Virtual Summit addresses EV charging future

Thurs., June 27

A recent white paper Redirecting to a non-government site from the Edison Foundation asserts that more than five million electric vehicles (EVs) will be on U.S. roads by 2035. Depending on battery technology advances and the price of oil, that number could reach up to 30 million. As consumers get a wider choice in EV models and adoption rates climb, utilities will be facing a significant new residential load. Now is the time to start preparing for plug-in electric vehicles, and the considerable energy management challenges they represent for electric utilities.

The third annual Electric Vehicles Virtual Summit Redirecting to a non-government site on Thursday, June 27, is a one-day, online conference that will delve into the challenges and issues surrounding the successful implementation of intelligent charging infrastructure for the emerging EV market. Speakers will discuss the latest advances in EV battery capabilities, consumer uptake and behavior, and correctly designing intelligent support and charging infrastructure for EVs. This event can help utility executives, smart grid managers, planners and engineers for an emerging technology that promises to have a big  impact on their systems.

New report finds utilities may lack strategic plan for smart grid communications

In pursuit of a smart grid, many utilities have focused solely on deploying and integrating advanced metering infrastructure. Consumer outreach supporting the technology has been uneven at best.

In late 2011, utilities asked DEFG EcoAlign for research focused on smart grid communications. In response, the marketing agency has published Meta Analysis and Utility Case Studies on Smart Grid Communications, DETech Research Consortium Redirecting to a non-government site.

The report presents a high level summary of detailed analysis of the issues. Researchers drew on case studies from five utilities and a survey of industry experts to establish a baseline of consumer knowledge and identify best practices.

You can download the report Redirecting to a non-government site free of charge; however, registration is required.

DEFG EcoAlign manages a research consortium of North American energy utilities that seek solutions for energy efficiency, demand response, distributed renewable energy generation initiatives, and optimal use of smart grid assets.

Public comment sought on updating transmission grid

Western is taking a leadership role in transitioning to a more resilient and flexible electric grid and to achieving much greater coordination among system operators. If we can take greater advantage of clean energy resources, while at the same time reducing costs to customers, we can bring the benefits of increased connectivity and enhanced reliability to more Americans. You can learn more about in Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu’s May 30, 2012 blog post.

We need your input

Your leadership and participation will help guide this effort to transform our transmission grid into a 21st century system, stimulate job creation, take greater advantage of new technologies and existing resources, reduce price and supply risk and advance our international competitiveness. We look forward to working closely with you throughout the process.

Please register for one of our events. Registration will end two weeks before each event:

July 17—Rapid City, S.D.
July 18—Billings, Mont. (listening session only)
July 24—Phoenix, Ariz.
July 26—Sacramento/Folsom, Calif. (held in Rancho Cordova)
July 31—Loveland, Colo.
Aug. 2—Sioux Falls, S.D.

If you can’t attend a meeting, you can still comment via email. Please provide your name and identify your organizational affiliation in your submission. Your comments will be most useful to the team if submitted by Aug. 3; however, we will accept comments until Aug. 17. The team will review all comments submitted, but you should not expect a response to your comments.

Resources exist to help utilities talk about smart grid

How to talk to customers, if you have to  Redirecting to a non-government site is a story in Intelligent Utility on Jan. 15 that suggests utilities are not using the resources available to them to prepare their customers for smart grid adoption.

Part of the problem, author Phil Carson acknowledges, is that “smart grid” means different things to different utilities, and often something else entirely to consumers. This has made it easy for opponents to co-opt the term and claim the technology is controversial without having to explain themselves.

But utilities should not use this lack of clarity as an excuse not to engage customers and regulators about what the smart grid means in their specific circumstances.  In addition to a past story mentioned in the article and a reference to the Association for Demand Response and Smart Grid Redirecting to a non-government site, readers will find links to more related reading listed to the right of the story. These resources offer utilities the building blocks they need to communicate the value propositions smart grid represents to different types of consumers—whatever the technology and stage of deployment.  

Perhaps the most important point in the story is that if utilities don’t talk to consumers, others will take control of the story. The smart grid promises to fundamentally change the way power providers do business. Utilities that don’t clearly explain all the implications to their customers, Carson warns, could be writing their own epitaphs.

Deadline approaches for smart grid communications survey – Jan. 6, 2012

There is still time to contribute your views to a national survey on the effectiveness of smart grid communications being conducted by Distributed Energy Financial Group, LLC External link information. Each respondent will receive the analysis report.

The survey assesses the electric sector from diverse perspectives. So far, every U.S. state and several Canadian provinces are represented, with respondents from vertically integrated utilities to competitive suppliers to public interest organizations to consultants.

You will answer questions about smart grid activities in different stages of development. Some utilities are taking a “slow build” approach, while others are “flying under the radar”; some are relying on “active engagement” of consumers. You will be asked about different approaches regarding consumer education and engagement, lessons learned, and how utilities can save time, reduce costs, engage consumers, and achieve their goals.

DEFG LLC always shares its summary report with everyone who takes the survey. Last year, nearly 600 people responded to a survey on prepaid energy, and this topic — smart grid communications — is similarly timely and vital.

Take the survey External link information today, and while you are at it, drop Energy Services a line and share your thoughts and experiences on smart grid communications.

DOE offers funding for consumer energy management projects

Utilities, local governments and communities are eligible to apply for $8 million in funding to create programs that empower consumers to better manage their electricity use through greater access to their own electricity consumption data.

The Department of Energy is providing the funding as part of the administration’s goals to promote a clean energy future. “Providing consumers with easy access to their own consumption data is another important step in helping Americans make more informed decisions about their electricity consumption and become more energy-efficient,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “As a result, we will see more innovation by entrepreneurs and other third-party providers as they develop valuable applications and services for the consumer.” 

New smart grid technologies are generating unprecedented amounts of electricity use data that could give homes and businesses more control over their electricity choices.  However, consumers need convenient and user-friendly tools and software products that help them readily understand the data, and realize the full capabilities of the smart grid. 

The “Smart Grid Data Access” Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) addresses the major steps communities need to take to better leverage their smart grid assets on behalf of consumers: creating policies that give consumers and authorized third-parties (such as app developers) access to customer data; and demonstrating the value of these apps and services across communities.

See the FOA at and for additional information, including cost-sharing requirements for government-industry cooperation. The deadline for submitting applications is March 2, 2012.

Smart grid education grants available

American Public Power Association is offering 50 DOE-funded tuition slots for a series of three online courses for electric power industry workers on clean energy solutions and smart grid deployment. The grants are available to the first 50 individuals who register.

Intended to be an overview, Renewable Energy Sources and the Smart Grid was developed by the Energy Providers Coalition for Education in cooperation with the Center for Adult Education and Learning. The webinar series explores:

  • Electricity production from various forms of renewable energy as well as the function, operation and vision of the smart grid
  • Renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, ocean, biomass and geothermal
  • A high-level look at smart grid challenges, benefits, technology needs and the vital role of the consumer

Students who successfully complete this 10-hour, self-study course offered by Bismarck State College’s National Energy Center of Excellence will earn one continuing education unit. To register, please contact Laura Alden at 303-804-4671.

APPA/DEED webinar covers smart grid planning tool pilot

Join the American Public Power Association April 27, 2:00 to 3:30 p.m. ET,  for Lessons Learned Using the Smart Grid Maturity Model.

The Smart Grid Maturity Model (SGMM) is a management tool, developed by and for utilities, that helps plan smart grid implementation, prioritize options and measure progress. 

This webinar presents the results of a pilot study undertaken by American Municipal Power and several of its members to evaluate the usefulness of the SGMM to public power utilities planning to modernize their grids. The pilot was part of a program of APPA’s Demonstration of Energy-effiicient Developments (DEED) program.

This webinar is free for DEED/APPA members, $89 for APPA members and $179 for non APPA members. Register today.

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.

Using Demand Response Programs to Benefit the Customer and the Utility

The second day of the APPA Customer Connections Conference is featuring dual track sessions. Our first session of the day is a look at how utilities are working with key accounts to develop demand response programs that are good for the consumers as well as the utility.

Lisa Schwartz of the Regulatory Assistance Project in Albany, Ore., opened her presentation by defining demand response as changes in electric use by end use customer motivated by cost pressures or demand pressures. Although demand response is not considered energy efficiency, most programs offer some energy-efficiency benefits.Among its other benefits, demand response is a cost effective alternative to building new generation, has a lower environmental impact and is a good way to manage risk. Avoided generation capacity costs, avoided energy costs and better asset use also come with successful demand response.

Common types of demand response are direct load control during times of high demand, and pricing signals that encourage end users to voluntarily reduce consumption.  

The systems and equipment that can be controlled include lighting, space conditioning, water heating, industrial processes and irrigation. Voluntary curtailment can be applied to almost anything a customer can think of.  

Before launching a demand response program, a utility should engage in a realistic assessment of how much demand the program can reduce.  Factors include kind of venues or customers planning to participate, the saturation of equipment to be controlled, the geographic concentration of the system and, perhaps most important, customer reaction.

Expect to find a gap between what is technically achievable and what can be done in real world. That being said, a recent assessment by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission found that a 14 percent reduction in growth in peak demand in the United States is achievable.

Most system operators focus their programs on the costliest hours of operation, but customers can reduce use anytime, to the benefit of the utility. At customer level, critical peak pricing gets best results. Clip those peaks that happen a few times per year, and you will reduce your capacity needs.

A study found that if California had 5 percent of its load on demand response during the energy crisis, the state could have saved huge amounts of money in the neighborhood of $162 per customer per day. Customers participating in demand response programs can shave $8 per month off their energy bills on average.

There are, of course, costs involved in implementing demand response. Advanced metering structure can be costly; IT departments may need new equipment, training or personnel; and billing systems may need to be overhauled. On the customer side, marketing plans, education and incentives will add to the program costs. Large customers may need to invest in technology such as automated building control.

Demand responses programs come with their downsides for utilities. Energy costs can be less predictable and there will be some reduction in sales. However, the smart grid will give customers more control over their consumption and both utilities and customers will be able to control more end uses. So highly customized demand response will become part of the utility landscape.

The Department of Energy is conducting a study on how different dynamic pricing strategies affect consumer behavior.  The study is comparing opt-in with opt-out programs, customer isolation with education, and programs using different types of technology.

There are 13,000 customers participating, including the control group. The results will be coming out in 2013 or 2014, and will be available in a publicly accessible database.

In the coming world of high-penetration renewables, demand will have to follow supply. Some of the technologies we will use to control demand already exist and are in use, such as cycling air conditioners and municipal water pumping and storing thermal energy in water heaters. These are fast, economical strategies.

Policies that promote demand response treat it as on par with other resources in planning, just like conservation. Don’t forget to factor it in during transmission planning either. Budget enough for incentives to give all your customers a chance to participate.