Welcome Alice Moy-Gonzalez: New Expert in the Digital Utility Community - [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Expert Interview]
- Apr 21, 2021 8:20 pm GMT
The future of the grid towards infrastructure that's more digital, connected, intelligent, and automated has been evident to players in the utility industry for years now, giving them time to figure out the most pragmatic methods to move to this future. But this shift in the way the grid works is no longer an industry secret-- it's evident everywhere you look! Whether that's via major grid infrastructure plans being put forth by the President or via individual customers signing up for demand response programs with the utilities, actors big and small are making clear that the digital future of the grid is indeed a mainstream topic of focus.
But that doesn't mean the hard work is done, not by a longshot. Rather, the experts who have been crafting this grid of the future are continuing to evaluate what it means for the utility sector as a whole and responding by shaping that future. In particular, the future of the grid to integrate more communications technologies and data collection and analysis programs are going to be just as critical and prevalent as meter readers of the utility of yesterday.
To keep pace with these rapidly advancing needs, Energy Central is constantly adding industry leaders to our Network of Experts who can best keep us abreast of the newest technologies, developments, and roadblocks. Today, I have the pleasure of introducing to the Digital Utility community the latest expert who will help us make sense of it all: Alice Moy-Gonzalez, Senior Vice President of Strategic Development at Anterix.
Alice did me the honor of sitting down for an interview so I could share with you all the scoop behind her view of these digital grid developments and generally introduce her to the Energy Central Community-- enjoy!
Matt Chester: Welcome to the Energy Central Community, Alice! Let’s start by having you give a quick background. How did you get involved with the utility sector and what’s your role today?
Alice Moy-Gonzalez: I was a radio-frequency (RF) engineer earlier in my career. In 2006, I was hired by a startup to support a utility company in building out a private network for their mission-critical applications. At a startup, you wear many hats, and I had the opportunity to see how integrating communications into IoT applications ensured that real-time and reliable data was available for the utility’s decision making, optimization and control. That added to the reliability and security of the grid, which was top of mind because it was just a few years after the Northeast blackout and situational awareness to improve the resiliency was an emerging topic of importance. As the Senior Vice President of Strategic Development for Anterix, I combine my experience in telecommunications and utilities to work overseeing our business development, strategic partnerships and corporate development functions. I approach everything with an eye to helping utilities of all sizes understand the benefits of standardized private LTE networks.
MC: Having such wide experience in clean energy, smart grid, and telecom, can you share a bit about how these three concepts come together to support each other?
AM: Moving to a smart grid of the future involves helping to ensure that investments and systems used today operate safely and reliably and are flexible enough to scale into the future. Utilities are facing challenges that include integrating clean energy systems, as well as greater intelligence capabilities for real-time insights into the grid so any issues can be fixed rapidly. They also need the ability to conduct predictive analytics for proactive measures against potential issues. It’s an exciting but complex process to keep up with all of the new features – more data, faster speeds, more intelligence, and the ability to leverage standards-based systems to make it smarter – that are coming along.
Clean energy is forcing new technologies and a two-way power flow that didn’t exist before onto a legacy grid that must adapt to support new distributed energy resources (DERs). To do that safely and reliably, utilities must have real-time insight into conditions of the grid and the conditions of those individual energy sources. They also must have real-time sensing and real-time control to be able to successfully integrate DERs at different points. To help ensure the right connectivity solutions for these use cases, telecommunications comes into play as a key part of it what makes your grid smart and an enabler of these new energy sources.
MC: The utility industry is in a state of [great change], perhaps more so than at any time in its history. Given that, what do you think is the biggest challenge that leaders in the industry are currently facing? And what tools will be critical to tackling those?
AM: When you look at what utilities are facing as if you have different pieces of the puzzle, in my opinion you don’t see the big picture of the future until you put them all together. I believe these pieces – the individual features of clean energy, cybersecurity, resiliency, EV fleets and charging stations, microgrids, customer control – each may have different technology providers offering different solutions for each of them. But, as utility leaders know, none of these features are in silos; each one of them is almost dependent on the other, so they must communicate. In my view, Private LTE offers deeper insight not only into how each would work, but also how they are working together. And by using a private LTE network, utilities are not restrained or constrained by another entity determining their priority for transferring data in a timely fashion. That combination of benefits is leading utilities to private communications technology as a key foundational element for the future grid.
All of these things – DER, clean energy resources, resiliency, hardening of the grid – all will be looked at individually. However, utilities recognize that it is the data, the situational awareness, and the ability to control it that will allow them to optimize the performance of their grid well into the future.
Another reason I believe that standardized private LTE is getting so much attention from utilities is that it helps to ensure the reliability of the grid in any situation. Too many utilities have experienced building a system for an emergency that is shelved until it is needed and then finding that no one knows how to use it or that it is now obsolete. By implementing a foundational standards-based technology, such as private LTE, that is used by the utility every day, it can help to avoid the potential for obsolescence or lack of ability to implement it.
MC: The advancing Internet of Things is a constant buzzword in the energy sector, but it’s one that seems promising to actually deliver upon its hype. What are some of the lesser-known ways that IoT may be poised to transform utilities?
AG: Utilities have been incorporating IoT technology into their operations for more than a decade, and they are a key part of relaying the data that helps them ensure the reliability and resiliency of the grid. But, as we all know, no one expected COVID and the challenges it created. As an essential service, utilities had to keep workers out in the field in a manner that ensured their safety. One way they could expand upon IoT with new technologies is by overlaying AR to train workers in the field. Imagine you have an essential worker in the field who needs to complete a specific task but doesn’t have the training. Rather than pull someone out of another location to conduct training, you could overlay Augmented Reality (AR) onto communications to train in real-time so they could perform their work in a more efficient manner. This keeps the trainer and trainee safe while keeping operations running smoothly. Overlaying new applications onto existing IoT functions would allow utilities to react to any situation thrown at them.
Another future transformation involves EV charging. Car manufacturers are aiming at 100-percent EV fleets by 2035, and utilities are going to be at the center of providing the energy to support those fleets. To do so, utilities will need real-time insight into their grids and an awareness of where and how they will supply energy to those vehicles. In tandem, those vehicles also could be energy sources for the grid, so utilities will need to support two-way energy flow. Knowing what is happening at any point in time on the grid and being able to make decisions quickly is going to be very important. These are some things that are being built “as it goes” by the utility industry, but IoT is going to be at the heart of it to ensure safety and reliability of the grid and enable some of the decarbonization goals that the nation is trying to achieve.
MC: You’ve had a long career in this space—what’s the one area that you’re most surprised to see how it developed, looking back? Is there any specific technology or trend that you never expected to see that’s now somewhat commonplace?
AG: When I transferred my RF engineering background to work in the utility sector in 2006, I understood the importance of telecom and the utility engineers I worked with understood it as well. Communications was not necessarily well understood within the utilities’ C-suites, however. That has changed tremendously, because now utility leaders recognize that the applications that need to be put on a grid – clean energy distribution, automation, energy efficiency programs, demand-response applications – all rely on connectivity and that requires private, standards-based telecom technology. Creating these private networks would afford utilities the scale that they need, and many utilities are exploring them as a strategic approach for their grid modernization roadmaps.
Thanks to Alice Moy-Gonzalez for joining me for this interview and for providing a wealth of insights an expertise to the Energy Central Community. You can trust that Alice will be available for you to reach out and connect, ask questions, and more as an Energy Central member, so be sure to make her feel welcome when you see her across the platform.
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