Scott Blecke, Vice President of Engineering, Great Lakes Energy
In my experience at the energy distribution level, I have witnessed most of the challenges revolving around the large-scale adoption and penetration of new and emerging technologies on the horizon. Entities across the U.S. face challenges with operationalizing the existing grid to support elements such as electric vehicles, battery storage, and other technologies which will enhance the lives and overall satisfaction of the end use-customer at a residential level. The desire to bring technological scalability to the grid and facilitate the transactions in a non-traditional utility environment has developed into one of the largest challenges for the industry. Utilities across the country are researching and developing innovative ways to move forward and implement different technologies. For us, to solve this existing challenge, we look for partners who are actively engaged to find the best end-use solutions for a project.
"We look to identify potential risk points, as well as identify opportunities to drive production and efficiency"
To solve this problem, we developed a strategic approach in which we can be confident while acknowledging the areas involved in the process that we could improve upon. With those areas identified we have invested a significant amount of time with our partners to synchronize the process early on. The early stage planning effort is the backbone to determine the points of integration between our partners and utilities before starting any big project. We look to identify the areas that are a concern and also the ones we can approve upon from an efficiency stand-point. It is important to strategically involve the partners and vendors and walk them through all the different integration points, which helps us to build a more appropriate and efficient process.
As one of the largest electric cooperatives in the nation with 14,000 miles of distribution lines, the main challenge is to provide high-speed internet access to rural, underserved areas. To this end, one of the strategic views we have taken is to embark on a 1000 mile fiber to the home pilot project to complete the communication link between the utility and our member consumers. We will be positioning the electric utility through this project to adapt at scale to different new technologies such as battery storage, electric vehicles, and demand response…etc. The high speed/ low latency network will be critical to support transactions as we look to the future with peer to peer energy exchanges, distributed energy resources… etc all while bringing an increased level of stability, security, and reliability to the grid. If this pilot project is successful, we plan to build the rest of our network on the same idea.
Currently, the distribution space is looking for ways to evolve, while we have a good idea on what to do, utilities may not be culturally in the right place to operationalize this evolution. From my perspective and my position in the company, I always try to create a connection between my hobby of wakesurfing, even as far as extending the season during the frigid winter months in Michigan with a dry suit, to solving utility challenges. I’m not confined by the traditional warm water approach to wakesurfing. This non-traditional ideology speaks to my mindset on growth and evolution. First being the person who is willing to be different, take a new/different path, and as a result achieve in areas where others won’t. Secondly, this mindset also gives me an improved perspective to drive change at my organization, moving beyond the traditional confines of what I would call “traditional thought process.” On the same note, my advice for others is not to fear being different and try to figure out how we develop a process that can integrate different technologies according to the end customers’ demands. Don’t be confined by the traditional thought process, and explore other possibilities creatively.