution for electric utilities which has been very well received by our customers and the industry. While no technology is ever perfect, I think the positive response we’ve seen to our Adaptive Grid solution is because it speaks to the three themes I outlined above. The key to success lies in the ability to rapidly adapt to changing requirements with the latest technology while staying focused on the core value of the grid.
We are facing some very difficult challenges, but it’s critically important to the future of our planet that we find a way forward. While we have a big mountain to climb, I remain optimistic. I was very impressed with the ambition and intelligence of the people I met in San Diego and I’m confident that by working together we can all adapt to the realities of our new world.
To learn more about IQGeo's Adaptive Grid software solution, complete the free demo request to talk with our utility industry experts.