EEI’s new board chairman cites smart-city opportunities as convention gets under way

Published on June 12, 2017 by Kim Riley

Pat Vincent-Collawn

BOSTON – The road ahead for the electric power industry looks thrilling to Patricia “Pat” Vincent-Collawn, the incoming chairman of the board of the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), which is holding its annual meeting of CEOs from the nation’s investor-owned utilities in Boston through June 14.

“These are exciting times for the industry,” Vincent-Collawn told Daily Energy Insider on Monday during a quick after-lunch break at the convention, which EEI said is being attended by more than 900 people.

New technologies, rapid transformation and the drive to be cleaner and more productive are just some of the examples getting utilities psyched about what they can do going forward, she said.

“And that exciting vision of the future is a great place for utilities to partner with communities,” said Vincent-Collawn, chairman, president and CEO of Albuquerque, N.M.-based PNM Resources Inc., an energy holding company with 2016 consolidated operating revenues of $1.4 billion.

Specifically, she’s talking about partnering to create smart communities or smart cities, which EEI says use data and technology to stimulate efficiencies, improve sustainability, spark economic developments and enhance quality of life factors. Being a smart city means having a smarter energy infrastructure — the more formal definition is an urban area that has securely integrated technology across the information, communication and Internet of things (IoT) sectors to better manage a city’s assets.

Vincent-Collawn, other utility company CEOs and several city leaders will discuss the topic more fully during the convention’s panel discussion on Tuesday: “Taking Smart Cities to the Next Level.”

Generally, as smart cities continue gaining popularity, increased electrification and the integration of more advanced technologies will produce many opportunities for electric companies to collaborate with communities, tech and business partners and residents, among others, to reach their local goals, EEI says.

The best way to partner with a city, Vincent-Collawn suggested, is for a utility to “take small, simple steps first.”

“You don’t have to go all out. It won’t happen overnight. Gather data and then work with your community on creating a better transit system, for example, or changing all the streetlights to LED lighting,” she said.

Plenty of utilities and cities already are doing the work and doing it quickly, she said.

Take PG&E and San Leandro, Calif., for example. The city is in the midst of transforming from an industrial center to one designed on the tech of IoT, which is technology that lets devices communicate via the Internet.

The utility is among several partners collaborating on a smart energy pilot to develop a distributed energy network monitored by IoT sensors placed all over the city. The plan is to give San Leandro an energy system with enough capacity to receive and redistribute power to multiple energy sources.
Thinking about the possibilities “are what really energize me,” said Vincent-Collawn.

Priorities & plans
In addition to the smart-city theme being an EEI priority for Vincent-Collawn, she said another is to continue the organization’s work of bringing talented, qualified professionals to the industry..
She would like to help attract a more diverse workforce, as well as younger workers to replace those who are retiring from the industry.

Vincent-Collawn said that the utility industry “really has a huge stake in people’s quality of life” — a fact that’s largely overlooked. Many people may not realize the value of what they have until they travel outside the United States to places that lack sufficient energy, she said. “We need to appeal to those who have a sense of purpose to work in this industry.”

On the policy and regulatory side, she thinks the Trump administration’s plans to quickly improve U.S. infrastructure, as well as proposed tax reform, also present the industry with opportunities.
As she begins her one-year EEI board chairman term, Vincent-Collawn succeeds Tom Fanning, chairman, president and CEO of Atlanta-based Southern Co.