Efficient electrification worth talking about

According to EPRI, the key to efficient electrification is an integrated energy network that gives grid operators more resources to draw upon for balancing supply- and demand-side resources.
According to EPRI, the key to efficient electrification is an integrated energy network that gives grid operators more resources to draw upon for balancing supply- and demand-side resources. (Artwork by Electric Power Research Institute)

The Electric Power Research Institute recently launched its Efficient Electrification Initiative You are leaving WAPA.gov. to analyze the impacts of electrifying the end use of energy, where it makes sense from an efficiency standpoint.

In an article in the EPRI JournalYou are leaving WAPA.gov. President and CEO Mike Howard drew a distinction between the original meaning of electrification—extending electrical service to people who lacked it—and EPRI’s demonstration program. Efficient electrification, Howard explained, looks to integrate the energy network to help achieve the most efficient use of energy and the cleanest production, delivery and consumption of that energy.

As defined in EPRI’s U.S. National Electrification Assessment, electrification refers to the adoption of electric end-use technologies to displace other commercial energy forms and provide new services. According to the assessment, electrification yields benefits to the economy that include:

  • Lower-cost power
  • Lower energy use
  • Reduced air emissions and water use
  • Improved health and safety for workers, potentially leading to gains in productivity and product quality
  • Greater grid flexibility and efficiency

More uses, less consumption
Among the assessment’s key findings is the expectation that electricity’s share of final energy consumption will grow from 21 percent today to 32–47 percent in 2050. Transportation—for personal vehicles and for commercial truck fleets and other heavier-duty applications—accounts for a large share of this growth. Advanced heat pumps, industrial process equipment and other technologies will also contribute to that increase.

The analysis considers regulatory and economic barriers and points to opportunities for financing, recalling how rural electrification financing enabled technology that dramatically increased farm production. In the 21st century, indoor agriculture through electrified production of crops could sharply reduce water and other resource consumption, Howard asserted.

Balancing act with benefits
One surprising fact that emerged from EPRI’s analysis is that even as electricity use increases, the overall use of energy decreases, hence the pairing of “efficient” with “electrification.” The entire energy system would become more efficient through efficient electrotechnologies, and become cleaner as it uses less energy to do the same work.

The efficient electrification scenario makes the entire system more dynamic, too. As more applications rely on electricity, grid operators have more resources to manage and draw upon for balancing supply- and demand-side resources.

Discover possibilities
To move the conversation about electrification forward, EPRI is hosting the inaugural Electrification 2018 International Conference & Exposition You are leaving WAPA.gov. Aug. 20-23 in Long Beach, California. Manufacturers, policymakers, academia, researchers, utility professionals and more will come together to explore the potential for electrifying at the point of end use.

This is an excellent opportunity to find out where electrification is today and where it could go tomorrow. Attendees will see the latest technologies in action and learn about the quantifiable benefits of electrification for consumers and the environment. Utilities and vendors will share cutting-edge practices from innovative programs they have implemented.

Now is the time for power providers to be talking about efficient electrification. Utilities that are ready to address the challenges and seize the opportunities can become leaders in efficiency, sustainability, service and customer satisfaction. Learn more about the conference You are leaving WAPA.gov. and don’t forget to share your stories with WAPA.

Source: EPRI Journal, 5/17/18

New EPRI report reviews behavior change programs

Understanding what electricity consumers want, and how they value electricity service has implications for the entire utility industry. Power providers could use the knowledge to design different pricing structures and select feedback technology most likely to induce customers to change their energy use. Such programs could help utilities lower supply costs, increase the value of electricity to customers and boost customer satisfaction.

The Electric Power Research Institute Redirecting to a non-government site (EPRI) recently released a new study that attempts to answer fundamental questions that still puzzle program planners after decades of research. Understanding Electric Utility Customers—What We Know and What We Need to Know: A Summary Report Redirecting to a non-government site is a technical evaluation of studies on utility behavioral programs. The report focuses on three major areas—pricing, feedback and controls—for the commercial, industrial and residential sectors.

EPRI researchers created readiness scores for behavior change programs that rank the levels of uncertainty about program outcomes. The lower score indicates that more research is needed to determine the cause and effect relationship between the measure and the results.

Utilities should not read the report simply as “What works and what doesn’t,” researchers stress. Rather, it attempts to show where specific results can be linked to programs, and where it is unclear if the program actually produced the results. This information can help program planners determine if a specific measure is likely work with their target audience.

EPRI’s assessment of behavioral program impacts and their general readiness for prime time will be a continual process, to be updated as new evidence becomes available. In conducting an ongoing review, EPRI will suggest ways to fill the understanding gaps through collaborative industry research. Ultimately, this review will accelerate learning across the industry, identifying best practices and mistakes to avoid, while minimizing overall research costs.


Solar Technical Brief Examines Utility Cross-Functional Coordination

The Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) have released Community Solar Program Design: Working Within the Utility. This is the latest in the series of quarterly bulletins and briefs focusing on utility solar business models from the SEPA and EPRI partnership.

This brief focuses on community solar programs, a type of business model that requires innovative approaches and cross-functional coordination. From the point of view of the community solar design person or team within a utility, this brief explores topics including:

  • The inter-departmental strategic needs that should be addressed in the development of a community solar program
  • Strategic and design questions the community solar design team may need to answer, and how feedback from other stakeholders may help 
  • Two case studies on community solar programs at Seattle City Light and Tucson Electric Power, including lessons learned during the development process

Visitors may login and download the report.  SEPA is happy to answer your comments and questions about any of this bulletin’s featured research and events. Please contact Bianca Barth at 202-379-1615.

Source: Solar Electric Power Association, 2/15/12

EPRI publishes electric vehicle guide for consumers

Consumers can now find answers to their questions about electric vehicle technology and performance in a new guide, Plugging In: A Consumer’s Guide to the Electric Vehicle, from the Electric Power Research Institute.

With gasoline edging toward $4 per gallon, potential buyers are eyeing the growing number of electric and hybrid technologies commercially available, and wondering if the time is right for an electric vehicle. This eight-page guide defines and compares driving range, charging times, fuel requirements and effects of weather and driving conditions. It also highlights vehicles available for purchase today and models scheduled to be available later in 2011 and in 2012.

A question-and-answer section explores some of the most common questions consumers have about electric vehicle technology compared to hybrid and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. This section also covers charging—a topic of great interest to utilities that may be wondering how widespread adoption of electric vehicles would affect demand.

The guide offers a basic overview of hybrid vehicles, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles. Mark Duvall, director of EPRI’s Electric Transportation Program, explained that the publication is a starting point to help consumers evaluate their options as they consider purchasing electric vehicles. It is not intended to be an exhaustive report about the technologies or the manufacturers and vendors supporting the industry.

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.