Guest Interview with Phil Davis of Schneider Electric

   How long have you worked at Schneider Electric?
   I joined Schneider Electric in August of 2008, when it purchased my employer, RETX Energy 

   What is your role at Schneider?
I manage the Demand Response Resource Center.  This group works both with utilities, suppliers,
    energy companies, and their energy customers to enable a robust strategy of demand resource
    integration.  As a practical matter, this covers everything from teaching "DR 101" seminars to
   designing grid automation or advanced building controls strategies.

How long have you been involved in demand side activities?
I have been involved in demand side activities since just before Congress passed the 1978 National Energy Conservation and Policy Act.  At the time, I managed the Utility Services Group for Equifax, Inc., and we provided home energy audits and weatherization services for utilities across North America.  The current environment really is the third major national demand side initiative of my career.

What challenges have you faced as a DR professional within your organization and within the industry?  
The biggest challenge is true understanding. Those of us that live in the DR world often forget that the majority of consumers and businesses don't understand DR well, if at all.  Even the folks in active markets have other daily priorities, so they know only what they need to know to participate in certain DR programs and to take advantage of those incentives and revenue streams.  There is enormous DR potential that remains untapped.

Another challenge is fragmentation.  Each DR market, and many local programs, have significant differences.  This adds complexity and expense for national firms that want a comprehensive corporate energy strategy. Large national energy users prefer high consistency from one facility to the next.  This makes them more efficient, able to deliver higher quality, and thus more competitive.  The DR supplier community, from manufacturers to aggregators, could offer a better service and lower cost if there were greater consistency.

A closely related factor is the rich tapestry of our regulatory framework.  Each state is sovereign in its local regulation, but the design of our grid makes it subject to regional and national rules as well.  These arise from energy initiatives, but also from environmental, security and many other fronts.

What changes have you seen in the industry as it relates to DR and EE over the last few years?
First is a realization that they are interdependent.  Theoretically, efficiency upgrades would diminish the ability to participate in certain types of DR programs, like capacity based ones.  Those same upgrades, however, actually enhance capability in other DR programs, such as Ancillary Services because they can produce a tighter and more responsive facility.  This leads naturally to a more sophisticated view of the market and a demand for comprehensive energy management and control strategies.  Broad initiatives such as the NIST Smart Grid Interoperability Panel and work being done within IEC 61850 or ISO 50001 suggest these areas are forever part of our energy future.  In turn, this has the interest of global players from China to France.

Traditionally, an engineer will say that EE is kWh, while DR is kW.  It's unlikely many folks understand that distinction, or care.  Efficiency is becoming a pervasive quest, whether it's focused on conservation voltage reduction from the grid or timing the charge of EV's to avoid congestion.  EE is the goal and DR is the premier tool to get there.  It's exciting to see people realizing that EE is a massively overarching concept and to think of it with new insight.

What do you expect to be the biggest challenge with implementing DR in the next decade?
The biggest challenge I see is the political climate. We saw portents of this when local commissions held up smart grid ARRA investment grant projects.  By its nature, DR crosses traditional boundaries and creates turf battles.  Meanwhile, the physics of electricity interconnects us and creates vulnerabilities we may not comprehend fully.  

In the end, workable solutions need a consistent regulatory and legal framework, backed by good research and development, in order to thrive.  People from different traditions using unfamiliar vocabularies must work together.  The big challenge arises from an inherently slow political process trying to manage the fast pace of technological change.  I hear often that the model for what to do comes from telecom. Elements of that are true, but the physical telecom infrastructure remained under the control of relatively few companies.  There are over three thousand grid-owning utility companies, and even in the same state, they lack a common regulatory framework.

Real success in DR will come from better automation and better infrastructure, and this requires major investments.  It will be challenging to direct this investment in light of 3,000 potential micro markets with differing rules.  

What advice or guidance would you give to young professionals who are considering a career in demand response and smart grid?
Go for it!  These are local jobs that are difficult to outsource.  The career rewards range from financial to unique opportunities to strengthen our nation and to make our communities better.  Lacking tradition, new ideas and entrepreneurial enthusiasm are welcome here.  Rarely have I seen large companies so open to smaller innovative ones.

Diverse experience is key.  Years ago, I owned an auto dealership, but never dreamed that exposure to the car-buying public would provide key insights on the adoption of EV's.  Seek work with consultancies and entrepreneurs, and learn as much as possible about the traditions and customs of energy.  Don't limit yourself to electricity.  We're seeing major smart grid related activity in natural gas, water/waste water, commercial building, and so forth.  The people who understand these intersections will become our industries leaders.

To learn more about Schneider Electric, please visit their website.

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