Washington D.C. – December 6, 2023 – The GridWise Alliance’s annual gridCONNEXT® conference took place in Washington, D.C. on December 5-6. With the theme Grid Infrastructure: Accelerating Deployment, the conference brought together a diverse community of 200 leaders in the electricity industry. Throughout the event, speakers reiterated serval ideas key to the transformation of the grid eco-system: innovation, the value of risk-taking, technology, and operational cultural change.
The first morning of the conference featured appearances by three members of the House of Representatives. Congressman Bob Latta (R-OH5), co-chair of the Grid Innovation Caucus (GIC) kicked off the event. Later, his fellow GIC co-chair, Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland (D-WA10) joined the conference, expressing her dedication to meaningful support for grid modernization. Noting the value of both the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) for investment in the electricity industry, Strickland said “without strong, reliable, abundant power and an infrastructure that can withstand cybersecurity attacks we don’t have a foundation for living our lives every day.”
Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-FL14) focused her remarks on the technological innovations for grid modernization, such as Grid Enhancing Technologies, Virtual Power Plants and Micro-Grids. “Ultimately, we need a smarter, more efficient grid. One that can communicate, respond to extreme weather events and to market challenges. I think the grid of the future is going to be built on innovations, on grid software and hardware championed by many of you here today.”
A key topic of the conference was the potential transformation of the electricity industry through utilization of Artificial Intelligence (AI). During a keynote session sponsored by Microsoft, Stephen Lacey of Latitude Media demonstrated generative AI techniques during remarks about the macro trends of AI utilization in the electricity sector. Lacey told session host Kevin Chanell of Microsoft “I am encouraged that we’re already seeing tons of use cases… there are a lot of utilities that are actually hiring AI experts that don’t necessarily know the power sector and are taking a risk to try to figure out how they can use predictive analytics to make sure that their assets are healthy.”
Lacey cautioned however that there is concern AI pilot projects at utilities may not be scaled and brought into operational processes fast enough to accelerate grid transformation. This theme was echoed during the panel “The Future of AI in Utility Operations,” sponsored by GE Vernova with panelists from BloombergNEF, Innovation Force, and Microsoft. As summarized by Mahesh Sudhakaran of GE Vernova, “this is one of the most exciting domains in our business. We have all seen the breadth that AI can touch. This is the one foundational technology that pretty much goes across generation, transmission, distribution and the customer domains, and also the operational and regulatory domain.” The three themes which emerged from the session were that AI requires a strong data infrastructure, implementing AI requires multi-functional teams, both internal to the utility and with partners, and that AI utilization is an organizational wide initiative requiring senior level sponsorship.
In what has become a gridCONNEXT® traditional and not-to-miss session, “The Hot Seat” interview, Assistant Secretary for Electricity, Gene Rodrigues sat down with Lee Krevat, Climate Champions Post host, to taste hot sauces while discussingclimate change, decarbonization, electrification and the culture change needed to adapt to our changing planet. “We shouldn’t be afraid to innovate,” Rodrigues said, “in the utility, culture and regulatory framework, there are a lot of pressures against doing something different because when you do something differently you expose yourself to after the fact regulatory risk. We need to live in a world where people in thoughtful ways, innovate, take a few chances. And that’s the only way we’re going to progress.”
gridCONNEXT® closed with a two-hour workshop on Lessons Learned from GRIP Round One funding. Ariel Horowitz, Deputy Director of the Grid Deployment Office at DOE, provided an overview of the awards made in the first GRIP round and described changes made to the process and solicitation for GRIP round two projects (applications due on January 12). In a discussion facilitated by Chris Kelly of Beam Reach Consulting, panelists Ann Moore (AVEVA) and Marguerite Behringer (Landis+Gyr) described their companies’ experiences in partnerships applying for GRIP funding and provided analysis of the trend in the projects which were awarded. The GridWise Alliance will publish a paper shortly on the learnings from this session.
Other sessions during the conference were on Data, Standards, and Applications; Quantifying Resilience Benefits, The Fragmented Landscape of Grid Modernization, Enabling Residential Customer Participation Under FERC Order 2222, A View from the States, Right-sizing the Distribution System to Meet Future Needs, Accelerating Substation Virtualization to Achieve Grid Modernization, and the Need for Investments to Address the New Utility Reality.
For the second year in a row, gridCONNEXT® had a Technology Showcase during which sponsors displayed key technologies and projects for grid modernization. The following companies exhibited:
- Dell, featuring the Virtual Protection, Automation, and Control (vPAC)
- Landis+Gyr, featuring Revelo
- NY Power Authority, featuring AGILe service
- Pepco (an Exelon company), featuring the Fairmount Heights residential microgrid project
- Schneider Electric with Aveva
- Siemens Energy
The GridWise Alliance thanks these exhibitors and the additional sponsors for their dedicated contributions to the amazing content generated at gridCONNEXT® 2023: CenterPoint Energy, Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), Sense, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and Microsoft.
During the two thought-provoking days, the GridWise Alliance took a moment to celebrate its 20th Anniversary. In a champagne toast, Carl Imhoff of PNNL, a founding father of GridWise, reflected on the last two decades of both the organization and grid modernization, while noting that today “our challenge is bigger than what we faced then, it’s a great opportunity for thought leadership, courage, and tenacity.
Conference attendees have access to the conference recordings until January 8 on the gridCONNEXT® 2023 virtual platform. Starting in Q2 of 2024, GridWise Alliance will release the recorded sessions with synopses of the thought leadership provided by the many speakers and panelists.