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My Itron Utility Week groupie moment: I'm following Avista's Curt Kirkeby on the conference circuit

So, I'm starting to feel like I'm a Curt Kirkeby groupie. 

Kirkeby, a technology strategist with Avista Utilities, was the first interview I had working for Energy Central about four years ago. I also regularly see him at industry conferences at least once or twice a year, and now I've been sat in his session at Itron Utility Week today.

I promise I'm not actually stalking you, Curt, but I will admit that I'm always influenced when I see your name on the speaker list. It's always a great talk, and today's was no different.

Kirkeby---who has been with Avista for over 30 years---discussed transforming energy networks and enabling applications (and how they are looking to leverage Itron's OpenWay Riva).

 Kirkeby started his chat on a scary note that solar and storage may push utilities out of the power equation without the right prep. 

"We need to be able to deliver value," Kirkeby said. "To do that, we're going to need new tech and new capabilities."

Avista's journey to OpenWay began with getting some government cash for smart grid projects back in 2009 with ARRA. A training grant, a demo project and a smart grid investment grant all went well, leading to a complicated smart grid infrastructure. 

"In the past, we didn't have this. We've added complexity across the board---all the way to the edge. And those are costs," he said. "It does everything we want it to do [the system], but it's an O&M nightmare."

The results of those ARRA projects: saving 42,000 MWh/hr, approximately two million outage minutes avoided, and a nearly 10% increase in energy savings. But, after all that, now what?

"If I have the meters that can chat with each other about all of this, can I reduce that complexity on the backend and make all of this work even better?" Kirkeby asked himself.

And that's the next level, past the reliability level. He calls it the resiliency level. And that applies to customer-facing programs for utilities, too. What if we move from telling them how much power they use to telling them: "your filter is clogged" or "your fridge is inefficient." 

"There's a huge opportunity there," Kirkeby added. Other opportunities for Kirkeby's resiliency level centers around energy storage and a more flexible grid. (This is an economies of scale vs. economies of scope argument.)

"We're trying to build in a use case that takes into account variable opportunities," he said. "We've been working on how to put a common valuation together for both grid services and customer services on the same fundamental value methodology."

Keys to getting there: ease of understanding and real value for stakeholders.

How can we do this? "I've got a meter with brains," he said. "That's a real start."

Avista is looking for a shared energy economy for a smarter city that will build on that meter with brains to find that understanding and value. The utility is looking to demo a shared energy economy that includes shared assets (such as solar panels and battery storage). So, the grid becomes more reliable and flexible. 

Beyond that, you take the measures for a smarter city and look at just what else you can do with all that info. But, this is the start of how Avista can use Riva in this scenario and see what's really possible. One idea: micro-transactive grid. (Think microgrid but not solely about islanding. It's also about economies of location, fleet efficiencies and even DER utilization.) 

Avista is playing a bit with all the possibilities of this new resiliency level of thinking--tying directly into buildings, into controls, into the meters themselves--and all the benefits such play could bring.

"We're talking meters aware of their individual state--what's going on in the building---and it's collective state---what's going on in the neighborhood or within the grid overall," he noted.

"My people say I build the castles in the air and they have to build the ladders to them," Kirkeby said, but isn't that how we get to the future? We imagine where we want to go and then figure out how to get there.

Avista is figuring out just how to get from the reliability level of thinking to the resiliency level of thinking. And it appears that Itron's OpenWay Riva is going to help them put together a few of those ladders. 

"Intelligence can drive so much capability in the future," he added. "I'm super excited about that."

Come follow Curt yourself at Itron Utility Week, which continues through Tuesday. Learn more here.

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