Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. Accordingly, a 'genius' is often merely a talented person who has done all of his or her homework.
- Thomas Edison
North America's Distribution Grid Has Come A Long Way

It was February 5th, 2003, and I was attending my first DistribuTECH in Las Vegas.  Pennwell, the organization that owns and operates DistribuTECH, boasted approximately 3,500 attendees with a record of 200 exhibitors.  As I walked the exhibit floor, I almost felt overdressed wearing my blazer and slacks since the exhibitors were mainly from the field demonstrating transformer, recloser, and substation technologies.  I recall nearly losing my lunch as a recloser demonstration occurred next to me.  Some of the newest technology on the floor was related to automated meter reading (AMR), which were enjoying record sales in 2003.  Also, Indus was acquiring the Global Energy and Utility Solutions (GEUS) unit from Systems Computer and Technology Corporation (SCT).               

Earlier this year I made my way back to DistribuTECH in San Antonio.  This time, the show boasted 13,500 attendees with over 520 exhibitors.  I felt right at home as the exhibit floor now seemed to be dominated by blazers and slacks.  Not to be forgotten, the transformer, recloser, and substation technology vendors were still there, but the information technologies from a modernized grid were owning the exhibit floor. 

The principles of yesterday’s electrical grid date back more than 100 years.  Originally designed to move power from centralized supply sources to fixed, predictable loads, the grid has served a growing nation well but brings with it some structural weaknesses.  The system is expensive and labor intensive, hard to expand, and prone to service disruptions and outages.  Furthermore, because of its radial design, the grid has historically been hard pressed to integrate off-grid, distributed assets such as solar, wind and other renewable sources.

A Modernized Grid seeks to upgrade this system by using intelligent technologies, much of which I witnessed on the floor in San Antonio recently.  This new grid provides utilities with a real-time roadmap of their assets and two-way communications with their customers.  AMR has become AMI or advanced metering.  Forget hiring helicopters or service providers for line inspections.  Those are now done by drones.  The new grid improves operational efficiencies and service to customers, lowers costs, and allows the integration of distributed assets.

A few years ago, I led a survey of North American utilities to seek where their priorities lie.  The digital utility came in fourth as it was still in its infancy as a concept.  This year at DistribuTECH, I must say that the digital utility was alive and well.  From vendors pitching a digital grid to utilities sharing how they are handling the digital transformation, it was amazing to see how far the industry has come in such a short time.  Many utilities have begun their journey with a digital customer experience, something that the industry did not start but instead has been brought to by the customers themselves.  Now with the communication and information technologies that have arrived since 2003, we have seen the grid go from dumb, to smart, to intelligent, and eventually just modernized.  And as the customers go digital, the grid goes digital, and eventually the utility goes digital.

I am starting to feel quite old as I reminisce about attending a grid conference where I should have been in jeans and boots (2003) when AMR was one of the newest technologies being showcased to where the industry has gone with integrating small, mid, and large power sources on a grid that was not designed to handle multiple sized intermittent generation in various places.  I am going to save this small article and read it in 2033 when I attend DistribuTECH to compare how far we’ve come as an industry.  And speaking of industry conferences, I hope to see you in the Mile High city of Denver next week at IEEE PES T&D.    


Jon Brock is President of utility and energy advisor Desert Sky Group, LLC.  He can be reached at

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