Innovating Infrastructure for Resiliency feat. Gary Huffman (Ep. 5)

Podcast Episode 5: Gary Huffman

Our fifth guest on the 4M Utilities Strategy Podcast is the great Gary Huffman!

Gary Huffman has more than 30 years of experience in electrical, water, and gas utility design, construction and operations. He currently serves as a senior client relations manager for Burns & McDonnell’s Transmission & Distribution Group. During his eight years with Burns & McDonnell, Huffman has successfully supported the startup of a utility’s $600 million transmission infrastructure program as program manager and has been responsible for providing the industry experience necessary to support the creation of Burns & McDonnell distribution and grid modernization programs.

Gary took us on a fascinating journey through his experiences in the world of utilities, reflecting on lessons learned about resilience and innovation in everyday infrastructure. We got his insights on how undergrounding utilities and utility mapping fit into modernization plans for power networks. He also spoke about best practices for cooperation between industry professionals, government regulators, and technological innovators.

More about Gary Huffman

He is currently the vice chair of the EEI Distribution Reliability Working Group and Chair of the IEEE Distribution Resiliency Working Group. Before joining Burns & McDonnell, Huffman spent 23 years with Southern California Edison (SCE) in various utility operations management positions. He has testified before the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) as an expert CapX and O&M witness and before the California Air Resources Board (CARB), and the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) as an expert witness on utility operations supporting California’s rigorous environmental rule-making process. Huffman holds a bachelor’s degree in manufacturing and industrial engineering from California Polytechnic University, Pomona and a Project Management certification from the University of California Irvine.

Key Takeaways

The old ways of finding utilities can’t keep up with our current needs.

Just a few decades ago, the easiest way to locate an underground utility was to ask the person who put it into the ground...and hope that their memory was reliable. Today, it's hard enough to know every utility to look for on your site, much less which company it belongs to, which contractor or subcontractor installed it, and how to contact them. As seasoned workers with decades-long memories start to retire in greater numbers, we need another approach to get reliable information about subsurface utilities. If used correctly, digital tools are a cost-effective way of constructing confidence.

Everyone wants the Amazon experience, even when it comes to utilities.

That's a challenge for service providers who are dealing with aging infrastructure, legal regulations, financial pressures, and a significant part of the workforce nearing retirement. The usual methods are getting more costly, less reliable, and harder to staff. And the problems are getting more tricky, as utilities like distributed and renewable energy and fiber optics start to interweave through existing networks. Analytic software is one tool we know we can apply more productively and intelligently, if we think big about the future.

Regulation moves slower than technology—and that's a good thing.

When it comes to utilities, new technologies need expert validation and professional confidence to take hold. Professional industry organizations can act as a buffer between rapid technological innovations and slow regulatory updates. We want to build consensus across the technical community, across the business community, and ensure that standards have been thoroughly vetted to encourage successful adoption.

Undergrounding is the key to better resilience.

The days when companies could save money by keeping utilities above ground are long gone. Reliable service is too important to our daily lives to lose heating, electricity, or internet for even an hour, much less several days. Undergrounding utilities is one of the easiest ways to address resilience in preparing our infrastructure for today's challenges.

Co-hosts: David Horesh (Director of Marketing) and Ophir Wainer (Director of North American Business Development)

Just in case you missed it, in our previous podcast we had a great talk with David Rottmayer about the importance of utility mapping for Telecom.

And stay tuned! On our next utility strategy podcast, we're hosting Geoff Zeiss!

Questions? Suggestions? Want to nominate a fantastic guest for a future episode? Get in touch!

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