08 Mar [S&C Electric Q&A] Part 1: Innovation and Collaboration for Energy
By Jon Arnold, ETS16 Community Advocate
S&C Electric will have a major presence at ETS16, and there’s a lot of ground to cover in terms of the thought leadership they’ll be sharing with us in Austin. This is the first of two interviews I conducted with S&C’s David Chiesa, and given his role as Senior Director of Global Business Development, he has an informed perspective on some key themes we’ll be exploring at the event. In this interview, David talks about how S&C approaches innovation and collaboration, and in our subsequent interview, he’ll turn his focus on to energy storage. Let’s begin.
Two themes we’ll be addressing at ETS16 are innovation and collaboration, both of which are strong suits for S&C. Let’s start with innovation and tell us why it’s so important for S&C, both for modernizing the grid and bringing new value to end customers of utilities.
S&C has a long history of innovation. It really forms the basis for how our company was founded. Two electrical engineers, Edmund O. Schweitzer and Nicholas J. Conrad, developed a “liquid fuse” to interrupt high-voltage short circuits. They started the company based on this innovation. I’m sure neither of them imagined how S&C would build on this invention and develop new industries based on our culture of innovation they began.
One of the common analogies used in our market is an old one, but still good. It is said Alexander Graham Bell wouldn’t recognize the telecom industry that grew from his invention. But Thomas Edison would readily recognize the electrical industry as it exists today. The same cannot be said about our founders. While S&C still makes the successors to the liquid fuse, the technology developed by S&C is so far advanced from our first product line, they wouldn’t recognize it. We think they would be proud to see how we have built on their pioneering ideas.
Our founders delivered an innovative product that saved lives and created value for utilities. We’ve tried to stay true to these ideas by delivering products with well-defined paybacks for our customers and their customers. We’ve found that without trying to walk a mile in our customer’s shoes, we can’t develop solutions that make a difference in the marketplace. It all starts with our customer and delivering solutions they need to keep their employees safe and their customer’s lights on.
What would you consider prime examples of how S&C has been innovative on each of these fronts?
Let’s go back in history a bit for this question. There are two types of products where S&C has advanced technologies, but we can’t seem to get the industry adoption that you would expect.
The first example is the liquid fuse that S&C’s founders first developed in 1909. Fuses today are basically the same technology as their 1909 brethren. The successors to the liquid fuse are still some of the primary protection devices in use today by utilities. While it is a tried and true solution, better technologies exist today. For instance, the TripSaver2 is an advanced technology that performs many of the same functions as a fuse, but it’s also a single-phase recloser that is programmable to perform across a wide array of curves and fuse ratings, plus it’s reusable up to 1,000 times. That’s a real benefit for both customers and utilities in terms of performance and cost.
For the second example, let’s look at the three-phase recloser. The patent for the recloser was filed by GE in 1961. That’s 55-year-old technology that is still being used today in almost exactly the same form in which it was introduced. S&C has introduced an advanced technology to service this market called the IntelliRupter Pulsecloser. This device uses an innovative technology called pulse closing which tests the line before every reclosing operation.
Additionally, the device can be used as a recloser, a switch and a load interrupter. It is self-powered, easy to mount on a pole, and capable of participating in self-healing system. It even has the capability to eliminate coordination studies with communications enhanced coordination.
The interesting thing to ask here is why are these advanced technologies not in more widespread use today? They have superseded their older counterparts in nearly every way, but as an industry, we still can’t seem to overcome the inherent inertia.
Now let’s cover collaboration. Share with us why this matters and what stakeholder groups have you most recently started collaborating with.
For S&C, collaboration really starts with our customers. All the innovation we drive is really an effort to provide real customer benefits, and not just benefits to our direct customer, which in many cases is a utility. We want to get the benefits down to the next level customer, the end user. We feel that when we can drive the benefits down to our customer’s customer, that will truly be a win-win situation.
Now that seems like an obvious idea, but it isn’t. To get that level of understanding of a business model, you need to have a lot of trust between the companies. That is where S&C is very lucky to have wonderful customer partners. Our customers are willing to share their real needs with us. Even better, they share those needs with us early in the process.
We’ve found that real, game-changing innovation only works when customers and suppliers collaborate early in process. It really has to start from the beginning with both parties working on solutions from the start. Early involvement is a key for success. Our innovations like the TripSaver2 and the IntelliRupter wouldn’t have the impact they do without the focused collaboration we got from our customers.