A Chat with NREL Director Dan Arvizu

Editor’s note: This is part one of a four-part UAE news series. Senior editor Kathleen Davis talks with NREL director Dr. Dan Arvizu about connecting renewables to the grid. In this first part of the series, Dr. Arvizu gives us an overview of the NREL and examines the RTO/ISO process for interconnections.

KD: All our readers are aware that the National Renewable Energy Laboratory examines the technology of energy generated by renewable sources. But, I think they’d be surprised to learn that you also look at its economics, its deployment, its potential interconnection issues . . . an alpha to omega view of renewable energy. Given that our readers are involved in energy transmission and distribution, what programs are you working on now at the NREL that might interest them the most? Can you tell us a little about them?

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DA: Let me begin by emphasizing that NREL’s mission and strategy are focused on advancing the U.S. Department of Energy’s and our nation’s energy goals. The laboratory’s scientists and researchers support critical market objectives to accelerate research from scientific innovations to market-viable alternative energy solutions. A critical part of the Lab’s mission is the transfer of NREL-developed technologies to renewable energy markets.

In addition to more traditional renewable energy technology research, development, and demonstration, NREL is working to better inform the marketplace and policymakers on how they can reduce barriers to market adoption. This includes renewable energy resource identification as well as technology economics, transmission and distribution interconnection and operation, and other market-acceptance issues.

In transmission, NREL is working at the state and regional levels to assist states and regions on their use of renewable energy zones (REZs). REZs are areas with high-grade wind, solar, or other renewable resources. However, REZs are typically far from load centers. Their identification allows states, regulatory bodies and regional transmission organizations to address the transmission needed to move the energy produced to load centers. This is particularly important for states that have enacted renewable portfolio standards (RPSs) and need to integrate large amounts of renewable resources over the next five to 10 years. NREL is working closely with these state and regional bodies by providing technical support on renewable resource and integration issues and project support on efforts that cross state boundaries.

In distribution, NREL is exploring “microgrids.” Microgrids are intentional islands formed at a customer location. They include parts of the local utility distribution system and have at least one distributed energy system and associated loads. Microgrids enable distributed energy systems to improve customer reliability by providing power during grid outages.

KD: FERC recently asked RTOs and ISOs to give them more info about interconnection queues and their attempts to improve delays in processing. Chairman Kelliher traced the issue to new generators scrambling to get aboard the grid, pointing especially to wind and other renewable energy projects. As we try to plug in more and more renewable generators, will we see a growing issue with trying to balance renewables and the transmission rules made for traditional generation? What regulatory hurdles will cause the biggest problems for renewable generators attempting to be grid savvy?

DA: Today’s interconnection queue process is based on decades of experience interconnecting utility-size generation plants. Most of the plants in the 1970s, ’80s, and early ’90s were utility-sponsored, large baseload coal-fired plants near rail lines or coal fields, or gas-fired units near load centers. When merchant plants became more prevalent in the ’90s, they were typically sited near transmission lines and natural gas pipelines. The sizes of these plants varied, but most were in the hundreds-of-megawatts range. The timeline for power plant installation was comparable to that of transmission permitting and construction–both multiyear efforts.

The resulting queue rules do not work well for some renewables. Wind and other renewable projects are often smaller than fossil projects, and many renewable projects may be located in the same windy or sunny region. This clustering means that transmission developments among the projects are often interrelated. Thus, a delay or cancellation of one project affects the study or costs of another. In addition, the time frame for installing wind and other renewable projects is much shorter than the timeframe for installing transmission. For example, a wind project can be installed in one to two years, but a transmission development can take several years.

Although the queue process, especially in ISOs and RTOs, has been a problem, I am optimistic that solutions can be found. The Midwest ISO has instituted a stakeholder process, and several procedures to facilitate transmission are under discussion. But queue process problems extend beyond ISOs and RTOs, and queue delays are often seen on utility transmission networks. The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) has proposed on “open season” process for interconnecting wind that, under certain conditions, provides needed transmission and, in essence, could remove the queue bottleneck on BPA’s network.

TVA 500 kV Bradley Substation Now in Service

On April 28, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) inaugurated its Bradley Substation. The event heralds the first IEC 61850-compliant substation where all of the available features promised by the communications standard were implemented and proved to work in a 500 kilovolt (kV) transmission substation.

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Siemens provided SIPROTEC protective relays and SICAM PAS substation automation hardware and software. The security features of the SIPROTEC relays include the ability to ensure that only authorized IEC 61850 clients can access the relays on this very secure network.

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TVA accomplished the goals that were set out for Bradley: Use the IEC 61850 standards to reduce the number of wires, components and connections in a substation protection control house design; use the interoperability features between vendors to further reduce wiring connections and retain the benefit of having redundancy without a single mode failure problem; and reduce the costly cabling and wiring between the switchyard breakers and the control house.

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According to TVA manager of protection and control Jim Kurtz, TVA’s Bradley Substation set many “firsts” including the first 500 kV transmission implementation, first time a utility acted as the integrator, first time GOOSE messages were used for secure high speed tripping, and the first time GOOSE messages between different vendors’ relays were used to realize protection logic and control.

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Power Partners Inc. Produces 8 Million Transformers

Power Partners Inc, a leading manufacturer of pole-type distribution transformers, produced its 8 millionth transformer at its Athens, Ga., facility. The milestone was celebrated by employees and customers at an August 7th ceremony.

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Power Partners was established by Westinghouse 50 years ago and owned by ABB between 1990 and 2003. Despite the fact the plant had generated losses for a number of years, Dr. Sherrie Ford and Steve Hollis decided to buy the company in 2003.

The first couple of years were a roller coaster ride, with successes tempered by the weak dollar and historic cost increases set in motion by China’s voracious consumption of raw materials that Power Partners needed, too. But, the company has been profitable since 2006.

On August 7 at 3 p.m. customers from the Southern Company, South Carolina Electric & Gas, the Light & Power Co., and Dominion Resources took part in the celebration at Power Partners, along with Archie Howell, the first employee that Westinghouse sent to the plant 50 years ago.


Major investment of AREVA in Turkey. The minister of industry, Mr. Zafer Caglayan, and Mr. Ghislain Lescuyer, AREVA T&D’s products business unit executive vice president, laid the foundation stone of the new distribution transformers facility at Gebze, in the Kocaeli region. The groundbreaking ceremony was part of a 75-million-euro investment program, making Gebze, AREVA T&D’s largest industrial zone to date.

AREVA T&D is the partner of choice for Turkey’s growing demand for energy. The program will also be supported by an ambitious recruitment plan: 850 direct new positions will be created, bringing the total workforce to 2,400 employees.

Philippe Guillemot, Chairman and CEO of AREVA T&D, said: “This new facility is a key investment to meet the increasing demand for electrical equipment in Turkey, where we have been present for 50 years. Furthermore, it will strengthen AREVA T&D’s global strategic move, making Turkey a regional hub to support our growth in the region and worldwide.”

Energias de Portugal Selects Oracle. Energias de Portugal (EDP), a leading utility delivering gas and electricity to Spain and Portugal, has selected Oracle Utilities Customer Care and Billing, Oracle Utilities Business Intelligence, Oracle Fusion Middleware and Oracle Database. Due to energy deregulation in the Iberian (Spanish and Portuguese) peninsula, EDP needed to make its existing SAP-based customer information system (CIS) more efficient in serving its business customers. Iberia has one of the highest growth rates of electricity consumption in Europe.

Community College Teaches Lineman Indoors

The Utility Line Building is not the most imposing structure on the Northeast Community College campus in Norfolk, Neb. But it is one of the most interesting. Completed in July, 2007, the 36,800-square-foot facility houses the only indoor utility pole setting lab in the nation. The indoor setting allows students to learn year-round the skills required to do work for power and utility companies.

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Norfolk-based Crafts Inc., an independent authorized Varco Pruden Builder, was the general contractor of what is literally the only college facility like it in the nation. (Varco Pruden, one of the nation’s largest manufacturers of metal building systems, supplied the pre-engineered metal framing systems as well as much of the roof and wall materials.) Some 76 utility line students and six professional truck driver training students began the fall semester in the $2.7-million facility that includes nine new classrooms/labs, six offices and two mechanic’s bays. The poles in the building are 35-feet tall. However, students also practice on poles in the outdoor labs that are up to 60-feet tall.

The building was designed to be energy efficient in heating, cooling and electrical power consumption. It features motion sensor lighting controls and other energy-saving devices. Crafts Inc. used a wide variety of VP products, including SSR, Vee-Rib, and FP-12. The framing system was VP’s Rigid Frame.

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According to Lyle Kathol, Northeast’s dean of applied technology, the facility is the first of its kind in the United States. “When designing this new facility, our architects, Beringer Ciaccio Dennell Mabrey of Omaha, Neb., could find no comparable facilities to research,” he said.

Kathol also noted that Northeast’s program is one of just three, two-year utility line programs in the country. Northeast’s utility line program includes five full-time, on-campus faculty members and three, full-time, off-campus trainers. The building is also surrounded by 600 acres of outdoor lab space. The facility can accommodate more than100 full-time UL students on a daily basis.


  • The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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