By Rod Walton, Senior Editor
Renewable Industry Groups Push Perry to Consider Renewables
Four renewable energy industrry groups in the United States submitted materials to U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry that included their analyses of why renewable energy resources improve grid reliability.
The four groups developed separate analyses, based on existing sources and industry experience, showing that changing energy sources-more use of natural gas, renewable energy and energy management sources in addition to resources like coal and nuclear power-increases grid stability while saving consumers money.
In their letter, Advanced Energy Economy (AEE), American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) expressed “disappointment” that they had received no response to their call for an open, transparent process with stakeholder input to inform the 60-day study by the Department of Energy (DOE), which Perry called for in an April 14 memo.
Concluding that the topic of the study was “too important for DOE to be deprived of the expertise and insights of those in the industries we represent,” the four industry organizations submitted separate documents to inform the DOE about its studies focused on the electric power system and reliability:
“- AEE’s report showed that today’s electric generation mix is more diverse than ever; low-priced gas is primarily driving change in resources, followed by flat load growth and competition from renewables; ERCOT and PJM experiences show reliable grid management with a high degree of variable renewables and even in extreme conditions.
“- ACORE-produced report focused on questions around baseload power and economic impact raised in Secretary Perry’s April 14 memo directing a study to explore critical issues central to protecting the long-term reliability of the electric grid.
“- AWEA reported that grid operators are already reliably integrating large amounts of wind energy, and their studies show they can go much higher. Other content revealed that integrating renewables on the power grid costs less than integrating baseload sources; modern power electronics enable renewables to provide reliable services as well as or better than conventional power plants; and renewables diversify the energy mix, improving economics and resiliency. In addition, the report said renewables are not the primary factor undermining baseload sources-as can be seen by maps of where each is predominately located, cheap natural gas is the primary factor.
“- SEIA’s contribution also concluded that solar and renewables provide significant advantages to the national grid in terms of reliability, fuel diversity and national security. This SEIA review highlighted multiple studies showing that the existing grid can handle high penetrations of renewable energy to the benefit of ratepayers, grid system operators and system performance.
Next Frontier of Technology Could be Difficult to Navigate, Experts Say
Something attractive but potentially hazardous is going on in the world of the technological revolution, agreed a panel of global smart-grid leaders during Accenture’s annual International Utilities and Energy Conference (IUEC) held May 3-4 in Miami.
“Innovation is an executive’s pornography,” Will Morris, chief retail officer for British power giant SSE, said in a quip that nearly brought down the house in the Marriott Marquis ballroom. “We have to be prudent in getting the bounds right.”
The Checkpoint Panel was full of thought leaders who laughed with everyone else at Morris’ line but also nodded knowingly at the primary challenges facing the utility industry when it comes to the next frontier of technology. Some utilities and partners like Accenture are jumping into new innovations such as artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality to develop both customer engagement and field training products-and yet they are crawling in other new terrain.
Jean-Marc Ollagnier, group CEO of resources for Accenture, is aware of the potential for the estimated $1.3 trillion in forecasted value from connected technologies. No thoughtful leader ignores that, and Accenture builds on its development with a combination of big-budget research and development (R&D) internally and acquisition of outside companies on the cutting edge.
“We’re balancing what we can do with our own capabilities with what the market can bring us,” Ollagnier said in Miami. “Speed to market is really the name of the game.”
Earlier in the IUEC conference, Ben Holfeld, technology delivery architect at Accenture, showed off some of the mind-blowing “toys” that help the company innovate for itself and partners. Attendees watched a live video link to the innovation center in France, where an employee demonstrated a virtual reality training session that can teach field workers how to deal with expensive, dangerous machinery equipment, among other things.
Every company represented in the Checkpoint Panel indicated some high level of R&D effort. Mike Koehler, chief information and digital officer for utility holding giant Exelon Corp., said his company’s journey into AI experimentation is exciting while it’s starting at a crawl with process automation.
Using augmented reality with AI can help field workers be equipped and enabled at hugely complex tasks. Predictive analytics can help with storm forecasting and maintenance schedules. In addition, some companies are rolling out chatbot pilot products in customer-facing channels.
Innovation is attractive, of course, but meaningless if the human connection is damaged.
“If you chase the shiny new object it may hurt your engagement with customers,” Koehler noted.
Accenture’s Ollagnier sees great potential in three transformative digital arenas: 1) the asset operations model through Internet of Things (IoT), predictives and more.; 2) grid optimization with lots of startups focused on energy aggregation and control balancing technologies; and 3) customer engagement.
“It means today we have evidence around these three things” with hundreds of cases giving evidence to the potential market impact, he said. If companies “work hard on these things we can truly unlock a tremendous amount of value.”
Boston Tops, LA Rises in ACEEE’s Latest City Scorecard
Boston repeated as the top city for energy efficiency in the U.S., according to the scorecard released by the American Council for an Energy-Efficiency Economy (ACEEE).
Beantown received 84.5 out of 100 possible points from the ACEEE’s third City Energy Efficiency Scorecard, holding its No. 1 position. The next highest, in order, were New York, Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles, the last of which had the best improvement of 25 points and entered the top five for the first time.
“Being recognized as America’s most energy-efficient city is an accomplishment that should be shared by all Bostonians,” Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said in a statement. “Whether you’re a resident who lowered their monthly utility bill through Renew Boston or an owner of one of our city’s leading green buildings, we should all be proud of our success to reduce energy and save money.”
Los Angeles has moved up 24 places in four years. The city is home to a new existing building energy and water efficiency program, which requires an energy audit, retrofit and benchmarking for many commercial and multifamily buildings there, according to the ACEEE report.
Filling out the top 10 was Austin, Chicago, Washington D.C., San Francisco and Denver. The bottom five of the 51 major cities ranked were Hartford, Memphis, Detroit, Oklahoma City and Birmingham, Alabama.
ACEEE senior researcher David Ribeiro, the lead author on the report, said that cities across the nation are taking steps to save energy. He noted that 32 of the 51 improved their scores from the 2015 rankings.
“More cities are requiring building owners to benchmark and report buildings’ energy use, updating building energy codes and setting community-wide goals to save energy and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions,” Ribeiro said. “We also see a new set of cities emerging as leaders for energy efficiency, knocking on the door of the top 10.”
Phoenix is the fourth most-improved city, with a gain of 13 points, and was ranked 14. The city increased its score in community-wide initiatives because of its adoption of the 2050 Environmental Sustainability goals, which include both energy savings and climate goals, according to the ACEEE.
Eleven cities improved by 10 points or more from the previous scorecard. Orlando was 20th and noted for new efforts to benchmark its energy use and making the data transparent and accessible.
“Over the last year, we have made great strides to dramatically increase the energy efficiency of Orlando’s buildings and transportation fleet,” Mayor Buddy Dyer said. “Through collaborations with our business, nonprofit and academic community, we enabled the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing tool that unlocked more than $500 million for residential and commercial property owners and passed a historic energy and water benchmarking, transparency and energy audit policy for the largest public- and private-sector buildings in Orlando.”
The ACEEE’s City Energy Efficiency Scorecard can be found at aceee.org/local-policy/city-scorecard.
EPA Energy Star Honors Utilities for Efficiency Efforts in Connecticut
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognized Energize Connecticut partners Eversource, United Illuminating (UI), Connecticut Natural Gas (CNG) and Southern Connecticut Gas (SCG) as 2017 Energy Star Partners of the Year for Energy Efficiency Program Delivery.
The Energy Star Partner of the Year Award, one of the EPA’s highest honors, highlights outstanding commitments to the creation and promotion of environmentally responsible energy efficiency initiatives. The program delivery category specifically recognizes states, utilities and organizations that sponsor energy efficiency programs to improve the efficiency of products, homes and buildings within their community.
“Thanks to the creative program implementation of partners like Eversource, UI, SCG and CNG, consumers can more easily find energy-efficient Energy Star products in the marketplace,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “Energize Connecticut leads the way by helping Connecticut residents learn how they can protect our environment through energy efficiency.”
Together, Eversource, UI, SCG and CNG administer Energize Connecticut programs. Energize Connecticut is an initiative to help consumers save money and use clean, affordable energy. Energy Star resources and products are components of several of these programs. UI, SCG and CNG are subsidiaries of Orange (Connecticut)-based Avangrid.
“Our goal is to inform and educate our customers on making smarter energy choices, and our continuous relationship with the EPA and the Energy Star brand has helped make that a reality,” said Anthony Marone III, president and CEO of Avangrid’s Connecticut companies. “We look forward to expanding our efforts to provide a positive impact to our residential and business customers alike.”
“We are delighted that the EPA has again recognized our efforts in supporting and engaging our customers to help them become more energy efficient,” said Penni Conner, chief customer officer and senior vice president of customer care for Eversource Energy.
“This is an exciting award that not only highlights Connecticut as a national leader in energy efficiency, but shows how we work hard to help our customers save money and save energy,” Conner added.
Representatives from both companies were recognized at an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. on April 26.
EYE ON the world
Scottish MVDC Trial Project Will Include GE Converters and Management Tools
GE Energy Connections announced it will deliver Europe’s first medium-voltage direct current (MVDC) link as part of Scottish Power Energy Network’s Angle-DC project in Anglesey and North Wales. The Angle-DC project aims to demonstrate a new network reinforcement technique by converting an existing 33-kV AC circuit to DC operation.
As the electricity demands in the region increase, uncontrolled power flows are putting the system at risk by exceeding thermal limits of the cables and overhead lines. The MVDC link is intended to enable improved power flow and voltage control. Converting AC assets to DC operation should also enhance the thermal capability of the circuit.
“The Angle-DC project, the first of its kind, will hopefully demonstrate that using MVDC on existing assets can be a more innovative alternative to simply building more substations along with the connecting underground cables and overhead lines,” said Kevin Smith, Future Networks lead engineer at Scottish Power Energy Networks. “We are pleased to have engaged with GE who are playing a key part in the successful delivery of this important MVDC trial project.”
GE’s Power Conversion AC-to-DC converters will be located at a 33-kV substation in Bangor and at a similar substation on the Isle of Anglesey. The 12 units of MV7000 converters at each substation will convert 33 kVAC to ±27 kVDC using the existing AC lines between the two substations.
GE will also be including VISOR 2.0, an asset management tool that provides remote connectivity to improve service responsiveness, and Data Historian, a data management software that allows data collection, processing and storage, as part of the installation. This ability to capture and analyze data will allow SP Energy Networks to review the capabilities of the MVDC system and gather insights to develop optimum control algorithms for the distribution system.
“GE has extensive experience in energy transmission technology and proven track records including electrifying the central European railways. We are excited to be involved, applying our technology know-how based on our previous experience, at a time when many countries are considering how to future proof their existing infrastructure without significant upheaval,” said Matt Cunningham, sales director, GE’s Power Conversion.
EYE ON THE WORLD
Energy Companies, Rocky Mountain Institute and Grid Singularity Join Forces to Launch Global Blockchain Initiative for Energy
Centrica plc, Elia, Engie, Royal Dutch Shell plc, Sempra Energy, SP Group, Statoil ASA, Stedin, Technical Works Ludwigshafen AG (TWL) and Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) have joined forces to support the Energy Web Foundation (EWF), a non-profit organization whose mission is to accelerate the commercial deployment of blockchain technology in the energy sector. Thanks to their support, EWF has secured the first round of funding amounting to $2.5 million.
EWF is a partnership between Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), an independent, U.S.-based nonprofit organization focused on driving the efficient and restorative use of resources, and Grid Singularity, a blockchain technology developer specializing in energy sector applications.
Blockchain technology reduces transaction costs by keeping a single logical copy of transaction records-avoiding the need for reconciliation and settlement. Because of its unique attributes, blockchain technology has the potential to play a significant and potentially game-changing role in the energy sector, says an RMI press release issued in May. On the incremental side, blockchain technology can be used to reduce the cost of utility bills or the need for working capital in wholesale market gas or electricity transactions. On the game-changing side, blockchain technology can allow millions of energy devices (HVAC systems, water heaters, electric vehicles, batteries, solar PV installations) to transact with each other at the distribution edge while providing support to utilities and grid operators to integrate more utility-scale variable renewable energy capacity at much lower cost, the release says.
“The main challenge of the electricity sector in the 21st Century is to integrate more renewable energy into the grid in a cost-effective fashion in a context of largely flat or diminishing demand. The only way we know how to do this is by automating the demand side-by allowing many more participants in the grid. That means automation at the distribution edge, and integration of this automation with wholesale markets,” Hervàƒ© Touati, a managing director at RMI and president of EWF, said in the release. “We are excited by the potential of blockchain technology as an enabler to realize that vision. Blockchain will not be the only building block of the 21st Century grid, but it will most likely be a key building block. It also provides much higher levels of cybersecurity essentially for free-which addresses, as a by-product, one of the key concerns of utility executives when it comes to distributed energy resources.”
As a cofounder of EWF, Grid Singularity is leading the development of an open-source, energy-specific blockchain infrastructure that will be maintained by EWF and supporting affiliates. Grid Singularity, together with its partner Parity Technologies, will bring the most advanced blockchain technology, addressing the limitations in terms of speed and transaction costs of the currently available blockchains, and enabling features that are focused on supporting energy-specific applications.
“The current test-network ‘Kovan,’ which is a proof-of-concept for the new consensus algorithm, has the ability to perform up to 1,000 transactions per second (tps) and is already used by many blockchain start-ups. By embedding further state channel technology, we intend for our architecture to facilitate scaling to 1 million tps over the next several years,” Ewald Hesse, chief executive of Grid Singularity and vice-president of EWF, said in the release. “With the ‘Polkadot’ design conceived by Parity Technologies, we are also introducing the concept of interoperability among multiple blockchain architectures, which should free users from technology lock-in.”
In parallel with the development of an open-source IT infrastructure, EWF also will work on analyzing use cases and organizing task forces to push the most promising use cases into proof of concepts and commercial applications, while incubating an ecosystem of application developers, and cooperating with regulators and standardization bodies to facilitate deployment. EWF is actively soliciting collaboration with other technology providers eager to support the open-source approach of eliminating energy market entry barriers.