Rebuild Smart: Full remarks from Don Hendler, President & CEO, Leviton Manufacturing

Rebuild Smart: Full remarks from Don Hendler, President & CEO, Leviton Manufacturing

Don Hendler

Leviton Manufacturing

Remarks at the NEMA Rebuild Smart Capitol Hill Event

June 13, 2013

(Thank you and greetings)

As Evan mentioned, Leviton’s offices were directory in the path of the storm.  We are located in Melville, NY, somewhat central on Long Island right at the Nassau-Suffolk county border.  Our area saw mainly heavy wind and tree damage from both Superstorm Sandy and the subsequent early, freak snow storm that followed.  However, not far from our facility there was devastating flooding that affected many of our employees, some still to this day.  There was the immediate storm impact of flooding, fallen trees and down wires, and the aftermath effects of loss of power for days and weeks.  In my residential area, we were without power for 16 days!

Leviton is a manufacturing company that started with the dawn of electricity in 1906.  While we are best recognized for our residential switches, receptacles, and lighting controls, we help our customers create sustainable, intelligent environments through not only electrical wiring devices, but also network connectivity solutions, lighting and energy management systems and security and automation applications.  These include electrical vehicle chargers, Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI), Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCI), daylight harvesting controls, occupancy sensors, and smart metering and communications devices.  Leviton products, 25,000 strong, help achieve energy savings and promote electrical safety.

As a technology company in a recently-commissioned facility, we were probably better prepared than others.  Our facility had a dual electrical feed; one went out but the other never lost power.  We were lucky and it was a great benefit to our employees, many of whom brought family members to the office, got meals from our in-house cafeteria, and called Leviton home for several days.  However, there are lessons from the Leviton experience that everyone can benefit from.  I think that one of the great quotes came from Jesse Berst at shortly after NEMA published their smart rebuilding report.  I’ll paraphrase, but he basically said that we can either rebuild the grid to the 1975 standard that existed before the storm, or we can rebuild smart, using the latest technologies.

Mother Nature will always do “her thing” and there is little that we can do to prevent whatever she has from occurring.  But we can employ smart and new technologies to mitigate the impact and make our homes and communities more resilient.

For example Smart Grid solutions can easily detect and pinpoint downed power lines.  This saves time in sending out repair crews leading to faster restoration times and can help avoid large-scale outages by re-routing power and localizing the outage.

The concept of a Smart Grid has been around for about 40 years, but the technology to deliver on that idea rally started to take hold in the mid-1990s, and was accelerated with the passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.  Smart Grid takes advantage of sensor and communications technologies in order to deliver more reliable and resilient power.  And Smart Grid technology not only helps ensure power continuity, it also is a major driving factor in increasing energy efficiency.

Coupled with Smart Grid technology, sensing and sending information from sensors and smart meters, the concept of creating microgrids providing distributed power generation and energy storage would serve to minimize some of the devastating effects of large-scale power outages.  Microgrids, utilizing alternative and backup power generation can provide reliable, cost-effective power for critical high-priority facilities such as hospitals, first responders as well as homeowners, businesses and public facilities.

Currently available wiring, cabling, and components also make it possible to protect power infrastructure from flooding and corrosion.  Installations of simple receptacles that sense ground or arc faults and cut power decrease the dangers of shock, electrocution, and fire.

Where technology and improved systems can make a difference, so too can common sense.  Why shouldn’t gas stations have backup power to be able to pump the gas in their tanks in time of need?  How many gas stations had fuel but couldn’t access it?  This not only meant no fuel for cars, it also meant no gas for those people with gas generators.

This same idea would apply to supermarkets that lost food supplies and did not have backup generators.

Locating power outside of low-lying areas, burying cables where practical, making sure that generators are maintained and tested on a regular basis can all help to minimize the effects of natural disasters.

One near and dear to our business is ensuring that all water damaged devices are replaced and not assumed to be in working order just because they can turn on or off once repowered.  Long-term corrosion presents a safety hazard.

All of these technologies, when employed can work to reduce outages, save lives, and protect homes and businesses.

The addition of these remote-sensing, computing, and communication technologies comes at a cost; which is mainly in terms of interoperability and cybersecurity.  We constantly ask devices to do more; both in terms of their internal functionality and their interactions with other devices and the operating environment around them.  In order for us to successfully integrate technology to mitigate the impact of future storms, we need to ensure interoperability.  I know that as part of NEMA, we’ve been working on an American National Standard that should be finalized this month that provides guidelines for interoperability testing so that when the grid operator installs a product, it will function and communicate as expected during a crisis.

The final point I’ll make is about cybersecurity.  It would be absolutely criminal if we spent all our time and effort making the grid resilient to the forces of nature, but not resilient to the prospect of a cyber-attack.  One of the strategies that has been kicked around is that the best time for our enemies to attack the U.S. would be in conjunction with a future Sandy-like event.  They could use the effects of the storm to multiply the impact of the cyber-attack.  We have to be equally as diligent in terms of both the natural and man-made threats to the grid.

It is generally accepted that the electrical grid in the U.S., which was constructed over the past century, is antiquated and does not utilize the technologies available to make it more efficient and resilient.  It is time that we finally address this need and begin the process of rebuilding it.

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