NMPP helps members with net-metering service, resource book

If integrating distributed generation is challenging for large utilities, imagine the difficulties faced by rural and small municipal utilities. With 200 member communities located in six western states, Nebraska Municipal Power Pool You are leaving WAPA.gov. (NMPP) doesn’t have to use imagination to identify the needs of its members.

Distributed generation is becoming increasingly popular even in rural communities. NMPP has developed aresource guidebook to help prepare its members to deal with the challenges of interconnection.
Distributed generation is becoming increasingly popular even in rural communities. NMPP has developed a resource guidebook to help prepare its members to deal with the challenges of interconnection.

NMPP is the utility services organization of NMPP Energy, the trade name for a coalition of four organizations based in Nebraska that provide municipal utilities with wholesale electricity, wholesale and retail natural gas and energy-related services. Some of its members serve as few as 200 customers with minimal staff who wear many hats, said NMPP Energy Communications Specialist Kevin Wickham. “We saw the need to help our members with interconnection coming several years ago when some of the states we serve passed net-metering laws,” he recalled.

Building new services
NMPP launched a net-metering service in 2010 that 22 member utilities have used to date. That number is likely to increase as the cost of installing individual solar arrays drops and utilities install community solar projects.

The net-metering program offers members a choice of three options, each for a cost-based, one-time fee. Members may choose from assistance in developing their own policy guideline and procedures, review of customer generation application for interconnection or avoided cost rate development for payment for energy delivered to the utility.

As it developed its net metering service, NMPP was also working on a resource guidebook, Recommended Policy and Guidelines for Interconnection of Customer-Owned Generation Including Net Metering. “The guidebook was six years in the making,” said Wickham. “Initially, we were going to offer it as one of the services available under the program.”

Something everyone needs
In 2015, NMPP and its wholesale power supply organization Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska You are leaving WAPA.gov. (MEAN) partnered to provide the guidebook to all of MEAN’s 54 long-term total requirements power participants. “Distributed generation and customer self-generation has really taken off and we realized that there was a greater need for the information,” Wickham explained.

The guidebook contains policy guidance, sample agreements, industry terms and definitions and case studies from the American Public Power Association. You are leaving WAPA.gov. Members will also find net-metering statutes from the states NMPP and MEAN serve (Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas). That was one of the bigger challenges in putting together the guidebook, Wickham acknowledged. “Each city council and each utility designs and administers its own policies and procedures around net metering,” he said. “We had to make sure the guidebook was going to be useful to all our customers.”

Input from several regional utilities and trade associations helped NMPP compile a comprehensive resource. Otherwise, the net-metering guidebook was a product of expertise within the organization. “The guidebook wouldn’t have been possible without the cooperation from those utilities, as well as the American Public Power Association,” said Tim Sutherland, MEAN director of wholesale electric operations.

Prepared for future
With an estimated 900 kilowatts of solar power on MEAN’s system, distributed generation has arrived, noted Wickham. “Customers have high expectations when it comes to utility customer service. We  stress to our members to be prepared, starting with things like having an interconnection agreement in place before a customer walks in the door,” he said.

MEAN member utilities, especially the small ones, are finding the resource useful in working out their renewable interconnection policies. “The creation of the net-metering guidebook was the result of being responsive to MEAN’s power participants’ needs,” said Sutherland. “It is just an example of seeing a need and trying to assist our member-owners.”

Utilities can expect to be confronting the challenge of distributed generation and other changes in the electric industry well into the future, Sutherland noted. NMPP and MEAN will continue to look for services, programs and tools to help their member-owners provide consumers with reliable, affordable and sustainable power, he added.

City of Palo Alto Utilities tests smart streetlights along El Camino Real

City seeking feedback on solar project

This fully integrated smart solar streetlight, one of nine along El Camino Real in Palo Alto, California, produces energy equivalent to power two streetlights. The city is asking residents to give their opinions on the streetlights in an online survey.
This fully integrated smart solar streetlight, one of nine along El Camino Real in Palo Alto, California, produces energy equivalent to power two streetlights. The city is asking residents to give their opinions on the project in an online survey.

El Camino Real, a historic road that runs nearly the full length of California’s coastline, is making history again for its role in a six-month pilot project being conducted by the City of Palo Alto Utilities You are leaving WAPA.gov. (CPAU). In partnership with energy technology provider Petra SystemsYou are leaving WAPA.gov. CPAU recently installed a string of nine smart solar streetlights along “The Royal Road.”

The installation is testing the potential to generate renewable energy on streetlight poles. Solar photovoltaic, or PV, modules placed high on the poles capture the sun’s energy and send it to the city’s electric grid. The technology could help transform ordinary streetlights into a network of distributed solar power generating assets.

Taking community’s pulse
The PV-fitted streetlights are located along a well-trafficked mile of El Camino Real. Interpretive signs in the area educate passers-by about the technology. “The pilot project area runs right by Stanford University, as well as soccer fields and parks, so residents will see what we are doing and be able to form an opinion about it,” noted CPAU Communications Manager Catherine Elvert. “We are encouraging community members to provide feedback through an online survey.”

The survey asks questions about residents’ support for CPAU increasing the use of solar power, and allows them to express concerns about aesthetics, light quality and other issues. “The customer response to these modules can help us gauge how aggressively to pursue this type of local generation,” Elvert added.

CPAU is engaged in several local solar initiatives as part of its ongoing commitment to invest in clean energy resources.

Innovating through partnership
Through its Program for Emerging Technologies, the municipal utility is able to “test drive” systems that may improve operations, create jobs and boost the sustainability of CPAU’s generation portfolio. Launched in 2012, the program seeks out and nurtures creative products and services that manage and better use electricity, gas, water and fiber optic services.

Partnering with high-tech companies keeps the cost of innovation down. The El Camino Solar Test project will increase Palo Alto’s renewable energy production at no cost to the city. Petra Systems offered CPAU the solar modules to evaluate their performance over the six-month pilot duration. The nine units are estimated to have a total nameplate capacity of about 2.25 kilowatts, with each solar module expected to produce 374 kilowatt-hours per year. That electricity is enough to power the equivalent of two streetlights, making the LED, or light-emitting diode, streetlights net producers of electricity.

Improving service, lowering costs
Project Manager Lindsay Joye pointed out that generation is just a small part of smart solar technology performance. “The technology goes well beyond self-powering to give the city greater control of its streetlight assets,” she said.

The modules are equipped with an LED light controller that allows the city to remotely turn streetlights on or off. The brightness of individual lights or groups of lights can be adjusted to accommodate the traffic levels in different neighborhoods, as well. On a citywide scale, the dimming function can provide even deeper energy savings from the already-efficient LED lamps, Joye noted.

The system offers additional features that can streamline maintenance and enhance public safety. The controller can flicker specific lights to help direct emergency response personnel when needed, and can notify the city immediately of a malfunctioning light, including the failure type and exact location. Elvert said, “If the city decides to expand the project, high-traffic roads and expressways would be good candidates for installations. With the smart-grid and remote control capabilities, there would be less need to put our crews in harm’s way.”

Free webinar – Surviving the coming utility revolution

Sept. 9, 2014
1 PM Mountain time

Suzanne Shelton of The Shelton Group energy consultants will be moderating a free webcast called Surviving the Coming Utility Revolution,Redirecting to a non-government site sponsored by Greenbiz.com, that will host energy management leaders from Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson and Wal-Mart. They’ll share their sustainability goals and how utilities can help them achieve those goals.

This webcast will show utilities how they can best serve and retain their largest commercial and industrial customers as they increasingly seek to generate their own energy and reduce their environmental footprint. If you work in strategic planning, energy efficiency or distributed generation program management, product development, or customer service/key accounts in an electric or gas utility, this webcast will give you excellent insight into how to position your utility and your product/service portfolio to be most appealing to your largest customers. Read more.Redirecting to a non-government site Source: The Shelton Group, 9/4/14

You can hear more of Suzanne Shelton’s insights into strategies for improving customer relationships at the Rocky Mountain Utility Efficiency Exchange.

Webinar explores mitigating PV interconnections

July 9
11:30 AM – 1:00 PM MDT

Join the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) for the fifth webinar in the Distributed Generation Interconnection CollaborativeRedirecting to a non-government site Informational webinar series. This webinar series is focused on current and emergent processes and protocols for the interconnection of distributed photovoltaics (PV), with the goal of fostering information and data exchange amongst stakeholders.

Mitigation Measures for Distributed PV InterconnectionRedirecting to a non-government site will spotlight recent national laboratory research and feature speakers Michael Coddington, senior electrical engineering researcher and principal investigator in distributed grid integration at NREL and Robert Broderick, principle member of Technical Staff, Grid Integration at Sandia National Laboratories. Coddington will present findings from a recent survey of 19 U.S. electric utilities including current utility screening practices, technical tools and mitigation strategies used for interconnection of PV to the electric distribution system. Broderick will present findings from a recent Sandia survey of 100 small generator interconnection studies, including the most likely impacts of PV system interconnections and an evaluation of the associated costs.

Space is limited so register today. After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

PV interconnection tools for co-ops explored in free webinar

May 28, 2014
9:30-11 a.m. MDT

Join the Distributed Generation Interconnection Collaborative (DGIC) May 28 for the fourth webinar in its informational series. Enhanced Modeling and Monitoring Tools for Distributed PV InterconnectionRedirecting to a non-government site spotlights the challenges rural cooperatives and municipal utilities face in trying to integrate distributed photovoltaic arrays into their grids.

Presentations will highlight the Open Modeling FrameworkRedirecting to a non-government site, a software development effort by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) aimed at making advanced power systems models usable for electric cooperatives.

Rick Thompson, president and cofounder of Green Tech Media, will open the webinar with a brief overview of his company’s new Grid Edge InitiativeRedirecting to a non-government site.

David Pinney, lead software engineer at NRECA, and Mark Rawson, project manager of Advanced, Renewable, and Distributed Generation at Sacramento Municipal Utility DistrictRedirecting to a non-government site (SMUD) are the featured speakers. Participants will learn about SMUD’s pilot project focused on distribution feeder monitoring and the supply of data available to stakeholders for analysis and modeling.

There is no cost to participate in the DGIC webinar series, but registration is required. After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing instructions for joining the event.

This webinar series examines current and emergent processes and protocols for the interconnection of distributed PV, with the goal of fostering information and data exchange among stakeholders. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory facilitates the DGIC with support from the Electric Power Research InstituteRedirecting to a non-government site and Western Area Power Administration.

NREL launches website for distributed PV group

A working group created to provide a forum for exploring issues and solutions related to deploying grid-connected, distributed photovoltaic (PV) resources now has a website where members and stakeholders can find the latest information on the topic.

The Distributed Generation Interconnection Collaborative (DGIC) aims to bring utilities and other energy industry professionals together to arrive at innovative approaches to distributed generation that address concerns of time, costs, grid safety and reliability. The website, hosted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), provides visitors with a meeting schedule, contact information and a link to registration. Presentations from past webinars are available to download, no password necessary.

DGIC invites stakeholders to participate in monthly webinars focusing on specific PV interconnection practices and related research. Minimum Day Time Load Calculation and ScreeningRedirecting to a non-government site is the subject of the next meeting on April 30. It is the first in a three-part series on supplemental screening procedures. Discussions will cover current and emerging processes and protocols for interconnecting distributed PV, with the goal of encouraging stakeholders to share information and data to improve practices.

Western is partnering with NREL and the Electric Power Research InstituteRedirecting to a non-government site to sponsor the Distributed Generation Interconnection Collaborative. “Western customers are at both ends of the spectrum in terms of experience integrating solar, and at all points in between,” noted Randy Manion, Western Renewable Energy Program manager. “We would like to see as many utilities as possible get involved in DGIC, because each one has something unique and valuable to contribute to the conversation.”

Meetings generally occur on the last Wednesday of each month, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. MDT. Participation is free but registration is required. Topics to be covered in upcoming webinars include:

  • Lessons Learned with Early PV Plant Integration
  • Supplemental Screening Procedures: Voltage and Power Quality
  • Supplemental Screening Procedures: Safety and Reliability
  • Interconnection as Part of a Strategic Resource Planning Process

For more information on how to participate in the DGIC, visit the website or contact Kristen Ardani, NREL Solar Technology Markets and Policy Analyst, at 303-384-6461.

New-age Distributed Generation: Emerging on-site generation options for your customers

Tom Geist, a senior project manager at Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), kicked off the session by announcing that the perfect power source doesn’t exist. However, there are lots of options, so it will be increasingly up to utilities to choose the one(s) that best fits the need.

EPRI explains DG
Distributed generation is often used interchangeably with distributed resources, but that is inaccurate. Distributed resources equal distributed generation plus energy storage plus controls (load management).

The importance of distributed generation for utilities is that it offers the opportunity to reduce transmission and distribution line loss, anywhere from a few percentage points up. Distributed generation gives system planners more flexibility, and allows utilities to make better ancillary services a worthy product. Most importantly, customers care about the improved power quality, reliability, efficiency and lower costs distributed generation can enhance. Utilities can create customized solutions for customers around distributed generation systems.

How EPRI picks the best
EPRI deals with products just out of the laboratory, test them and demonstrates the technology in the field. The reports from those tests are available to all utility subscribers.

To help utilities determine which technologies are the most valuable, EPRI takes the system view—every technology is a system composed of multiple technologies: source, conversion, storage, power electronics. Hence, comparison is difficult.

The metrics EPRI applies to technologies are price, size, weight, energy, power, efficiency, safety, reliability and life cycle. Any one of these can determine success or failure of application. People tend to focus on one of the sub-systems, sometimes at the expense of the entire system.

Proven technologies aplenty
There are lots of proven distributed generation technologies which meet some of the metrics but not others. Solar turbines from the Caterpillar Company have been operating commercially since the 1940s. This technology presents a golden opportunity for capturing waste heat. Typically, 25 percent of power is lost in conversion, but 42 percent can be recovered through combined heat and power (CHP) technology.

 Conventional fuel cells are another proven technology. They usually provide a small amount of base load power, but are bulky, complex to operate, can be expensive and have short life cycles. The phosphoric acid fuel cell runs at a high temperature, offering CHP possibilities. It needs to be operated in parallel with the grid. The catalyst makes use of platinum, an expensive metal, so scaling up is costly. Solid oxide and proton exchange membrane fuel cells are similar to phosphoric acid types.

Micro turbines are based on turbocharger technology found in aircraft auxiliary power units. They usually generate less than a MW of base load power with CHP potential.

Flow batteries are similar to conventional batteries except that the electrodes are charged liquid. This technology has good energy density and cycle life; it is long-lasting, scalable with the potential for lower cost, but has failed to generate much interest.

Another type of battery familiar to everyone with a lap top or cell phone is the lithium ion battery. It has made tremendous advances in the past two decades, but the challenge is to scale up to larger applications. It has safety issues, one being the potential to catch fire during charging, especially the large batteries.

The advanced lead-acid battery is an improved version of the familiar lead carbon system. This technology has a very good cycle life and is good for large systems.

Utilities can use all of these technologies for peak shaving, load leveling and improved reliability.

Technologies on the way
The one emerging technology on every utility’s radar is the smart grid, with its promise of improved performance.  It is evolutionary, not revolutionary, a matter of applying communications controls to existing technology. EPRI is conducting 11 regional smart grid demonstrations.

 The future is not one size fits all. Invest in new technology – they are coming. Distributed generation is a customized solution with great potential.

Thin film solar comes to Florida
Julio Baroso from Keys Energy in Florida talked about a 30 kW thin-film solar project his utility installed on the Eco-Discovery Center.

It started with a cold call between the Keys Energy general manager and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The Florida Municipal Power Agency became involved later. Total project cost $235,928, with NOAA contributing about $90,000.

Advanced Green Technologies was only vendor who answered Keys’ RFP with a thin film solution. Keys wanted to try something new, since traditional panels are a problem in hurricanes. A system that lays flat on the roof is a better solution. Also, there are a lot of historic buildings in the Florida Keys, usually owned by the customers most likely to be interested in alternative energy, so the utility wanted to showcase a system designed to work with architecture in historic district.

Installation is simple—just peel off the adhesive backing and roll it down. All connections take place at peak of roof.  The system was completed in about one day. It was only one year from the first phone call to powering up the system at end of 2009.

The system does not have backup a storage battery because its output does not exceed museum use.

The educational component, including a kiosk, is an important aspect of the project. Keys wanted to introduce customers to a different type of solar system. The Eco-Discovery Center is good fit with its focus on the environment of the Florida Keys.

And now, the Bloom Box
The final presentation came from Bloom Energy of 60 Minutes fame. The show put the company in the spotlight for its green attributes, but the Bloom Box is a total distributed generation solution.

The “old school” model the Bloom Box seeks to replace is “generation plus transmission.” The technology combines the two onsite. That may sound far-fetched, but computing and telephones are good examples of connected technology now gone distributed.

Bloom Box generators start at 100 kW, and can be scaled up to 1 MW. The modular design means that there is no need to shut the generator down entirely to service it. The company guarantees a 10-year performance, with ongoing service agreement.

The system doesn’t require water during operation, although it needs a little for start up. It is not suitable for customers who have an application for hot water, but if it is just electricity they need, the Bloom Box is for them. So far, it is only scaled for commercial applications.

What makes it marketable
For a new energy resource to move into the marketplace, it has to be more than reliable and affordable. It must be also be clean and easy. Legacy generators—coal, nuclear—are dirty, complicated and high maintenance or unreliable and intermittent—solar, wind. Legacy fuel cells are expensive, complicated.

Bloom has all four attributes. The first Bloom Box was installed in 2008, but the company waited to tell the story because fuel cells have baggage. A reliable affordable fuel cell has been five years away from market for last 25 years. This is an entirely different type of fuel cell, so the company waited to let customers announce their installations.

The Bloom Box works because of low-cost materials. The central component is a “flat, square piece of sand,” not platinum. It is an all-electric technology that approaches 50 percent efficiency, and is fuel-flexible—propane, ethanol, natural gas—it can run on anything with carbon and hydrogen. Electricity is generated by a direct electro-chemical reaction. It is a base load, not intermittent, solution with no waste heat.

The value propositions the technology offers to utilities are lower energy costs, clean power, pay-as-you-grow scalability, primary power, reliability, fuel flexibility and ease of installation.

With Federal and state incentives, a Bloom Box pays the owner back in less than five years. In California, it provides price stability and can help California emission reduction goals. Running on natural gas, it produces only 50 percent of the emissions of conventional generation. On biogas, it is a zero emissions power source.  

Early adopters include ebay, Coca Cola, Fed Ex, Google, Staples and Walmart.

For utilities, the Bloom Box is a way to invest in the future. The technology provides superior customer service, power supply management and distribution performance. Working with customers to install a Bloom Box demonstrates environmental leadership to policy makers.