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SENIOR EDITOR | ROD WALTON
The Winds of Change
ARE NOT KIND TO
The statistics from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria are
devastating no matter how you spin the numbers. Hundreds
of people dead, thousands of homes destroyed and an economic way of life impacted for months, maybe years.
The power grid certainly wasn’t spared from the storm’s
wrath. AEP CEO Nic Akins talked about how Harvey “
devastated the grid” by knocking down miles upon miles of transmission lines, poles and flooding out substations so that
transformers became inoperable.
Sometimes, though, a so-called Act of God may point to the
future as much as it damages the present. Another statistic
about Harvey was something I learned at GE’s Minds+Ma-
chines conference in San Francisco in October. Speakers there
recounted the stunning fact that about 500,000 vehicles were
ruined by Harvey’s flood waters.
Michael Weber, a University of Texas at Austin professor
and co-director of the Clean Energy Incubator, pointed out
at the GE event that a surprisingly high percentage of those
lost autos will be replaced not with fossil-fueled models but
electric vehicles (EV). The seismic shift to EV will demand
changes in infrastructure which CenterPoint Energy and other utilities must accommodate.
The main thing to accommodation, of course, is a willingness to change. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said we are
shifting from “a know-it-all culture to a learn-it-all culture” in
his sit-down with new GE CEO John Flannery at Minds+Ma-chines. It’s all part of the “growth mindset” that will be demanded in the future, and Nadella compared it to a tale of two
children and how they evolve.
“Take a know-it-all child with a higher capability and a
learn-it-all with lower capability,” Nadella concluded. “Ulti-
mately the learn-it-all will do better.”
The implied advice to utility officials is this: Keep an open
mind and be ready to change on a dime. The future is certainly
wide open for the grid, with all of its challenges concerning
distributed energy resources, edge technologies and analytics
combined with machine learning.
But you’ve heard all that before. What’s amazing is that the
future is now, whether it’s forced by business use cases or natural disasters. Our upcoming Distribu TECH 2018 conference
and exhibition will feature sessions on everything from energy
storage to DER integration to data analytics and substation
automation. One of our mega-sessions, specially put together
in the last month as a response to the hurricanes, will focus on
how utilities such as Florida Power & Light, CenterPoint and
AEP Texas responded to the devastation.
They will share stories of woe, courage and resiliency. They
also will talk about how Harvey, Irma and Maria shape grid
planning going forward. Because storms will come and go, but
the future is always before us, demanding that we respond. It
is as futile to resist as a 100-mph wind.