Austin Electricity Conference explored transformative information systems in changing electricity industry

Representatives from pioneering industries, regulatory agencies, non-profit organizations and think tanks joined academic experts from UT Austin and other universities for a two-day exploration of how fundamental changes in information systems are transforming the provision of electricity services during the 8th annual Austin Electricity Conference.

The two-day conference, sponsored by UT’s McCombs School of Business, School of Law, the KBH Center for Energy Law & Business and the Energy Institute, always produces a lively conversation featuring the latest thinking on emerging trends in electricity markets. This year’s theme, Electricity in the Information Age, was no exception.

The event, which is also supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and Oncor, was held on the UT campus April 12-13.

The conference format features brief presentations from expert panelists on interrelated topics, followed by extended Q&A sessions moderated by UT faculty to engender robust dialogue among participants.

Panels included in this year’s event were “Information-Technology Web”; “Forecasting and Operations”; “Advanced Analytics”; and “Cybersecurity of the Grid.”

Much of the discussion centered on new research and emerging trends, including:

  • Application of machine learning and predictive modeling techniques to enable improved forecasting of electricity supply and demand;
  • the latest algorithms underlying analytical innovations in decision-making;
  • advanced sensing technologies in transmission and distribution of electricity;
  • new technologies and techniques that allow grid operators to respond and adapt to unprecedented levels of renewable energy generation;
  • varying operational experiences used in forecasting resources and deploying ancillary services; and
  • an examination of how increased digitalization of electricity operations has also heightened concerns about cybersecurity threats to the grid.

Conference participants also found time to make some general comments about the future of the electric utility industry:

“Utilities have a very tenuous landscape,” said one participant. “And the only think we know for sure is that in five years utilities will look very different than they do today.”

Another attendee weighed in on what she saw as the true obstacles facing the industry in a time of disruptive upheaval:

“Engineering and technological challenges are difficult, but no insurmountable,” she observed. “The real challenge is cultural – humans are pre-disposed to not like change.”

Another participant, addressing the advent of electric vehicles and their potential as mobile energy storage units that could someday become “grid assets, characterized plug-in electric cars as “rolling super-computers.”

The mass adoption of electric vehicles will depend on the development of fast-charging networks, he added.

Check the McCombs School of Business website for more on the 2018 Austin Electricity Conference, including the conference program, panelists’ presentations, and a video of the keynote speakers’ remarks.