Tracking Decades in many Power Sectors: Q&A with POWER-GEN Digital Chair Scott Affelt

Scott Affelt started out pursuing the oil business and now stands at the front line of the power grid's revolution by digitization. He is president and co-founder of XLMPR Energy, which offers data analytics, consultation and strategies to companies playing in this space.

He has worked on projects in the U.S., Europe, China and South Korea, so knows the power generation market globally. Affelt also brings insights from close to two decades of experience as an advisory committee member for POWER-GEN International.

We talked with Affelt about the issues important to him industry-wide and being discussed at POWER-GEN happening December 4-6 in Orlando at the Orange County Convention Center, West Halls.

Tell us a little about your upbringing and what led you into the power industry?

“I grew up in the midwest.  We went to Colorado skiing one year and visited a friend of my father’s home in Keystone which was on the mountain, very large and had a racquetball court inside!  Turns out it was Bill Barrett’s home and he was a very successful independent energy executive.  I asked, “What does this guy do? And where can I learn how to do it?”.  I later enrolled at the Colorado School of Mines to study petroleum engineering.”

Your career has pretty much tracked the digitalization of all things. How was the job most different in your early days from now?

“My career has mostly tracked disruptive opportunities/events in the energy industry.  I was involved in the early deregulation of the natural gas and power industries in California which radically changed these markets.  It created new opportunities for energy trading and marketing, independent power production and various other new products and services. 

“More recently, I have been involved in the digitalization area which is also disrupting the power industry.  Digitalization is creating new ways to improve the performance and reliability of power generation assets. In both instances, this disruption created challenges for the “old way” of doing business and new opportunities. My interest has always been to look for new ways or ideas to create and capture value given the disruption.  I call it Ideation.”

You’ve worked your way up corporate ladders and helped found a startup. Which way is hardest and why?

“I have worked for a wide range of companies throughout my career: a regulated utility; a large multi-national; foreign-owned companies; and venture capital-funded start-ups. All have their own cultures, benefits and challenges.  However, I have always involved in starting new business initiatives or opportunities within these companies.  So, to a certain extent I am an entrepreneur. I enjoy the process of exploring, finding, creating, building and growing.” 

Digitalization, connectedness and cybersecurity seemed to go hand in hand anymore. What should utilities be doing better on the power plant side to protect the grid from attack?

“Cybersecurity is a complicated issue facing power plants. There are various compliance standards but every plant, company policy and situation are different. As a result, many plants don’t know what to do or how to do it best–so sometimes they do nothing or just the minimum to comply.  Other companies take the opposite approach and implement very strict cybersecurity policies that can often stifle opportunity, business and innovation. A good cybersecurity plan does not eliminate all cyber risks–that is impossible. A practical cybersecurity plan should manage and isolate the cyber risks.  Beyond just compliance, any cyber plan should start with identifying and prioritizing their specific cyber risks. Then you can determine how best to proactively detect and protect against a threat. Finally, the plan should also include how to respond, manage and recover from the threat.”

Tell us more about what POWER-GEN will offer in the Digital Solutions and Cybersecurity track?

“The primary focus on the Digitalization Solutions and Cybersecurity track is on how power plants can benefit from the emerging opportunities of Digitalization to improve the performance and reliability of their plants.  We have sessions on the latest digital technologies, the Internet of Things, digital twins, data analytics, predictive maintenance. Plus, several sessions on the issues and challenges of cyber-security related to Digitalization and how companies can address and manage this risk.”

You’ve been involved with POWER-GEN’s advisory committee for more than 15 years. What’s changed the most that should be of interest to attendees?

“As the power industry has become more competitive over the last 15 to 20 years, PowerGen attendees want more value from their attendance.  PowerGen has always been an excellent networking opportunity for both end-users and vendors to develop new or strengthen existing relationships. However, many attendees also want to get new knowledge, ideas or insights that can help them be more competitive in their own business through attending the numerous presentation sessions or attending the pre-conference workshops.  The advisory committee is focused on getting more end-user presentations to share experiences and insights.  We also have panel sessions on various topics to generate two-way conversations on the most important issues.  So, come on down to PowerGen and share your own experiences with your peers and pick up some new ideas on how to improve your own business.” 

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