Recap Washington DC Q3: IoT, Technology, & Innovation

- Collin Smith, AEG Fellow

There was an air of urgency surrounding Advanced Energy Group’s Q3 Stakeholder Breakfast on IoT, Technology, and Innovation that convened in Washington, DC on September 27, 2018. AEG founder and CEO H.G. Chissell pointed out in his opening introduction that if the stakeholders in the room were not careful, energy consumption by all the monitors and sensors needed to enable the “internet of things” could cause power use in DC to balloon, working against the city’s ambitious goal to be carbon neutral by 2050. H.G. challenged the audience to consider how DC could ensure that increased IoT adoption does not lead to new energy problems.

Discussion leaders at the event included

  • Bryan Clark, Director, Utility of the Future, Pepco Holdings

  • Jeffrey Johnson, CIO, Naval District Washington

  • Thomas Willie, CEO, Blue Pillar, Inc.

  • Bill Meehan, Director of Utility Solutions, Esri

  • Brad Williams, Vice President, Industry Strategy, Oracle Utilities

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Breakfast attendees discussed the major challenges for IoT in DC’s development. Brad Williams, the VP of Industry Strategy at Oracle Utilities, introduced his company’s vision for the future – one in which customers become an active participant in optimizing operations on the power grid by using their energy consumption and demand-side resources to provide services to utilities. Bryan Clark, Director of Pepco’s Utility of the Future initiative, outlined a similar future in which customers are incentivized to take actions that help the utility avoid costly upgrades to their system – thus reducing electricity prices across the system as a whole.

Other presentations pointed out obstacles to IoT deployment and adoption. Tom Willie, CEO of Blue Pillar, noted that the heart of the challenge is not the existence of data but the cost and complexity of getting that data. Jeff Johnson, CIO of the Naval District Washington, followed up by emphasizing that getting access to cost-effective, reliable data isn’t enough to create change: you also need to foster an organizational culture that is willing to make changes once it has the data in-hand.

Bill Meehan, Director of Utility Solutions at Esri, summed up the high-level challenges facing IoT with a word that’s better known to doctors than electricians: scotoma. In the medical field, a scotoma is a partial blind spot in an otherwise normal field of vision. According to Meehan, this is analogous to the metaphorical “blind spots” that utilities and similar long-standing institutions have towards IoT and other advanced technologies. Their set ways can distract them from the benefits that IoT can bring to their organizations. Similarly, city departments can also be afflicted by scotomas, with different departments acting in isolation of one another, failing to make the connections that will multiply the benefits of IoT.

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The event then moved into a whole-group discussion, where other stakeholders brought attention to additional challenges. Brooke Smallwood from WGL Energy emphasized that procurement in the DC area takes much longer than it should, acting as a barrier for groups that want to install advanced energy systems like microgrids even if they have the means to pay for them. H.G. drew an approving nod from the audience when he highlighted that a robust cybersecurity system needs to be front-and-center as these technologies became more widely deployed.

At the end of their presentations, each speaker filled in the statement, “The most critical, regional obstacle blocking IoT, Technology and Innovation from expediting the achievement of DC's clean energy commitments is…” Attendees then voted for the response they felt best identified current IoT deployment challenges. The winner was Bryan Clark from Pepco, with the statement:

The most critical, regional obstacle blocking IoT, Technology, and Innovation from expediting the achievement of DC’s clean energy commitment is…a reliable platform for multidirectional energy exchange which motivates optimal siting and dispatch of low-cost renewable energy resources and enables sophisticated energy related data and services.

(Bill Meehan from Esri was a close runner-up with his somewhat less-wordy response, “…scotomas.”)

The remainder of the Stakeholder Breakfast focused on determining a solution to Bryan Clark’s challenge, one that could be implemented within a year so that it could be reviewed at the 2019 Q3 Breakfast. The group identified that creating an optimized system for siting and dispatching renewable and DER technologies was too ambitious for a 12-month deadline, but the question of data availability and accessibility was something they felt could be tackled. DC Public Service Commissioner Betty Anne Kane noted that many relevant data points had already been collected by several of the stakeholders present at the Breakfast; all that was required was to collate it into a comprehensive, actionable data set.

Natalia Mathura, another member of Pepco’s Utility of the Future team, took this data-collation goal one-step further, pointing out that LA had done a similar collation exercise and, once all the data was accessible, created an event through which third parties could explore novel ways to employ that data to the city’s benefit. She suggested DC could try something similar, tapping into the wealth of knowledge and experience that stakeholders in DC’s energy space possess to hack out new solutions.

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At the end of the event, H.G. summarized the group’s goals and created a task force to ensure follow-through. Bill Meehan and David Ellis, CEO of Global Power Technologies, stepped up to lead the task force, lending their substantial professional experience to the twin goals of collating all the relevant data necessary to create Clark’s platform and organizing an event to explore the solutions that can be developed with this data.

If you’re interested in learning the results from this initiative, keep an eye out for AEG’s Q3 event in 2019 when the task force will be presenting their accomplishments. In the meantime, stay engaged and join us at AEG’s Q4 event on Mobility & Transportation, scheduled for December 13.  

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