Social media fuels DistribTECH 2014 Keynote Session

The DistribuTECH Conference and Exhibition 2014 got its official kickoff at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio with the Keynote Session Tuesday morning.

Speakers this year included Michael W. Yackira, president and CEO of NV Energy, Doyle Beneby President and CEO of CPS Energy and Randi Zuckerberg, Founder & CEO of Zuckerberg Media.

At a time when social media integration is on the minds of electric utilities, a theme at this year's conference was Facebook and other social media outlets. Before introducing this year's speakers, POWERGRID International Editor in Chief Teresa Hansen stopped to take a panoramic photo of the crowd of delegates and attendees at the Lila Cockrell Theater and asked them to tag themselves on Facebook later.

Beneby said his utility is working to on smart energy improvements that will help customers make smarter choices, such as home area networks for qualifying homes that have helped cut peak demand.

"We're working with ERCOT to leverage demand response assets during times when power reserves are tight," Beneby said. "We lead Texas in distributed rooftop solar."

Municipal utilities, like CPS Energy, often have more opportunity to take advantage of grid optimization technology than larger, investor-owned utilities, he said.

"We have several partners that have helped us along this path, with distributed solar, home area networks and LED lights. Some of these I can't mention right now, but trust me when I say we'll talk to anyone and everyone who can help us move forward," he said.

Yackira, who is also the current chairman at the Edison Electric Institute, said utilities are no strangers to upheaval and change. Speaking on cybersecurity, he said high-profile cyber attacks, such as the one on retailer Target Corp. have pushed the issue into people's minds.

"Cybersecurity is a top priority to utilities, but the focus is on risk management and not risk elimination," he said. "I don't think any of us thinks that we can be completely bulletproof when it comes to cyber attacks."

Instead, he said utilities should treat cyber threats in the same way they do hurricanes or other natural disasters — with preparation and frequent practice.

One of the greatest strengths utilities have is mutual assistance, he said.

"When the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the resulting oil spill happened, ExxonMobil did not come to the assistance of BP," he said. "But power companies do help one another when disasters strike."

He went on to describe how NV Energy and other utilities from the West traveled thousands of miles to help the Long Island Power Authority deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the so-called "Superstorm."

Finally, Zuckerberg took the stage, saying the incredible brainpower in the room could be channeled into using social media to improve the utility business.

Zuckerberg, who led Facebook's marketing team for about 6 years, said utilities can use social media to inspire loyalty in their customers.

"Your audience also has an audience. A lot of West Coast utility companies keep track of their most influential people on social media who are also customers," she said.

Utilities can use their online presences to show who works every day to keep their power on, which creates a human interest element.

"If I could advise you to do one thing on social media, it's share more photos," she said.

It's true that bad news travels fast online, she said, but the same is true of good news. Utilities are learning, she said, that social media is a great way to inform people of outages as well as power restorations.

"When the lights go out, people don't reach for the candles anymore. They reach for their phones," she said.

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