[ETS16 Primer] Convergence: The Road Ahead when Transportation and Energy Merge

[ETS16 Primer] Convergence: The Road Ahead when Transportation and Energy Merge

By Jon Arnold, ETS16 Community Advocate and Zpryme Advisor

This post marks the third installment of my Transforming the Chaos series leading up to ETS16. If you followed the first two, you’ll know that Transformation and Emergence have been covered, and now it’s time for Convergence. Rather than examining industry drivers that are poised to come into play, the convergence theme identifies drivers that are happening now. Not only that, but they are happening in new and perhaps unexpected ways.

In a sector like energy that has been mature for a long time, trends tend to unfold in isolation, but the market is very different now. As utilities move towards smart grid buildouts, trends are converging in new ways that create opportunities, and that’s the essence of what we’ll focus on at ETS16.

To illustrate that, I’ve had a highly insightful dialog with Shailen Bhatt, Executive Director of CDOT, the Colorado Department of Transportation. He’ll go into further depth at the summit, and for this post, I’d like to highlight three convergence themes that should resonate with all attendees, even those not directly involved in the transportation sector.

Convergence Theme #1 – Energy and Transportation

Given CDOT’s mandate, Shailen’s department is very much at the nexus of these two, and a prime example of why this form of convergence is so important. As Shailen notes, the transportation sector accounts for approximately 28% of all energy used in the U.S., so when departments like his have a forward-thinking vision, their overall impact is substantial.

In this context, encouraging the public to adopt energy-efficient forms of fuel is important, but it’s just one part of a more holistic approach to educate the market and drive behavior change across all modes of transportation. Shailen explains:

“While still focused on reducing congestion and its attendant energy waste, CDOT also works to increase public access to energy-efficient modes, support the development of an alternate fueling infrastructure, and reduce the energy impact of its own construction, maintenance, and operations activities throughout the state.

Education is also a crucial element in driving down energy use, and only through collaboration can transportation and energy authorities effectively communicate the personal, economic, and environmental benefits of working towards a more energy-efficient transportation system.     Furthermore, the nexus of transportation and energy has a direct effect on climate change. In an effort reduce the operational output of GHGs, CDOT is participating in a multi-state MOU effort to support CNG energy production and usage.”

Convergence Theme #2 – Technology and Transportation

This is a different form of convergence, and while technology impacts all aspects of the smart grid, it holds particular promise here. As infrastructure goes, nothing is as costly to keep up as roads and bridges, especially with cities becoming denser and as options for transportation proliferate. The challenges faced by CDOT are typical for all states in terms of having fewer resources and increasingly complex demands.

Technology can play many roles to address these challenges, including more intelligent forms of traffic management (potentially tied to a smart city initiative), sensors to make roads safer, and several elements related to vehicle design and operation. CDOT knows they can’t do all this alone, and Shailen explains their approach:

“CDOT believes in cultivating innovative technology solutions and partnerships to foster behavioral changes that will relieve transportation system pressures while limiting impacts to the climate and environment. Use of lightweight materials will continue to reduce vehicle weight without sacrificing passenger safety. Rapid advances in connected vehicles, both vehicle-to-infrastructure and vehicle-to-vehicle systems, and communication technologies will allow every vehicle to know precisely where every other vehicle is on the road. The emergence of autonomous vehicles is no longer a case of science fiction. All of these technological advances will require a more proactive style of transportation planning and operations as embodied in CDOT’s RoadX Initiative.”

Convergence Theme #3 – Transportation and Energy Customers

This is a different type of convergence, and one that wouldn’t really be in the smart grid conversation until recently.  Considering the other two convergence themes, everything really points to the end customer since they’re the ones using the roads and most of the energy related to transportation. However, DOTs haven’t had much direct engagement with end customers as a matter of course, but with today’s technologies there is a lot of benefit from having this, much like how utilities will be better off with AMI and two way communications with their customers.

There are many ways for a DOT to engage with customers, and this convergence theme is important because it can take things beyond the transactional relationship for things like license renewals and collecting tolls. The world we’ll be exploring at ETS16 offers a broader and richer vision, and when technology is properly leveraged, the end result is a more efficient use of DOT resources, the energy used for getting around and the time spent by people in their travels. CDOT is certainly thinking along these lines, and here’s a sample of what Shailen will share with us at the summit.

“We must understand the customer experience, and it must be guided by accurate data and expert analysis of those data. We are looking at how we maximize the customer experience including our products (what is the experience using our roads and bridges—during planning, construction and everyday, our devices—cameras, signage, etc.), our partnerships (what is it like to partner with CDOT and deliver our products), our brand (what is it like to interact with CDOT’s brand), and our support (what is it like to receive support or interact with our services like snowplows, courtesy patrol, customer service line and others).”


Across these three themes, there is a great deal of convergence taking place, and this momentum is only going to get stronger. Transportation needs will only become more complex, the need to conserve energy and develop sustainable alternatives will only intensify, and expectations from users of transportation services—essentially all of us—will keep rising.

The transportation sector has never had such strong interdependencies, and technology is the common thread that can provide the tools for the likes of CDOT to make it all work. At ETS16, you’ll hear more about how CDOT is Transforming the Chaos, and I know there will be lessons learned from Shailen about the role of technology as well as the need to form partnerships from across the energy value chain to get transformative results.

We’d love to have you participate in the discussions taking place at ETS16, March 29-31 in Austin, Texas. Learn more about the event here.

We’d also love your participation in the first Chaos Index survey. We want to hear from you about how all this industry change looks from your perspective. Take the survey here.