Last month I wrote a commentary 'Loving the Plod,' which tried to point out that, sure, utilities may be glacially slow when it comes to adopting new technologies. I said that they stonewall all attempts by manufacturers, regulators, even politicians to get them to put something new in service until it has stood the test of time by being watched in a pilot for a decade. But, by golly, when they evaluated something they were thorough and the final report showed the details. Except, the report wasn't really read by anyone and the product was no longer available anyway…
Well, that's not exactly what I said, and actually in my mind I was paying the industry a compliment for getting past the hucksters while maintaining excellent service. But it all came across as heavy criticism to several readers who pointed out that I was living in the past, maybe thinking of the days when I was a young hotshot engineer trying to swim against what I saw as the bureaucratic tide.
I realize that they are right!
Times have changed, they argued. Although utilities haven't turned into high-risk ventures by any means, over the last decade the industry has taken the lead in driving the development and commercialization of a number of advanced technologies. Of course, smart grid immediately comes to mind with its variety of communication platforms, advanced metering, cross-functional integration etc. Even with all the government stimulus funding, smart grid would have gone nowhere without knowledgeable hard working utility folks participating in the planning, design and deployment. And these weren't just neglected pilot studies out in the middle of nowhere. We're talking fully operational systems that really showed their stuff during the storms last year.
Recently I've been working on the upcoming T&D World supplement on connecting renewables to the grid. I have lots of memories of those early days when I was hands-on involved, taking the initiative, along with other utility folks, to make the connections work, even though we weren't real happy with these new 'intruders' on our system. Now, looking back, I can see that for 30 years the utility industry has adjusted, adapted and created new operating methodologies and deployed new technologies to integrate resources that really aren't friendly to the legacy grid. Our solutions work so well, in fact that, we may get even more challenges than we bargained for - call it performance punishment. But we've got the creative, innovative talent and drive to smooth out the wrinkles as they come.
We won't get much credit for it – but we're used to that.