Editors of POWERGRID International magazine—the official publication of DistribuTECH Conference and Exhibition—recently selected winners of the magazine’s annual Projects of the Year. I had the pleasure of announcing the four winners live on Tuesday, Jan. 23 during DistribuTECH’s keynote session at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Centers in San Antonio, Texas. The keynote kicked off the world’s No. 1 annual electric transmission and distribution event.
DistribuTECH is the place where professionals come to learn about the latest industry technologies and solutions. They also network with their peers from around the country and world to discuss challenges and solutions, as well as opportunities being created by the fast-changing business of electricity delivery and customer engagement. The winners of these awards are among the best utilities and companies in the industry and their innovation and hard work is evident in these winning projects. These projects illustrate that when facing a challenge the smart men and women in this industry find solutions.
New Jersey-based Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G) won the Grid Optimization Project of the Year award for its Energy Strong Advanced Technologies program. PSE&G proposed the program, which contains investments aimed at increasing the resiliency of its electric delivery system, in response to Super Storm Sandy.
After Sandy, PGE&G assembled “a lot of smart people” and asked what would or could PSE&G have done differently, said Jorge Cardenas, PSE&G’s vice president, asset management and centralized services, just after accepting the award on stage along with Steve Zinser, PSE&G’s manager, utility business systems strategy.
“The answer that came to the top was technology,” Cardenas said. “This technology of a multi-component filing came to be. It really focused on facilitating information gathering, as well as automation, as well as the ability to do things like set up the safety of workers from a remote site rather than have to have people go to the site.” (Digital subscribers: Click to watch interview with Cardenas and Zinser.)
Energy Strong Advanced Technologies program included implementation of new and significantly enhanced technologies to improve storm and emergency response time, expanded use of microprocessor relays on distribution feeders, installation of supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) equipment at key substations and deployment of a centralized distribution SCADA (D-SCADA) system that allows for remote control and visibility of the 69 kV, 26 kV, 13 kV and 4 kV circuits.
Distribution circuit remote control and monitoring, which was part of the project, now allows PSE&G to rapidly diagnose circuit conditions, including circuit and transformer loading, circuit breaker position, load imbalance and fault location, during severe weather events. PSE&G replaced independent divisional SCADA systems with a centralized D-SCADA system with backup and redundancy built in. This allows personnel from across the state to instantly view pertinent information on the entire distribution system.
Prior to the Energy Strong Program, many PSE&G substations were left with no SCADA. This prolonged customers’ outage times because crews had to physically travel into an “outaged” substation to determine circuit status and perform the needed switching operations. The substations with SCADA used dial-up connections and copper wiring with electromechanical relays. The interface used by dispatchers was dated and cumbersome and their screens were filled with nuisance alarms.
The Energy Strong Program introduced sweeping improvements, including the replacement of copper wiring with MPLS circuits with IP-based communications. This technology was also introduced to numerous substations that previously had no communications equipment. Electromechanical relays were replaced with microprocessors and more detailed sequence of event reporting was combined with time synchronization to satellite clocks to allow for more accurate event reporting. The software also allows end users to benefit from an enhanced user interface, which allows for dynamic filtering and quick movement throughout the system, making crew dispatch more effective. Smart alarming techniques were introduced to reduce nuisance alarming. The standardization of substation database configuration also decreased the time needed to install a new station by 75 percent among other improvements.
The D-SCADA went live in October 2016. Prior to implementation of the program, 649,000 customers were on SCADA. In October 2016, that number jumped to 2,094,000 customers, an increase of 1.445 million customers, representing 91 percent of all customers in the PSE&G’s service territory.
PSE&G’s Energy Strong Advanced Technologies program was a massive undertaking that involved many solutions partners, including OSI International, Accenture, Schweitzer Engineering Labs, Tata Consultancy Services (T.C.S.) and Altran Technologies.
Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) took the top honor in the Customer Engagement Project of the Year category for its Distribution Operations Transformation.
SMUD is the nation’s sixth largest community-owned electric service provider. Beginning in 2016 and continuing into 2017, SMUD’s distribution operations team began an effort to transform the utility’s distribution control center operations for an improved customer experience. To accomplish this, SMUD identified innovative ways of using smart meter data and analytics to enhance customer experience and communications.
“We actually focused on transitioning a lot of our traditional processes that were very reactive to being more proactive. So, what we ended up doing is taking an active role and looking at our service quality for our customers, monitoring their voltage and also that they actually have service to their homes” said Lora Anguay, SMUD’s director of distribution operations. “Traditionally, we would have been dependent on customers calling us and letting us know there is a problem. We’ve now moved to processes where we take a more active role in being proactive to monitor that… As we move forward, customers expect more from us and they expect us to know when they are having issues, so we feel it’s our responsibility to provide high quality service to our customers.” (Digital subscribers: Click to watch interview with Lora Anguay.)
SMUD’s plan for reaching its goal of being more proactive began with leveraging smart meter data for its residential and commercial customers to proactively identify and resolve power quality issues on its distribution system before customers knew there was an issue. Sag/swell alarms are programed in customer meters and the utility’s engineering team reviews all associated alarms to identify when a customer’s service voltage goes outside of the +/- 5 percent nominal service voltage range. The data is sorted by meter, transformer, feeder and distribution substation to help the engineering team identify trends and localized problems on the system. Using this data, hundreds of thousands of meter voltage alarms have been analyzed, resulting in the identification of faulty and malfunctioning substation load tap changers, overloaded equipment, failing service transformers or poor conductor connections in the field.
SMUD began leveraging its smart meter data for proactive power quality analysis in 2016 and continued into 2017. Its previous approach to power quality issues had been reactive. The new proactive approach has delivered a significant reduction in customer initiated power quality investigations and claims.
By identifying power quality issues early, SMUD can now detect significantly overloaded service transformers and upgrade the equipment prior to it failing in the field. The engineering team also can quickly identify issues with substation equipment and perform corrective actions before the components fail, creating costly and inconvenient widespread outages.
The power quality project has been successful. After the first full year of implementation, the number of customer initiated power quality claims decreased by 27.5 percent (from 175 in 2015 down to 127 in 2016) and the amount paid out due to power quality claims decreased 69 percent for this same period. The trend continued in 2017 with customer-initiated power quality claims decreasing another 20.5 percent, to end the year at 101 customer-initiated power quality complaints.
The smart meter outage processing solution assists with reporting outages, resulting in faster detection of outage location 31 percent of the time. In addition, almost 9 percent of outage events are detected and restored based solely on AMI reporting.
The accuracy of SMUD’s estimated restoration times increased from 80 percent in 2016 to 91 percent in 2017.
The Distribution Operations Transformation project was completed with internal resources, although SMUD leveraged tools and applications from solution companies including Silver Spring Network’s smart meter network, Landis + Gyr meters, Hexagon’s outage management system and OSIsoft’s Pi Historian.
The Blue Lake Rancheria tribe was awarded the DER Integration Project of the Year for its microgrid project that is in the Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) service area. This award marks perhaps the first time that a non-utility has won a POWERGRID International Project of the Year award. It proves that the industry is changing and the next era of smart grid is here. No longer will traditional utilities be alone when it comes to creating and operating the future grid. The Blue Lake Rancheria Tribe is likely the first of many non-utilities that will be included in the list of future Project of the Year award winners.
The Blue Lake Rancheria’s microgrid project demonstrates how benefits can be created for project sponsors and off-takers as part of a partnership with their electric utilities. At the same time, it proves the viability of low-carbon, mixed-asset microgrids with islanding capabilities.
Placed in service in January 2017, this fully operational, secure and reliable microgrid serves Blue Lake Rancheria, a small Native American community in northern California that operates facilities across 100 acres, including a tribal government office, a casino, a hotel and an event/community center.
“Several key lessons were learned, but the main was that the partnership ecosystem is most important and that partners need to realize that when you’re developing a microgrid it’s not just about technologies operating and being commissioned, but they’re part of an integrated system,” said Jana Ganion, Blue Lake Rancheria’s sustainability director. “We’ve had the good fortune of having incredible partners on this project.”
Ganion went on to say that a system integrator is imperative and it’s also important to develop a collaborative relationship with the utility, for both leading edge, sophisticated integration strategies and for safety. Blue Lake Rancheria was fortunate to have had good relationships with their system integrator, Schatz Energy Research Center, as well as PG&E, Ganion said. (Digital subsribers: Click to watch interview with Jana Ganion and Deborah Alfonsa.)
The project features a variety of power generation, storage and grid control technologies to provide reliable, high-quality power without fear of outages or power interruption. The microgrid interconnects conventional and renewable resources, including a 500-kW REC Solar photovoltaic system and a 950 kWh Tesla battery storage system. It is controlled with Siemens Microgrid Management System software. The system allows the reservation to operate in grid connected mode most of the year, but also seamlessly island from PG&E’s power grid in the event of a natural disaster and broader grid outage. When islanded, the microgrid resynchronizes the system relying on its battery storage and solar assets or its backup diesel generator. The Rancheria’s community center, which serves as a certified American Red Cross evacuation shelter, can be operated uninterrupted for at least seven days when islanded from utility power.
The project delivers a variety of economic, reliability and environmental benefits for the Blue Lake tribe and the region. The project is estimated to reduce energy costs by more than $200,000 annually and greenhouse gas emissions by at least 195 tons of carbon equivalent annually. The system sources more than 40 percent of its generation from renewable resources and is capable of supporting utility demand response programs.
“One of the most important things (to the utility) in a project like this is to answer and respond to the needs of our customers,” said Deborah Alfonsa, PG&E’s vice president, customer service. “Blue Lake Rancheria wanted to move forward with this and it was important for us to be partners and understand the needs and wants of our customers. In this case, it’s a win-win because it’s about resilience, which is important to the utility, which is important to the customer. And, it’s about reliability, ditto important. And then there are the added benefits of renewables and sustainability into the future, so for us it was a win-win.”
The microgrid supports the tribe’s economic enterprises, which employ more than 400 people. The Blue Lake Rancheria complex receives approximately 550,000 visitors annually, including approximately 400,000 visitors to the tribe’s casino and 50,000 guests at its hotel.
Demand Response/Energy Efficiency
KCP&L has had a residential and small business demand response program since 2005. In 2016, more than 70,000 customers were enrolled in the program. The program was a direct load control program that reduced demand between June and September. In 2016, with roughly 60,000 of the thermostats using one-way paging technology, KCP&L set out to transition an initial 23,000 participants from the legacy technology to two-way verifiable Nest Learning thermostats and to enroll new participants into the program. By leveraging the two-way capabilities and the learning algorithm aspects of the Nest thermostat, KCP&L transitioned the program from being purely a demand reduction measure to an energy saving program, claiming 1.26 kW and 462 kWh per Nest thermostat installed.
KCP&L decided to transition the program mainly because today’s technology is much more robust than the utility’s legacy thermostat-demand response program, which operated on a combination of wi-fi and paging technology, said Elena Hill, KCP&L’s product manager, energy efficiency & demand response.
“There were many reasons as to why we introduced a new type of technology to our program, mostly because, number one, the paging network is quickly diminishing; and number two, there is better hardware out there that provides a more robust customer experience than the ones that we’ve historically deployed,” Hill said. “So, we’re just focusing more on what the customer wants and how to solve for their needs better. (That’s what) has really driven the decision.” (Digital subscribers: Click to watch interview with Elena Hill and Aaron Berndt.)
KCP&L set out to design a transition program to do three things well: 1) meet customers where they are and on their time; 2) offer customers a utility provided customer journey that rivals the first-class retail experiences customers receive from top retailers such as, Zappos, Amazon and others; and 3) ensure that the partnership between the utility and its customers contains distributed benefit streams and is mutually beneficial and sustainable for both parties.
Leveraging a partnership with Nest and CLEAResult, KCP&L accomplished the first goal by designing a program that allows for customer flexibility. KCP&L offers customers three separate delivery mechanisms—all of which provide them with a free Nest thermostat, as well as an annual participation incentive of $25. Customers who choose to self-install the thermostat they order from KCP&L receive an additional $50 incentive. Customers also may choose to have a CLEAResult technician install the thermostat. And, finally, if they already own a Nest Learning thermostat, they can enroll in the program and receive an extra $100 incentive for doing so.
To keep things simple for customers, KCP&L designed and implemented an enrollment portal that ensures ease of enrollment, clarity of program details and expeditious delivery of the Nest thermostat and self-installation incentive check.
“Building on focusing on the customer by being able to offer technology from Nest combined with KCP&L’s program really helped drive success,” said Aaron Berndt, Nest’s head of central regional partnerships.
The Nest Learning thermostat program officially kicked off in April of 2016 with a goal of completing 1,200 direct installs (pro installs) and 2,800 self-installs for a total of 4,000 Nest installations by March 31, 2017. As of the first week of August 2017, the program had completed nearly 3,500 direct installs (pro installs) and over 18,000 self-installs for a total of 21,700 sign-ups for the new program This amounts to pre-evaluated savings of more than 19 MW of load reduction capabilities and 7.3 GWh of energy savings in 15 months.
KCP&L is leveraging the program as a lead gateway motivator for customers to participate in other KCP&L energy efficiency and demand response initiatives. Customer satisfaction, therefore, is key to success. In mid-2017, the thermostat program had received a mean score of 8.7 out of 10 in relation to customer support experience from the contact center and a 9.7 out of 10 for direct installation experience from the CLEAResult technicians, with nearly 1,000 customers participating in the survey.
Overall, the KCP&L Nest Learning thermostat program has achieved and exceeded expectations across the board from program participation, customer satisfaction, marketing and customer engagement. In addition, it has resulted in savings averaging 10 percent to 12 percent on each participant’s heating costs and 15 percent on cooling costs. All KCP&L customers, whether participants in the program or not have benefited from the reduced stress on the grid during peak times.
Editor’s note: For those reading the printed issue, you can view the videos mentioned in the article by visiting and clicking on the “more videos” link from the main page and then selecting DistribuTECH 2018, which will take you to a list that includes “awards.” You can find the videos by clicking on awards.