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Digital Trends To Watch

May 18, 2018
You can find some amazing things if you keep your eyes open

I was really looking forward to the 2018 IEEE PES T&D Expo. I have been going to this conference for more years than I care to admit. So, when my friend and editor Rick Bush called and asked me to join him and the T&D World gang at the 2018 Expo in Denver, it was a no-brainer. He wanted me to be T&D World’s roaming reporter talking to people and exploring the technology on display. Two years ago, I did a  similar job for him at the 2016 Expo in Dallas. I had spotted a couple in interesting digital technologies gaining attention and I wanted to see how much progress had been made in two years.

The biggest attention-getter in Dallas was virtual reality (VR). VR places the user in a computer simulated reality and allows them to interact with that reality. In Dallas there were only a handful of VR demonstrations. Of those, most were more the wow factor (tigers jumping at you) than grid-related. Denver, however, was a totally different story. The wildlife had been replaced with more grid-based realities. I could walk through a substation and get up close and personal with the equipment. There were drone fly-overs and bucket-truck experiences, but my favorite was ABB’s Formula One electric racing car. OK, it was a wow factor, but it is also proving the abilities of electric cars, and electric cars are going to be a future that will greatly affect the grid.

In addition to VR, there was a lot of AR (augmented reality) showing up. AR is the overlaying of real-world elements with computer-generated simulations and using the new reality to understand the real world better. One display mixed storm-damaged equipment photos with file data on a tablet. It has the potential of faster restoration by making all responders experts on all aspects of the equipment in the area.

A relatively new digital technology I found to be interesting is called mixed reality (MR), which merges the virtual and real worlds into a new setting. MR is being presented as an improved reality that will change training. So, I started looking for VR and found it along with AR and MR. Some may argue that these are all offshoots of computer-generated data and simulations, and that is okay. As these technologies develop, they will become very interesting to our smart grid.

I found another digital technology at this Expo that will be one of the future technologies to watch called artificial intelligence (AI). There were a couple of AI demonstrations I ran into that were nothing short of amazing – I expect to see this grow over the next two years and be a big player in the 2020 Expo. Another grabber is 3D printing. There were several demonstrations of 3D printed models, equipment parts and such, available everywhere on the floor. When you bring VR, AR, MR, AI, 3D printing and several other new processes together, the coming years promise to be exciting times for the grid.

We have come a long way in the short time our industry has been operational. It reminds me of that old metaphor some industry experts use to push the need to modernize the grid. You know the one I’m talking about - “Edison would be perfectly at home with today’s power deliver system’s technology.” After spending three days walking my feet flat, I think Mr. Edison would have been lost in this sea of cutting-edge technology! Don’t get me wrong, Mr. Edison would have marveled at what he was seeing if he could have stepped onto the Expo floor. I’m sure Misters Tesla, Westinghouse, Siemens, or any of the other of the pioneers we revere would react the same way.

They would see this ain’t our grandpa’s electric grid. They would definitely see our industry has not been standing still since they started it! On the contrary, the Expo proves we are as tech savvy as any industry on the planet and more so than most. If you keep your eyes and mind open, there is no telling what you can find in the digital world of our power delivery system.

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