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Energy Companies Show Off New Devices At DistribuTech Conference

Ryan Loyd
TPR News
Attendees walk around the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center during the DistribuTech conference in San Antonio.

The smartest minds are in town energized about new technology and the changing world of energy production and consumption.

This year's DistribuTech conference is in San Antonio and is helping change the future of the energy industry.

Inside the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, leaders from the world's largest energy companies are busy talking about the latest and greatest in power transmission. The buzz is overwhelming, but really what It's really all about is how energy companies are updating their systems to better serve customers.

CPS Energy is hosting the event this year here in the Alamo City. Spokesperson John Moreno said outage management is a big conversation.

"When our folks over at our outage management center are looking at these blips pop up on their screen, we can instantaneously see which area of town is being affected by an outage, say a storm or severe weather," Moreno said.

Silver Spring Networks' Mel Gehrs is at his booth showing people a demonstration of how the mesh network set up by his company uses smart meters that talk to each other. During storms especially, he said, the system is an extremely smart breaker that shuts of power if it senses danger.

"Yellow's a lightning strike, red is lost power, green is you got power back," he said as he describes what the map on the screen looks like.

Smart meters track the progress of the storm, Gehrs said. He talks about reclosures, which means a switch opens when it senses the storm to prevent damage to the system. If the lightning is still present, the reclosure stays open. When it's gone, it closes and the power comes back.

"When reclosures work, you can see power come back, and most importantly, if there's any spots where the power doesn't restore, where to send the trucks immediately so the truck's not driving around Chicago trying to find the outage," Gehrs said.

CPS Energy does have reclosures and outage-detecting devices in place but when the system is fully operational, Moreno said the system will be even more robust to detect exactly where problems are occurring nearly on every block.

The same kind of detection device is being demonstrated by James Howarth at another Silver Spring booth. He's got a device the size of a small coffee can.

"This will retrofit any streetlight out there right now," Howarth said. "One of the great things about the new sunrise photo cell is that it will also support dimming for LEDs."

The photo cell will also let a utility know where streetlights are out. They aren't being used in San Antonio yet, and only a handful of cities are testing them so far.

Ryan Loyd was Texas Public Radio's city beat and political reporter. He left the organization in December, 2014.