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Getting to Know Your Expert Interview Series: Rich Philip and Jenny Roehm, Members of the PLMA Board of Directors—Part 1 of 2

Energy Central

As we continue on in the very popular ‘Getting to Know Your Expert’ Interview series from Energy Central, this week gives us a special 2 for the price of 1! I had the absolutely pleasure of speaking with Jenny Roehm, a Senior Manager of Utility Solutions at Schneider Electric, and Rich Philip, a Manager of Business Demand Response at Duke Energy as they shared with me their industry insights and wisdom gained in those individual roles as well as their shared responsibilities as they both sit on the Board of Directors of the Peak Load Management Alliance (PLMA) and are also co-chairs of the PLMA Thought Leadership Group.

PLMA bills itself as the voice of load management professionals, encouraging members to share lessons learned with each other on how load management solutions can enable distributed energy resources, demand management , and more. Given that PLMA is filled with the leading voices in load management, it’s no wonder that we have a handful of members as experts in our Load Management Group. And with the 40th PLMA Conference approaching quickly from November 4 to 6 in St. Petersburg, Florida, what better time to pick the brains of Jenny Roehm and Rich Philip about the state of the industry, their excitement over PLMA’s mission, and the importance of connecting and networking across the industry.

Getting to interview both of these consummate professionals is the first 2 for 1 to come from this, and the conversation was so invigorating that it deserves being split into two parts as the second 2 for 1!

Part 2 has since been published, which you can read here

Matt Chester: Thanks, first off, for taking the time to speak with me and for being experts on Energy Central for the PLMA-partnered Load Management Group. So that our community members can better understand where your experience and expertise is coming from, can you please start by giving a quick background of who you are, how you ended up on the pathway to the utility industry, and what you’re working on these days in the area of load management?

Jenny Roehm: I started in the utility industry in 1993 working for Bonneville Power Administration.  It was fun; while I was really working for a wholesale utility, I got to work very closely with a lot of different retail utilities throughout the Northwest, and I got to work in a lot of different areas of the business.  The only area I didn't work in was transmission.  Toward the end of my career at Bonneville, I got to work on this really cool new stuff called demand response and non-wire solutions.  There was a lot of art and science to it all, and working with the retail utilities, designing programs, getting people to sign up, it was just fun. 

After I left BPA, I became a consultant so I could do that same work for utilities across the country. I worked on energy efficiency and demand response program design, as well as the evaluation, measurement, and verification part too. I did that for quite a while, and then came to Schneider where I could do very much the same kinds of things but work with products that helped implement energy efficiency and demand response for utilities, specifically the demand response side.  That's where I know the most and like to be in that space.

 

Rich Philip: I've been working with this utility for 36 years now.  It was a sleepy little Public Service Indiana serving the southern two-thirds of Indiana when I started, and now, I'm part of Duke Energy in six states -- a whole different scope of things.  I have had a career of fussing with load shapes.  The load shapes have been either at the forefront or at least in the background of what I’ve been doing that whole time. As I started estimating load shapes for customer classes and rate groups that we used for rate-making and load forecasting and system planning.,  I began finding ways to narrow those down and use the learnings for marketing purposes, looking for ways to find the right loads or shape customers’ loads in ways that that could be more profitable for the utility  and for our customers. 

I went from that to a market research role where I started getting into what was causing the load shapes in the residential market, in many cases which was adoption of new technologies. From the market research side of things, I got involved in looking at programs and helping identify needs and wants of customers then applying the information toward identifying program opportunities, a little bit of program development, and ultimately managing implementation of products and services for energy-related programs. 

I've also been involved in marketing strategy and have implemented several different initiatives within the company.  I was fortunate enough to work on a joint adventure between a couple of the utilities that looked at ways to address the market when customer choice on the electric side of the fence was coming around back in the mid-90s.  Then, I found myself back in the DR space in the early part of the 2000s and then came back full force as part of Duke about 9 years ago now.  Today, I'm part of a DR team that manages well over 3,000 megawatts of demand response across six states, and I'm responsible for the commercial industrial portfolio which is just about 2,000 megawatts. 

 

MC: When you look forward to the next 5, 10, 20 years in the utility industry, how important will load management practices be to the progression of utility technologies and strategies? And how much do you think utilities are currently embracing those load management needs?

RP: So much in the way of new load management capabilities is being enabled by the combination of greater communications via the internet in combination with bringing microprocessors down to sizes that I can't even fathom—in other words, the Internet of Things  It  means that doing some sort of granular level control to help deal with some of the new things that the electric grid is going to be dealing with, that aren’t just renewables and electric vehicles and the like, but it's how all that stuff works together and how new price signals will work with that in ways that make customers' worlds better.  And on top of that,  in many cases, customers should be able to optimize their usage in relationship to changing prices without needing to be actively engaged with it.  That's a very, very different construct than customers have experienced during the past 100 years.  The electric utility business was very much about three questions:  How much do we build?  What peak are we trying to cover?  How much extra should we leave ourselves to make sure we've got margin for error?  Now, we're talking about how to deploy resources at a surgical level when before we were really carving with a chainsaw in many cases. 

 

JR: The kinds of generation that utilities have built for years aren't really going to get to be built anymore.  The big central generation, it's just so hard to build, and it takes so long to build. In those days, utilities didn't have to worry about what the customer was doing, they just had to worry about how much generation they needed to build.  Most of the new generation is renewable and distributed and it’s intermittent, so something else has got to give. Loads are, by their very nature, mostly intermittent.  If you can start syncing load up to the type of generation you have available, that's going to be where new service happens, so how important is load management?  I think it's essential because that is going to be the only way to keep the grid stable.

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MC: As Directors on the Board for PLMA, you both are clearly thought leaders towards load management and advancements on the grid generally. Can you talk a bit about what it is that you think PLMA brings to the industry and why you’re passionate about the organization’s mission?

RP: PLMA is tightly focused on the practitioner's perspective.  I often say we're the folks with bloody knuckles and scars on our backs that have real experiences trying a variety of things.  Upper management may go to a conference and hear high-level ideas about doing this or that, and often the idea comes back and lands on our desk to go figure out.  PLMA gives us the opportunity to talk with others like us who can share those experiences and can talk about the things that work and equally important--that don't work.  I think that to have a place to go with like-minded people that really are deeply experienced is much of the power of the organization--and we’ve got such diverse work going on.  What my peer in Hawaii is dealing with or what any of the utilities in New York are dealing with is very different than what I'm dealing with here in Indiana.  Those worlds are coming, and I can still learn from them. PLMA gives me the opportunity to learn from the Californias and Hawaiis and others that are getting there ahead of us.  That's terrific insight for me. 

The other thing is people often come in and out of this Load Management related space within their company, so PLMA offers great opportunities for sharing ideas.  PLMA provides a place where practitioners can alert their peers about potential pitfalls or hurdles involved in certain initiatives  While PLMA is not a policy-focused organization, as implementers, we still have to track policy changes to their implications to current and future initiatives.   So policy-related discussions focus on those implications in most cases as opposed to talking about how to influence the changes. 

 

JR: There is a sense of community within PLMA, and it's not just people coming together.  It's people who are truly a community.  I've participated in PLMA as a utility, as a consultant, and now at Schneider where I’m advancing a software product.  In each of these roles, there has been a community there ready to help me.  If you're new to the industry like I was the first time I went to a PLMA meeting, it is wonderful to get a lot of these different perspectives.  Like Rich was saying, you get to learn about what people are doing all over the country, and while it may not be exactly the same as what you're going to be, there are always things that you can pick up and learn. 

I think the other part about PLMA is it doesn't matter where you are in your career.  If you are brand new in your career, there's a role for you, and there's so much value you gain.  When you have been in the industry for a while and have the gray hair to show for it, there's still a lot to learn, but there's also a great opportunity to give back to others. 

 

RP: PLMA is this peer-to-peer forum for sharing expertise, and I think that's the basic crux of it all.  As an organization, it operates with very small professional staff, and (f  is very much driven by member volunteers who work within the industry and do this in addition to their day jobs.  That draws people with a level of passion and commitment and willingness to share, but also recognizing that they get as much out as they put in and probably more.  I know I've gotten more. 

 


I’d like to thank Jenny and Rich for their insights and the time they took out of their busy schedules for this interview, which should come as no surprise as they are already generous with their time for PLMA and as experts on Energy Central. Stay tuned soon for Part 2 of this interview, and in the meantime, you can read the other expert interviews that we’ve completed in this series here. If you are interested in becoming an expert then you can reach out to me or you can apply here.

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Thank Matt for the Post!

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