Short description of recent trade show visits, highlighting increased supplier and customer awareness of distribution automation as stepping-stone to renewables integration and development of smart grid

Suppliers Converging on Electricity Distribution Automation Opportunity

Donald Henschel | IMS Research

It’s been a busy month for trade shows in the electricity generation, transmission and distribution industries. IMS Research has sent analysts to at least three such shows over as many weeks, including Hannover Messe, Transmission & Distribution / Smart Grids Europe in Copenhagen, and Metering America in Dallas. These exhibitions are each very different in scope, scale, and focus, but at all three shows there was a growing acknowledgement of the importance of grid automation in the integration of renewable energy and the construction of a smart grid.  A widening range of electrical industry suppliers as well as their utility customers are becoming keenly aware that the promise of renewable energy, electric vehicles, and the greater smart grid will not be realized before extensive automation upgrades are made along electricity distribution networks.
The Hannover Messe is the world’s largest industrial trade show, and while the exhibition has a wide range of industries and markets represented, issues related to the smart grid and electricity distribution were highlighted this year. Renewable generation was the most visible trend at the show, both centrally in large wind and solar installations and in smaller applications distributed along the feeder lines. In response to this, there was growing acknowledgement by suppliers at the Messe that substantial investment in improving distribution networks would be required to make efficient use of renewable energy sources. Grid communications and intelligence, sensing, switchgear, and distributed energy storage providers all aggressively asserted their role in building electricity networks capable of handling an infusion of new sources of energy spread throughout the grid.
At Transmission & Distribution / Smart Grids Europe in Copenhagen, suppliers emphasized their sensing, communications, and intelligence offerings over pure “lights on” transmission or distribution hardware. While this is understandable in the context of slow new construction and development in the region, it also indicates acknowledgement that automation will be a critical factor in preparing the aging electric grids in Europe to handle the twin challenges of renewable energy integration and electric vehicle charging.

Even at Metering America in Dallas, a show which focuses on advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) projects in the Americas, AMI solution providers signaled their growing interest in playing a role in the automation of feeder lines upstream of their utility meters. Whether by providing enhanced grid diagnostic information through analysis of metering endpoint data or by using AMI networks to communicate with intelligent grid devices like capacitor bank controllers or fault indicators, these market participants are responding to the opportunity beyond AMI, which is achieving mature market penetration in North America.
At all three of these shows, for technological and business reasons, suppliers are converging upon an opportunity with long term organic growth potential in distribution automation. Essentially none of the technologies presented for the distribution automation market are new, with legacy use on the grid or in manufacturing environments. The intensity with which they are being proscribed for use on the distribution networks is new, however, and this market promises to keep supplier attention on the grid for years to come.
Donald Henschel
Donald Henschel is an analyst in the Metering & Energy Management group at IMS Research. His work has included water and heat meters, power quality metering, and electricity tenant sub-meters. Additionally, he has expertise in the uninterruptible power supply (UPS) and grid automation industries. He and the rest of the Metering team are based in Austin, Texas, USA.

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