Chief Technology Officers

In the Transmission and Distribution Space, Utility Executives are Quite Focused on the prospect of building out the intelligent grid. If our only goal was to increase reliability and efficiencies on the grid itself, the magnitude of investment might be difficult to justify. But when looking at bigger-picture issues — including power trading, economic dispatch and grid stability on the generation side, and demand-side management and load shifting on the consumer side — we can afford to invest in more grid intelligence.

Probably one of our most innovative and far-thinking utilities is Duke Energy, where CEO Jim Rogers sets the direction. In the June issue of Transmission & Distribution World, Rogers spells out his vision to meet an energy-efficient and carbon-constrained future in “Let's Clear the Air.” In this position piece, Rogers emphasizes the need for a Smart Grid from the generator to the customer. Rogers is a big vision guy and a proponent of leveraging technologies to enable Duke to meet its customers' energy needs.

It is one thing to have a vision and quite another to execute that vision. Rogers tapped Dave Mohler as chief technology officer (CTO), responsible for the development and application of technologies in support of Duke's strategic objectives. Mohler previously served as vice president of strategic planning at Duke and, prior to the merger of the two companies, performed the same function at Cinergy. Mohler also has operational and business development experience, which gives him the vision and the background to bring together the diverse resources to put technology into play.

Mohler says bold steps are needed if we are to meet the megachallenges our utilities face. Stating that we must “look at the business through new eyes if we are to leverage technology to its maximum potential.”

Mohler recalled a conversation with former Sun Micro-systems CEO Scott McNealy, where McNealy remarked, “I am sick of being on the net. I just want my stuff on the net, and I want it to take care of itself.”

Applying that thought to the power industry, Mohler says, “People don't want to be overwhelmed, so it is our job to provide customers with a way they can get what they want affordably and reliably, and make it easy.”

HERE IS A MOHLER EXAMPLE

According to Mohler, Duke is working to develop a “solar initiative” where customers could have solar panels installed at their homes and businesses, and Duke would provide the capital investment. The panels would be owned, installed, operated and maintained by Duke, and the value created would be shared between Duke's customers and shareholders. Duke has filed with the North Carolina Utilities Commission to recover up to US$100 million for the installation of these electricity-generating solar panels. The panels would be installed at up to 850 North Carolina homes, schools, stores and factories.

Duke has been diligently building out its intelligent distribution and intelligent metering platforms (see “On the Road to Intelligent Distribution,” Transmission & Distribution World, September 2006) to provide the infrastructure to enable the rollout of these customer solutions.

More than 30 Duke employees volunteered to have energy-saving technologies — including smart thermostats, advanced light switches and solar panels — installed in their homes. Most of these technologies are enabled by intelligent metering and enhanced with real-time data.

BALANCING GENERATION AND LOAD

Looking at the big picture, Mohler states, “We are analyzing all aspects of the value equation as we balance demands in the areas of bulk power, energy storage, load control, local generation, environmental issues and energy efficiency.”

Because Duke looks at the energy efficiency of the entire system, Duke treats energy efficiency as its “fifth fuel,” joining coal, natural gas, nuclear and renewables.

I asked Mohler if he had run into other CTOs, and he mentioned Karl Stahlkopf at Hawaiian Electric Company. I happen to know Stahlkopf from his days as vice president of power delivery at Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and called him to get his take on the role of CTO to help meet the technical challenges utilities face. I'll relay the results of that conversation in an upcoming editorial.

As we move toward a more integrated energy future, I expect to see more utilities follow the lead of Duke and Hawaiian Electric Company by hiring CTOs to lead the charge in rolling out big-impact technologies. Our technology issues simply must be addressed at the highest levels within our utilities if we are to extract maximum value from emerging technologies.

Editor's note: Dave Mohler would like to share insights with fellow CTOs. He can be reached at [email protected].

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