Turning to her left, then right, Grace finds herself surrounded by strangers – men and women from across the United States; there’s even one from Canada. The prompt is simple, “What are the big issues you are facing?” Hesitantly, the first person begins to share his list. Suddenly, the monologue turns to dialogue with each person commiserating, and then adding insights to the issues.

Each year, Itron’s Annual Energy Forecasters Meeting begins with the “hot” issues round table session. This year’s 15th annual meeting in Chicago was no different. The 60 forecasters laid out classic challenges and emerging issues creating an environment of collaboration.

The major themes from the round table session include disruptive and new technologies, growth challenges, and emerging business issues. Below are some highlights of what was discussed.

Disruptive and New Technologies

As expected, the disruption caused by solar technology led the discussion. However, solar was not the only technology warranting attention. Several companies added electric vehicles, batteries, and combined heat and power to the list. Each technology discussion brought a wave of forecasting concerns ranging from market penetration and modelling techniques to load shape implications.

The advancement of AMI technology emerged as a positive challenge. With enough historical data to begin analysis, companies discussed the potential to improve unbilled calculations, revenue variance analysis, and accuracy, as well as explore end-use metering applications.

Growth Challenges

Since 2008, many companies have experienced slow load growth and/or declining average usage. While some companies struggle to explain the stagnation, others pointed to energy efficiency changes, price effects, and DSM programs. The additional effects of the Clean Power Plan, housing stock changes, and industrial automation also entered the discussion.

Slow growth also renews focus on understanding weather volatility. Growth no longer hides errant budget variance or weather normalization reporting.  Participants weighted the effect of model accuracy and normal weather definitions impact.  Amid the range of concerns, Itron conducted an informal survey of normal weather definitions allowing participants to discuss definitional impacts.

Emerging Business Issues

With 38 companies participating, the range of emerging issues was broad reflecting the changing nature of the electric and gas industries. Four major business issues highlight the discussion. First, pricing changes, including bill complexity and TOU rates, imply future consumption changes.  Second, variations among economic vendor forecasts opens the discussion on the best economic vendors. Third, flat sales are creating budget constraints requiring operating and decision making with limited resources. Finally, retail choice is emerging in some regions changing the nature of forecasting.

With the realization that these people share common challenges, Grace relaxes and finds that she is no longer surrounded by strangers, but colleagues. Fearlessly, she enters the dialogue, listens to ideas, and makes connections.   At the end of the hour, Grace sits back and quietly says to herself, “This is going to be a good conference.”

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Mark Quan
Principal Forecast Consultant - Itron
Mark Quan is a Principal Forecast Consultant with Itron’s Forecasting Division. Since joining Itron in 1997, Quan has specialized in both short-term and long-term energy forecasting solutions as well as load research projects. Quan has developed and implemented several automated forecasting systems to predict next day system demand, load profiles, and retail consumption for companies throughout the United States and Canada. Short-term forecasting solutions include systems for the Midwest Independent System Operator (MISO) and the California Independent System Operator (CAISO). Long-term forecasting solutions include developing and supporting the long-term forecasts of sales and customers for clients such as Dairyland Power and Omaha Public Power District. These forecasts include end-use information and demand-side management impacts in an econometric framework. Finally, Quan has been involved in implementing Load Research systems such as at Snohomish PUD. Prior to joining Itron, Quan worked in the gas, electric, and corporate functions at Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), where he was involved in industry restructuring, electric planning, and natural gas planning. Quan received an M.S. in Operations Research from Stanford University and a B.S. in Applied Mathematics from the University of California at Los Angeles.