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Welcome Paul Gwaltney, New Expert in the Digital Utility Community- [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Expert Interview]

Posted to Energy Central in the Digital Utility Group
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Matt Chester's picture
Energy Analyst, Chester Energy and Policy

Official Energy Central Community Manager of Generation and Energy Management Networks. Matt is an energy analyst in Orlando FL (by way of Washington DC) working as an independent energy...

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  • Mar 17, 2022
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After so many years of slow and plodding progress, the recent era in the utility sector has been undoubtedly a technological revolution. Largely, the advancements being made by energy companies these days are ones enabled by digital technologies, from advanced sensors to new software tools to intelligent capabilities and so much more. Every time you read a new headline in the utility sector, it seems that the innovators in energy have found a new and impressive opportunity to bring the industry into the digital age.

At Energy Central, we seek to ensure our community members are among the first to be informed of these developments and have the space to collaborate and share on exactly what this means moving forward. Part of how we do that is via the Digital Utility Group, and specifically by bringing into that community additional thought leaders to be a part of our Network of Experts. I’m thrilled to welcome the newest member of this esteemed circle of experts, Paul Gwaltney. Paul is a Utility Industry Advisor, and as our latest Digital Utility expert he was kind enough to sit down with me as a part of our Energy Central Power Perspective ‘Welcome New Expert Interview Series’ to share with his fellow community members what he’s going to bring to the table.

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Enjoy!

 

Matt Chester: These interviews give us the chance to introduce our experts to the community, so let’s just start broad with your background: what is your role  and how did you get started in the world of energy?

Paul Gwaltney: I was originally hired into Washington Gas as the director of the project management office in 2014 with a goal of maturing the organization and delivery of projects.  I quickly became immersed in all aspects of the process: identification and road mapping of digital initiatives, prioritization of initiatives across diverse business units, budgeting of initiatives in future years, delivering complex and highly integrated solutions, and then ultimately sustaining them over the lifespan of the solution. Over my 8+  years, I have worked in several areas including delivery, roadmapping, prioritization, and system sustainment.

 

MC: As the energy industry gets more digital, we hear a lot about advanced digital technologies on the grid. But you’re coming from the gas side of things, so what are some of the prime opportunities for digitalization you’re seeing in the gas utility sector?

PG: Certainly, leak detection with drones and satellites is a growing area.  To make these most effective, you need accurate location data for your system, so you see opportunities around mapping and GIS as well.  These further drive innovation and opportunities around data analytics and AI. To identify, locate, and resolve leaks will be critical for gas utilities.  Analytics and AI will be instrumental in helping make sense of the data and in predicting leaks as opposed to reacting to existing leaks. 

 

MC: Amid the push for decarbonization across the energy industry, how do you see these new digital technologies playing a role?

PG: Natural gas will be part of our energy portfolio for quite some time, even with, and especially with, decarbonization efforts. Natural Gas is a cleaner fuel than other fossil fuels and it will play a part of our energy needs for several more decades, by virtually all projections. With climate change and with our increasing awareness and evidence that natural gas leaks account for an unknown (but relatively large) amount of our GHG emissions, leak analytics and repairs will be a primary focus of the industry.  Because of the long-tails of the gas infrastructure, it will be critical to identify the riskiest and most leak-prone segments as early as possible and focus capital investments there.

 

MC: What are some of the major challenges in the coming years of the gas sector that you don’t think are getting the attention they need from leaders in the industry today?

PG: I would suggest there are two broad areas that need more discussion and attention:  First is related to our infrastructure investments.  Pipe and infrastructure going into the ground now will last 30-40 years or longer.  As each month/year passes, it is increasingly likely that for the last decade+ of that pipe’s lifespan, the infrastructure may not be handling natural gas at all.  As I mentioned above, gas will be with us for several more decades, but these timelines are beginning to overlap with targeted timelines for decarbonization.  I would be curious to hear more about the convergence of those timelines and all of the implications.

The second area is around the increasing evidence and research that gas leaks account for a potentially alarming amount of GHG at the consumer device.  I’ve seen estimates of 1-3% of gas is lost at the consumer device.  I would love to see more research and analysis of this and see the industry tackle it head-on.  This is important not only for consumer and customer welfare, but for GHG emissions as well.  This may spur more innovation in consumer products as well.

MC: What advice would you give to someone at the early stage of their career?

PG: Specifically for gas utilities, Be curious and learn as much as you can about the regulating bodies in your jurisdictions. If utilities do not take the reins, these regulating bodies will steer the utility. Be mindful, and be cautious, of technical debt in the company. It is almost always more glamorous to spend capital dollars on innovation, but without a sound foundation, these innovations can falter and fail. Learn how budgeted dollars are allocated to foundational systems and sustainment of existing solutions.  Companies that do this well understand the importance of sustainment.

 

MC: Why did you feel compelled to get more involved in the Energy Central Community? And what value do you hope to bring to your peers on the platform? 

PG: Some of the challenges facing the gas industry are existential and I’d like to be part of the conversation.  My entire career has an analytical foundation and I’m intensely curious about how the industry will address some of these challenges. I’m looking for information and data as well as deep conversations.  I want to add my own curiosity to the conversation. My value add, hopefully, is to at least pose some questions and begin conversations with people much smarter than me.

 

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Thanks to Paul Gwaltney for joining me for this interview and for providing a wealth of insights an expertise to the Energy Central Community. You can trust that Paul will be available for you to reach out and connect, ask questions, and more as an Energy Central member, so be sure to make him feel welcome when you see her across the platform.

 

The other expert interviews that we’ve completed in this series can be read here, and if you are interested in becoming an expert then you can reach out to me or you can apply here.

 

Discussions
Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Mar 18, 2022

Welcome, Paul.  I am looking forward to seeing you in the community! Audra 

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