The Networked Grid 2013, Greentech Media’s annual smart grid showcase and networking event, gets underway two weeks from today. Here’s to hoping the sun is shining, the wind is blowing, and the grid is humming at optimal efficiency -- or, barring that, here’s to a lively set of discussions on how to handle these grid challenges, among others.

California is the nation’s test bed when it comes to smart grid technologies. This year’s event, taking place at Four Seasons Westlake Village outside Los Angeles, CA, will feature speakers from the state’s big three investor-owned utilities, along with a keynote address from Doug Kim, Southern California Edison’s director of advanced technologies, on the utility's 10-year perspective on its smart metering, distribution automation, energy storage and renewable energy integration challenges.

For a broader perspective, GTM Research Senior Smart Grid Analyst David Groarke will share some exclusive content from our ongoing research into global smart grid market trends. Utilities will highlight how regions from solar-rich Arizona to fiber-enabled Chattanooga, Tenn. are adapting smart grid technology to deliver value. And Patty Durand, executive director of the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC), will share the latest data on how utilities and their customers are aligning on how they're going to communicate and trade efficiency for savings.

As for panel discussions, we’ve got an interesting lineup of topics, ranging from IT and OT integration to big data analytics and cloud computing, featuring speakers who have real-world deployment and integration experience to draw from. Here's a breakdown of the agenda.

Controlling the Networked Grid Enterprise: Integrating DMS, OMS, SCADA, DRMS and DERMS. GTM's David Groarke is taking on this acronym challenge, which could be translated as, "making the old work with the new." Specifically, utilities already have supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems linking their critical assets like generators, substations and central control rooms. Those networks support distribution (grid) management and outage management systems (DMS and OMS), which provide the IT interface for grid operators to handle distribution automation (DA) gear and manage customers and direct work crews to fix the grid when it breaks down. The "new" stuff is the distributed energy resources (the DRs or DERs). Whether it's rooftop solar panels, backup generators, commercial self-generation projects, grid-linked batteries, or far-off wind power, all this new stuff has to be made part of a utility's operations and enterprise planning, if it's going to realize its true potential -- or be kept from overloading the grid.

Wednesday's panel includes three experts to talk about real-world integration of these systems. Witold Bik, vice president of the automation systems division of S&C Electric Company, can talk about his company’s work integrating fast-acting, self-healing grid systems and neighborhood energy storage systems, while Dr. Jayant Kumar, smart grid program director for Alstom Grid, can address the perspective of a company with a big market share in energy management and market management systems, as well as work underway in managing distributed renewables. Erich W. Gunther, chairman and CTO of EnerNex, one of the smart grid’s chief technology-testers, will be on hand to fact-check the technical details.

Networked Grid Communications Architectures 2013: Global Technology Choices and Applications. Emma Ritch, senior smart grid analyst for GTM Research, was one of the first industry-watchers to identify an emerging market for network management systems (NMS) for the smart grid. Utilities have millions of smart meters deployed, and want to make sure they're connecting and delivering accurate billing data -- or fix the spots where they’re failing to do so. At the same time, utilities have high-speed radio and fiber networks for grid controls, cellular coverage for workers in the field (and a growing number of smart grid devices), and many other communications networks rolling out. Someone's got to manage it all in a way that humans can understand.

Thursday’s panel will feature three experts on the NMS subject. Laura Meadors, director of corporate strategy at GridMaven Utility Solutions, directs the U.S. subsidiary of South Korean telecom (and smart grid) giant SK Telecom to deliver its pan-network optimization technology to utility clients. Andres Carvallo, executive vice president and chief strategy officer of San Diego-based startup Proximetry Networks, is implementing the company's NMS system with smart grid partners including Cisco and Siemens. As for Joaquin Silva, executive vice president of corporate development at On-Ramp Wireless, his company has developed wireless technology that could upend mesh and cellular networks in terms of low cost and ubiquitous coverage, and it recently landed big partner General Electric to roll it out at commercial scale.

Taking the M out of MDM: Holistic Platforms and the Future of Smart Grid Data Management. Is meter data management, or MDM, a term that has outlived its usefulness? You might hear that argument out of Larsh Johnson, CTO of eMeter. While the Silicon Valley startup’s core business is in managing millions of AMI endpoints for the likes of CenterPoint Energy, Toronto Hydro and Vattenfall, it’s also built customer interfaces and broader analytics capabilities into its EnergyIP platform. Emeter was bought by Siemens in December 2011, and its software has since found its way into the German grid giant’s new Spectrum Power 7 platform, which integrates generation and transmission grid management, distribution management and energy market management systems. Sounds like a lot more than meters to me.

GTM Research smart grid analyst Zach Pollock will be moderating Wednesday's panel, which also includes Paul Lekan, director of marketing and communications for the Utility Telecom Council, and Jeff Nichols, director of information security and management for San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Gas Co. parent company Sempra Energy, which has both electric and gas data to worry about. We’ll see if the conversations yield a suitable replacement for the MDM moniker -- perhaps smart grid data management (SGDM)?

Consumer Energy Management, Take 2: Effective Solutions in HAN's Ultimate Lift-Off. Greentech Media senior writer Katherine Tweed will host this Thursday panel of utility and startup representatives trying to get their homeowners involved in saving energy, as well as helping the grid meet its daily needs. From the utility side, we’ve got Conrad Eustis, director of retail technology strategy for Oregon utility Portland General Electric Co., which has deployed smart meters and is now rolling out its Energy Tracker customer interface, and Elisabeth Brinton, chief customer officer for Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), which has a broad range of residential demand response, load-balancing and solar integration projects underway.

As for the three startups represented, each is taking a different approach to the utility-home integration challenge. Seth Frader-Thompson, CEO of Brooklyn-based startup EnergyHub, has a range of utility-oriented in-home energy display and smart thermostat projects underway, while also becoming a smart thermostat platform provider for the likes of Radio Thermostat. And Roy Johnson, CEO of Redwood City, Calif.-based startup EcoFactor, takes smart thermostat data to the cloud, where it crunches it with weather, home efficiency, occupancy and other data to dial down cooling and heating energy use and lower utility bills, while keeping temperatures within comfort levels, and is working with utilities including NV Energy and Reliant Energy, as well as via Comcast’s Xfinity home automation service. Yoav Lurie, CEO of San Diego-based startup Simple Energy, steps in where the utility customer meets the social network, designing contests and building communities via its online platform that is now available to utility customers in California, Texas and other smart-metered, Green Button-enabled states.

The Soft Grid: Big Data, Analytics, Cloud Computing and the Grid. GTM’s David Groarke brings his in-depth knowledge of the IT practices of energy companies and utilities to this discussion of the next stage in smart grid data management and analytics. It’s become a cliché to say that utilities are facing a “data tsunami” with the implementation of the smart grid, but that doesn't make it any less true. Simply managing smart meter billing data is a challenge, and that’s leaving out the other functions (outage notification, power quality measurement, conservation voltage reduction data collection, home area network engagement) that most AMI deployments want to handle. Optimizing the distribution grid presents another layer of complexity, along with low latency requirements that can tax traditional database architectures. And let’s not forget the universe of data that exists outside a utility’s walls, from ever-more-accurate and up-to-date weather forecasts to predict wind and solar output, to the latest in consumer behavior analysis and modification to tweak efficiency rebate and variable pricing schemes for the mass market.

Thursday’s panel will feature a cross-section of “big data” applications for the smart grid. Andrew Tang, vice president of business development and strategy for Palo Alto, Calif.-based big data startup AutoGrid, is working with partners like Silver Spring Networks and Austin Energy on integrating tons of disparate data streams into application-specific utility platforms. Kevin Meagher, CTO of Power Analytics (formerly EDSA), is crunching tons of data to model and manage power systems from U.S. Navy ships to neighborhood microgrids, along with a utility interface to bring pricing into the picture. On the energy storage front, we’ve got representatives from two San Francisco-based startups -- Salim Khan, CEO of Stem, and Ryan Wartena, CEO and founder of GELI (Growing Energy Labs Inc.) -- slated to talk about how to turn batteries into grid-balancing, load-following utility assets via big data integration.

The Marriage of Power Electronics and Software Control for Advanced Distribution Grids through 2020 and Beyond. GTM Research smart grid analyst Ben Kellison will moderate this panel, covering the technologies that begin to blur the line between the power grid and the digital network. High-tech power electronics have been used in industrial motors, electronics AC-to-DC converters, electric vehicle drives, solar power invertersstatic VAR compensators for wind farms and other applications for many years. But solid-state power management technologies for the transmission grid are heavily customized and expensive; and cheaper mass-produced solutions for converters, electronics, and inverters cannot handle grid-level power, nor do they exhibit the reliability levels expected of utility field equipment. Overcoming cost and reliability factors -- not to mention the networking and software expertise required to integrate them into utility operations -- are major challenges for vendors seeking to enable dynamic, granular monitoring and control of the electric waveform to improve renewable integration and address power quality problems while increasing grid efficiency.

Still, this year holds promise for some real-world, commercial-scale tests of digital grid power controls. For this Wednesday panel, Dr. Deepak Divan, president and CTO of ARPA-E-funded startup Varentec, and Naimish Patel, CEO of startup Gridco Systems, will be on hand to explain the technical, regulatory and business case scenarios for advanced power electronics on the grid. Stephanie Hamilton, smart grid R&D manager for DOE’s Brookhaven National Lab and Percy Haralson, senior manager of the field technologies group of Southern California Edison, will provide insight from the government research and utility perspectives, respectively.

If you didn't think you had a reason to attend GTM's Networked Grid conference, now you have plenty.