How CEATI International Helps Hydro Utilities Benefit From Industry Expertise
October 1, 2021
CEATI International is a membership-based research and advisory firm focused on the current and emerging needs of the electrical utilities industry. It facilitates user-driven interest groups that cover topics across the activities of an integrated power utility. Interest group members benefit from the experience and knowledge of their peers, as well as guidance and analysis from CEATI’s network of technical advisors. In this interview, CEATI Vice President Chris Hayes and Head of Marketing Lizzie Smith tell us about the company’s activities and the benefits it can deliver to hydro utilities.
Hydro Leader: Please tell us about your backgrounds and how you came to be in your current positions.
Lizzie Smith: I’ve been with CEATI for just over 10 years. I started straight out of university. CEATI runs 20 different interest groups in various areas of the power industry, including generation, transmission, and distribution, and when I first joined CEATI in 2010, I was working on a couple of groups that dealt with emerging tech and thermal generation. In 2012, I moved over to work on our three hydro groups, and for the past 4 years, I served as their program manager. Our three hydro interest groups are dam safety; hydraulic plant life, which looks at power plant equipment; and hydro operations and planning, which looks at water management and optimization. Just a few months ago, I took a new position as the head of our marketing department.
Chris Hayes: I’m an Anglo-Quebecer, born and raised in Montréal. I went to McGill University, where I obtained a mechanical engineering degree. Although I had strong interests in academics, including math and the sciences, I come from an entrepreneurially spirited family and had a passion for business development. This proved to be a great combination in my professional career. Coming out of school, I spent some time with Bombardier Aerospace as an intern. The opportunity at CEATI came up shortly after my graduation. I started with CEATI in May 2002, and over the past 20 years, I have had the chance to work with and learn from some of best people in the industry. I’m now a vice president, and I look after key account management and business development.
Hydro Leader: Please tell us about CEATI and its history.
Chris Hayes: CEATI was founded by a gentleman by the name of Jacob Roiz, who, once upon a time, was a director with the research and development group of the CanadianElectricity Association (CEA). In the mid-1990s, when the department was faced with the possibility of being shut down, he had the opportunity to salvage the situation by spinning off the group. He was then able to completely change the program model and open up the doors to international collaboration. That was the birth of CEA Technologies, which later became the Center for Energy Advancement through Technological Innovation, or CEATI.
Hydro Leader: Would you explain CEATI’s business model?
Chris Hayes: Let’s start by talking about industry drivers and then CEATI’s program model. As you know, the electric grid is rapidly aging, and utilities are working to reinvest to maintain reliability while incorporating new and emerging technologies. Also, baby boomers are retiring with their experience, so there’s a gap between that generation and the new guard coming on the scene. There’s a big need for succession planning and training that needs to be addressed. Beyond that, you’ve got grid-edge technologies, distributed energy, and integration to account for. CEATI as an organization is dedicated to addressing all those issues from a programmatic perspective.
We’ve got 20 interest groups, which are set up like an integrated utility. There are groups covering generation, transmission, and distribution. Each of these 20 groups targets a department or a division. They are all utility only and meet twice a year, usually in person, in addition to collaborating on projects, webinars, and workshops throughout the year as needed. The conventional hydropower program, for instance, has a hydraulic plant life interest group, which is dedicated to electrical and mechanical engineering managers and plant managers; a dam safety group, which is dedicated to chief dam safety engineers, civil engineering managers, and directors; and a hydro operations and planning group, which is dedicated to hydrologists, inflow forecasters, production planners, river schedulers, and those responsible for optimization. We also have an asset management group, which is dedicated to investment planning strategies, including capital and maintenance.
Using these focused platforms, we provide opportunities for interutility exchange, best practices sharing, war stories sharing, knowledge transfer, and knowledge gap identification. The groups serve as excellent training vehicles for new staff and make great benchmarking platforms for seasoned experts.
What makes CEATI unique, in my view, is the benchmarking process, which can identify knowledge gaps, combined with our ability to do something about those gaps. We can scope studies to address those gaps, and as part of that scoping exercise, we can identify the industry participants with the most appropriate expertise, whether they are retired utility subject-matter experts, big firms, or original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). That is the source of the deep inventory of guidance documents we have completed over the last 20 years. In a lot of the cases, the studies are de facto industry standards that were written by subject-matter experts who have since retired or passed away. That speaks to our ability to capture the knowledge of yesterday for the benefit of today and tomorrow. The reason I think our benchmarking process is highly effective is that we can do it in real time. If an issue comes up in a company’s day-to-day operations, we’ve got the tools and techniques to quickly canvas the group and provide input from several other utilities within a couple days.
Hydro Leader: Would you tell us about the nature, size, and location of your member utilities?
Chris Hayes: Within the hydropower space, our coverage is excellent across the United States and Canada as well as internationally. We have a great mix of municipal utilities; investor-owned utilities; U.S. federal agencies; Canadian crown corporations; and bigger agencies like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Hydro Québec, and BC Hydro, to name a few. There are quite a few smaller utilities with 20–500 megawatts (MW), another big grouping of utilities with 500–1,000 MW, another set with 1,000–2,000 MW, and around 5–10 of the biggest utilities. The bigger utilities benefit from working with us because we give them an opportunity to benchmark. They’re advanced from a technical expertise perspective, and they’ve got plenty of personnel, but they still need to calibrate their practices against the industry. For other utilities, we serve as their technical resource tool. By being a member of one of the groups, a utility with a team of 2 suddenly has 70 hands on deck. CEATI can dramatically augment the technical resource capability of a utility like that by leveraging expertise and costs.
Hydro Leader: Do your activities go beyond the United States and Canada?
Lizzie Smith: Yes. Our roots are in Canada, but we are active in 17 different countries at this point. We’ve got members from Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, and Africa. About 150 utilities support us in at least 1 of our 20 interest groups. About 50 percent of our members are from the United States, about 30 percent are from Canada, and the other 20 percent are from other countries.
Chris Hayes: Our founder and head office are based in Montréal. Our new owner, Pamlico Capital, is based in Charlotte, North Carolina. Our personnel are pretty much all in North America. I’m in Montréal, Lizzie is in Vancouver, and a number of our technical advisors and contractors are in the United States.
Hydro Leader: Would you give a few examples of the knowledge gaps that your members identify for CEATI to provide studies and guidance documents on?
Chris Hayes: We developed a dam safety program maturity matrix, which is an excellent tool on a number of fronts. If an owner is implementing or building a new dam safety program, this tool serves as a roadmap. If an owner is looking to take an existing program and make it better, this is a great tool to do that with. Over and above that, it’s a tremendous vehicle for liaising with both internal and external stakeholders, because it can help an owner demonstrate where they are and where they want to go. It’s a great tool for dealing with executives, putting budgets in place, building a business case, and dealing with a regulator outside the company or an insurance company.
Another example related to dam safety is training. We’ve developed training programs, or more precisely, a source code that a utility can take and make its own by inserting its facility names and pictures. We did both a training for plant operators and nonengineers and also a deeper dive for engineers a few years later.
Another example is quality assurance (QA) and quality control (QC). Equipment is being procured and built all around the world, so we’ve developed guidance about what to pay attention to. We’re adding another layer having to do with specifications and what a utility should consider when drafting its own specs, including the cost associated with adding or removing certain elements. This helps utilities identify key staples that they need to include in their QA/QC programs. This project, like many of our projects, includes both a written guidance document and a few training webinars to help communicate the important content to the members so that they can implement that knowledge right away.
Finally, our mechanical overhaul guide is an example of one of our guidance documents that has become a de facto industry standard. One of our members keeps a copy of the guide in the trunk of his car and has a bunch of copies in each of his plants, but it is also available electronically, as are all the materials we produce.
Hydro Leader: Would you tell us about your conferences, particularly those most pertinent to the hydropower industry?
Lizzie Smith: Two of the six industry conferences that CEATI hosts every year are highly relevant to the hydro industry. The first is coming up in October: our asset management conference, which we hold every fall. We’ve got two interest groups dedicated to asset management: one focused on generation assets and one dedicated to transmission distribution assets. They get together every fall and talk about asset management and investment planning strategies. Most of the events we host for our utility members are confidential and open to the members only, but these industry open conferences are the only time of year when those groups are open to the industry, and vendors and consultants are invited to present, participate, and network with our members.
Our biggest event of the year is our annual hydropower conference, which is held every March. It is hosted by the other three conventional hydropower programs: the dam safety group, the hydraulic plant life group, and the hydro operations and planning group. About 100 utilities support those three groups, and they are always in attendance because the conference is colocated with their spring general meetings. The utilities come because they want to be there for their semiannual meeting and network with their colleagues in the group, and then they stay for the industry open conference to attend technical presentations and visit with the vendors and consultants in the exhibit hall. We’re looking forward to being back in person in March 2022 for the first time in a couple years after a gap caused by the pandemic. The theme of our 2022 hydropower conference is the past, present, and future of hydro, and our call for abstracts is currently open.
Chris Hayes: Part of CEATI’s mandate is to keep our utility members apprised of best practices and the latest and greatest technologies, and CEATI’s annual hydropower conference is a great vehicle for accomplishing that. The attraction for the vendors is that there is an audience of 100 utilities that are interested in learning about how to improve. It’s a good dynamic.
Hydro Leader: Why should utilities that are not current members of CEATI consider joining?
Chris Hayes: It comes down to leverage. We can serve as an excellent technical resource and can help those utilities leverage their time, their resources, and their money. Ultimately, we’re going to help to create awareness, build expertise, save them money, and drive down costs.
Lizzie Smith: They stand to join a great network, too. Once a utility becomes a CEATI member, it has a network of many other utilities that it can consider friends and call on to get help from. That kind of network helps build out your staff capabilities.