In my job, I typically do a fair amount of traveling. Of course, that all changed last year due to COVID-19. I didn’t go anywhere for work-related events or meetings. It was kind of nice—at first—but over time I missed seeing people and interacting on a personal level with friends and colleagues across the country. Being sequestered at home was a real drag!

Recently, I did some traveling for personal reasons. I hadn’t been on a plane, or even near an airport, in well over a year. To my surprise, the whole experience was pretty much as I remembered it. Oh, sure, everywhere I looked people had on masks, which by now seems normal, but the check-in, security screening, and general process of being dropped off at the entrance and getting to my gate was fairly normal.

I was traveling on American Airlines from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to Fort Myers, Florida, by way of Dallas. If you’re not familiar with the destinations, the airports in Sioux Falls and Fort Myers are very nice, but they are not particularly large and don’t have the traffic you’d see in places like Minneapolis, Orlando, or Miami—other airports within a couple hundred miles of these cities. As a result, I wasn’t expecting many passengers to be on my flights. I assumed the center seats in each row would probably be empty and I’d have plenty of room to spread out.

Much to my surprise, the Boeing 737s were completely filled. In fact, the airline sent out a text message asking for volunteers willing to take a later flight. They were prepared to offer up to $600 for the inconvenience. While this is just one anecdotal observation from a trip on April 18, my point is, things may be getting back to normal, and people are traveling.

Events in the Age of COVID

Last year, most in-person events were either canceled or shifted to an online format. Many of you know that POWER has been hosting three live events for many years: Experience POWER (EP), previously known as the ELECTRIC POWER Conference and Exhibition; the Connected Plant Conference (CPC); and the Distributed Energy Conference (DEC). CPC was held in Atlanta, Georgia, in February 2020, just before the world went into lockdown. EP and DEC were both held as virtual events.

Virtual events and webinars have been widely embraced by the power community. They have allowed people to continue to hear from experts and gather new insight, and for that we can all be thankful. There was a time not too long ago when the technology to do virtual events didn’t exist, and the inability to travel would have put a complete halt to the typical information sharing attendees get at conferences. Today, the capabilities of many platforms are outstanding. POWER has hosted virtual sessions with more than 2,200 registrants. That’s a lot of interest and engagement, which demonstrates how important these gatherings are to our community.

The feedback from attendees following virtual sessions is regularly positive. Still, there is nothing like the experience a person gets from attending a conference in person. The value of networking with peers and speaking face-to-face with experts about challenges you’re facing to get their direct input on how you might be able to overcome obstacles can’t be overstated.

Getting Back in the Saddle

This year, CPC, EP, and DEC will all be in-person events. CPC will be held Aug. 30–Sept. 2, in Austin, Texas, and DEC will be co-located with EP at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio, Texas, Oct. 18–21. I’m excited to travel again, and according to John Rockwell, managing director for EP, CPC, and DEC, I’m not the only one who feels that way (see sidebar).

CTOTF Plans In-Person Fall Conference and Trade Show

After being forced to cancel its spring 2020 conference due to COVID-19, and pivoting to a virtual meeting for its fall 2020 and spring 2021 events, the Combustion Turbine Operations Technical Forum (CTOTF) intends to hold its fall 2021 conference and trade show in person. The event is scheduled to be held at the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia in Scottsdale, Arizona, September 19–23.

CTOTF is a users’ group that has been around for nearly 50 years. Its mission is to facilitate the exchange of information and experiences related to the design, operations, and maintenance of combustion turbine and combined cycle power plants, and to provide a collective voice for its members to express issues and concerns to the combustion turbine industry.

“Sponsors and user group members are signing up right now for September,” Tom Pasha, CTOTF’s executive vice chair of operations, told POWER. “Everybody’s very excited.”

Although the group is thrilled to get back to live events, CTOTF also found virtual events were well-received by its members. The spring 2021 conference, held April 12–15, had nearly three times the number of user attendees compared to past events. “It was very successful,” Pasha said. “We had almost 500 total attendees.”

One factor that drove high attendance for the virtual event was the value-driven price point. CTOTF created a corporate rate that allowed more people from member companies to attend at a lower cost per person. While the group’s conferences have always attracted station managers and other plant leaders, CTOTF encouraged attendees to bring their assistants, such as engineers and purchasing or procurement folks, who aren’t always able to travel to the in-person event. This made for much broader participation.

CTOTF held more than 25 roundtable sessions as part of the spring 2021 conference. A bevy of exceptional content led to average attendance of about 100 people per session, which Pasha said was “off the charts.” Most of the sessions were technical in nature, although there were some leadership development topics covered as well. “The members really enjoyed it. We received excellent reviews on the content,” Pasha said.

According to Pasha, one of the biggest issues was managing the question and answer periods, which are always popular portions of conference sessions. In at least one case, a session went more than 45 minutes past its scheduled end time because there were so many questions that came up. “Having the microphones open throughout the session was very popular,” said Pasha. “There was a lot of interaction there.”

One benefit of an in-person event is that those conversations can continue long after a session concludes. There are opportunities to keep the discussion going at booths on the trade show floor, in venue corridors while having a cup of coffee, or over dinner at a nice restaurant. This fall those opportunities will again be on the table.

To learn more about CTOTF and what the group has to offer, visit: www.ctotf.org, or write to info@ctotf.org. Additionally, CTOTF is accepting submissions through October 31 for its 2022 Innovation Excellence Awards, which are co-sponsored by POWER. For more details on the program, click on this link.

“Our research has shown that most generating company professionals will be allowed to travel—and very much want to travel—in the second half of 2021, and we’re hearing the same from our sponsors every day,” Rockwell said. “As the only major live industry events in 2021, we believe we’ll see some amazing levels of attendance.”

Rockwell noted that he had just visited San Antonio to meet with venue and hotel representatives in preparation for EP and DEC. The convention center claims its “number one priority is the health and safety of guests, employees, and community.” As such, it has taken several proactive measures to ensure events can be held with peace of mind, including retrofitting buildings with more touchless features, increasing the frequency of cleaning tasks, and implementing best practices for food and beverage preparation and servicing, among other things. Rockwell said the convention center is booked solid through the end of the year starting in June.

Meanwhile, conference agendas are coming together nicely. “Everyone is eager to meet, collaborate, and learn,” Rockwell said. “We feel like we’re building a great in-person experience and program. Plus, our digital platforms allow us to augment the program before, during, and after the live sessions.”

Fall will be here before you know it, so start making your plans now. I hope to see you in the Lone Star State! Follow these links to learn more about the events: Experience POWER, Connected Plant Conference, and Distributed Energy Conference. ■

Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor.

Award-Winning Editorial

The American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE) announced on May 13 that POWER Executive Editor Aaron Larson’s Speaking of Power column was selected to receive National Bronze and Regional Gold awards in the Editor’s Letter category of its 2021 Azbee Awards. The Azbee Awards are highly competitive and celebrate the highest quality reporting, editing, and design in business-to-business, trade, association, and professional publications. Congratulations, Aaron!