EPRI: Drones Can Help Utilities Address Storm Damage

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) completed tests determining that unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, can be used effectively to assess storm damage on utility distribution systems and help utilities shorten their outage response times.

Conducted at the New Mexico State University Flight Test Center, the tests involved navigating several aircraft technologies armed with high-resolution video cameras to transmit images of power lines from as high as 7,000 feet.

View of drone technology used for distribution system assessment.

The tests determined electric utilities could use such images to assess and pinpoint damage after a storm.

Damage assessment is frequently a choke point in power restoration largely because obstacles such as downed trees block roads or icy conditions make it difficult for utility crews to get to and report on distribution line damage.

“Our research clearly shows that drones may provide utilities a tool that could reduce outage restoration time,” said Matthew Olearczyk, EPRI senior program manager for distribution research. “Using live streaming video information, utility system operators would be able to dramatically improve damage assessment.”

With more accurate and timely information, system operators can better dispatch crews, establish repair priorities and communicate more timely information to their customers.

Researchers assessed several drone technologies and considered aircraft performance, control systems and payloads.

The tests indicated unmanned airborne technologies with sensors, cameras and GPS could be deployed quickly, allowing utilities to evaluate large areas more quickly than ground-based crews, then develop a repair strategy and mobilize repair crews more quickly and effectively.

EPRI also will evaluate drones and remote-sensing technologies for inspection and assessment of overhead transmission lines.

As part of this research, functional requirements will be identified for unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) inspection and market surveys will identify available UAV inspection technologies and services and their costs.

Other industries such as oil and gas, forestry and meteorology are evaluating or using UAV technology.

Study: Satellites Play Growing Role in Utility Communications

Satellite technology is a growing component of utility telecommunications with most utilities using satellite communications, according to a Utilities Telecom Council (UTC) study.

Image courtesy of NOAA.

The study, “Strategic Assessment of Satellite Usage in the Utility Industry,” through focus group research and an industry survey, found that the greatest utility benefit from satellite technology is that it enables ubiquitous network connectivity across utilities’ service areas.

Satellite technology’s portability-its ability to bring
communications connectivity where needed-is a related key benefit. Some 60 percent of utilities use a form of satellite communications. About one-fifth of utilities not using satellite communications plan to use it within the next two years, and utilities expressed the need to learn more about this communications option.

“Utilities are coping with
ever-increasing demands on their communications infrastructures, particularly as grid modernization rapidly elevates the role of digital technologies to become the fundamental underpinning of energy delivery in this nation,” said Connie Durcsak, UTC president and CEO. “The study shows that utilities and other critical infrastructure industries want to learn more about modern satellite technology and we’re proud to help fill their information needs with this useful knowledge resource.”

The study was made possible through the sponsorship of iDirect, a satellite-based Internet Protocol communications technology firm providing solutions for utilities’ communication networks.

Digital Relays Coordinate Grid Security Practices

Utilities are embracing the use of digital relays, which provide them with better situational awareness when preventing outages, according to the results of a five-month study of some 100 North American and international utilities conducted by Newton-Evans Research Co.

According to the survey, the percentage of digital relays in the mix of all protective relays used by utilities continues to increase, with the annual world market for protective relays and related power systems protection devices growing.

Most new and retrofit units being purchased also are digital relays, but in some of the protection applications studied, such as motor protection and large generator applications, and in installations where electrical interference is strong, electromechanical and older solid-state relays continue to have a niche market position.

The makers of this utility protection equipment are expanding their market coverage, with more than 20 firms’ enjoying at least some share of the global market. Real-time analysis of synchrophasor data will become a major application for the emerging operational analytics field.

Communications protocol usage patterns continue to differentiate between most large and midsize North American utilities and their international counterparts, analysts said.

The protective relay system provides necessary power system monitoring and protection for abnormal condition detection and mitigation. Such conditions could lead to a fault and result in damage to utility critical assets such as generators, transformers, breakers, power lines, cables and substation buses.

COMPETE Coalition Report: Dramatic Growth in Electricity Choice

Electricity choice is thriving in states that allow retail competition and is creating pressure to provide greater freedom to electricity customers in states that have rolled back or limited retail competition. This is according to a new report sponsored by the Compete Coalition, prepared with data and analytical support from DNV KEMA Energy and Sustainability, a business and technical energy consulting firm with expertise in competitive electricity markets.

The report, “Retail Electric Choice: Proven, Growing, Sustainable,” found that despite the economic slowdown and flat demand for electricity, there has been substantial growth in customer migration from traditional monopoly-regulated electric supply to market-priced energy.

“This report demonstrates that the vibrancy of competitive retail electricity is not driven solely by market prices,” said William Massey, counsel to Compete. “Competitive electricity suppliers provide much more than a comparatively attractive price. They are working with their customers to design contractual terms, information, innovative products and portfolio pricing to match the individual needs of customers.”

The report is based on data compiled by DNV KEMA and the U.S. Energy Information Administration. It concludes that since 2008, customer accounts served by competitive suppliers have grown more than 53 percent, from 8.7 million to 13.3 million in 2011. In addition, the report reveals the total electricity load served competitively has grown 40 percent since 2008, from 488 million megawatt-hours (MWh) to 685 million MWh in 2011, an increase of nearly 200 million MWh.

“As of the close of 2011, nearly one out of every five kilowatt-hours of electricity in America was supplied by a competitive provider, even though customer choice is denied to consumers representing 56 percent of total U.S. electricity load,” said Philip O’Connor, the report’s author, former Illinois Commerce Commission chairman and expert on electricity competition issues.

O’Connor’s new analysis updates a similar report prepared for Compete in 2010, which found the competitive share of electricity sales volumes nationally grew from zero to 15 percent in the first decade since its inception, moving from a novel concept to a normal practice in the electricity business as customers sought the flexibility and innovative pricing and services offered by competitive electricity suppliers.

The updated analysis shows a dramatic increase in switching by residential customers. Since 2009, there has been a tremendous increase in shopping among residential customers, both through individual supply contracts and through competitive aggregation programs, O’Connor said.

Since 2008, the total number of customer accounts served under choice arrangements grew 53 percent to more than 13.3 million. Residential accounts served by competitive suppliers jumped more than 3.8 million to nearly 11 million, a 54 percent increase. The number of nonresidential accounts served competitively increased more than 800,000 to nearly 2.4 million-an increase of more than 50 percent.

The surge in retail electric choice and the underlying reasons for that surge warrant renewed consideration of providing access to captive customers everywhere.

“As competitive choice models evolve, they can serve as a basis for a transition to choice in new states seeking favorable opportunities and increased benefits for their consumers,” the report said.

IBM, Hydro One Team to Improve Power Grid in Ontario

Hydro One selected IBM and its business partner Telvent for a new smart grid project that will help transform the province’s electrical system. Both companies will run simulations and tests to determine the smart grid technologies that have the potential to improve power efficiency and reliability. Many of Ontario’s electricity distribution system components have reached the end of their service lives.

“As equipment on our distribution system ages, it needs to be replaced,” said Rick Stevens, Hydro One vice president of asset management. “This creates an opportunity to create a world-class network with new, intelligent and sophisticated technologies to meet the changing needs of our customers. Our collaboration with IBM and Telvent will help Hydro One assess the next generation of distribution equipment and make the right choices for our customers looking for more reliable electricity, particularly in rural areas.”

The advanced distribution system (ADS) project will help the utility identify and assess equipment, test new delivery models for electricity, validate the costs and benefits anticipated with a new smart grid and recommend changes to cost-effectively modernize Ontario’s distribution system. The project intends to enable an increased amount of distributed generation into the grid, as well as help increase the distribution system’s reliability and improve outage management during large-scale situations. Hydro One can optimize energy utilization and management for greater efficiency while accommodating consumer demand.

“Utilities around the world are investigating new smart grid technologies to help solve complex challenges caused by an aging infrastructure and increasing demand,” said Guido Bartels, general manager of IBM’s energy and utilities industry and chairman of the Global Smart Grid Federation. “Together with Hydro One, we are paving the way for transformation by testing new sophisticated monitoring and control technologies that will enable the integration of renewable energy in the distribution grid while improving its reliability and responsiveness, and ensuring customer satisfaction. This will prepare Hydro One and the province of Ontario for further growth and deliver more affordable and reliable renewable energy for Ontarians.”

As the overall system integrator, IBM will provide expertise in smart grid technologies, planning and implementation. Hydro One will use the advanced distribution management system (ADMS) from Telvent, a real-time solution for planning, operation and analysis of its distribution system.

The project is in line with the requirements of Ontario’s Green Energy and Green Economy 2009 Act, which fosters the growth of renewable and cleaner sources of energy while promoting a greener economy.

Zpryme: Telecom, Smart Grid Market Slated to Reach $1.6B Through 2015

The total smart grid communications market is slated to experience tremendous market growth through 2015, said Zpryme’s Smart Grid Insights new report, “Telecom and the Smart Grid.” The report predicts the smart grid communication market, both wired and wireless, will reach nearly $1.6 billion. The market size of wired communications is larger; however, wireless communications will surpass it by 2015 and become a larger market as more investments are made, the study said.

In addition, the study said for the successful widespread adoption of the smart grid, establishing effective communications networks is paramount. The main choice utility companies must make in their communications plans is public or private networks. Using a public network would allow them to take advantage of existing software and can be implemented immediately; however, a firm might not be able to customize its platform to meet its specific needs.

“If the utility chooses to build a platform from scratch, it can utilize a private network; however, there are likely to be delays in implementation and technical problems that must be addressed before a widespread rollout can occur,” said Jason Rodriguez, Zpryme director of research. “Integrating smart grids will require utilities to rely deeply on vendors for services and systems integration.”


POWERGRID International’s April issue included a feature article, “POWERGRID International Reveals Projects of the Year.”

Duke Energy Corp. won the Best Energy Efficiency/Demand Response Project of the Year Award for its Smart Energy Now project. This project was cited in the article, however, it was not, described accurately. Described in the article was Duke Energy’s Smart Grid Project, which was a runner-up for the Best Smart Grid Project of the Year Award.

POWERGRID International regrets the error.

Best Energy Efficiency/Demand Response Project

The winner of the Best Energy Efficiency/Demand Response Project of the Year Award is Duke Energy Corp. for its Smart Energy Now project. As part of the Envision: Charlotte initiative, Duke Energy created the pilot program called Smart Energy Now to create energy and capacity reductions through behavioral modifications. The program targets occupants and managers of commercial buildings and provides them with detailed information on their buildings’ energy usage. This allows them to compare their energy performance with that of other buildings within the community and to take steps to improve energy consumption.

Duke’s Smart Energy Now is the backbone of Envision Charlotte, a movement to make uptown Charlotte the most sustainable urban core in the U.S.

The Smart Energy Now pilot consists of three components:

  • Work with community groups to set a communitywide energy efficiency goal of a 20 percent reduction in five years. This component will be combined with other traditional energy efficiency programs and customized incentives to help the community reach this overall goal.
  • Provide building managers with detailed, near real-time information on their energy consumption and provide analytic tools to allow comparisons of total energy use, energy intensity and load shapes with other comparable buildings in the community.
  • Provide building occupants with near real-time data on community energy performance. This is achieved by installing interactive kiosks in the participating buildings, as well as sharing information online.

Smart Energy Now will provide relevant information to building managers and occupants, giving them increased insights into their energy use. The goal is for participants to act on this knowledge by changing their behaviors, thus saving energy. These savings likely will not occur without Smart Energy Now. In addition, this pilot tests various forms of building owner and tenant engagement and education.

Editor in Chief Teresa Hansen presents Mark Wyatt, Duke Energy vice president of smart grid and energy systems, with the Energy Efficiency/Demand Response Project of the Year Award.

Smart Energy Now targets a new market never before addressed by energy efficiency programs. Smart Energy Now is a first of its kind project because it engages the commercial office real estate market in energy efficiency and introduces new, innovative technologies. The digital signage includes dozens of interactive displays that are scorecards of success.

The program engages some 83,000 employees who work in Center City Charlotte to operate their buildings and use energy in a more sustainable way. Smart Energy Now energy savings are influenced through behavioral changes supported by insight into the community’s data usage and the support of the community. According to Duke Energy, the community involvement will foster public-private partnerships that are paramount to its collective success. Duke Energy is capturing data from more than 150 meters in 65 buildings on a near real-time basis, aggregating and normalizing that data and working with several partners to generate community- level content to update the interactive kiosks. Creating and maintaining the platform that enables near real-time updates of interactive content across 65 buildings has not been done. 

Project Milestones

Fall 2010. Former President Bill Clinton announced the creation of Envision: Charlotte at the Clinton Global Initiative along with Duke Energy, Cisco and Charlotte Center City Partners.

Spring 2011. Smart Energy Now was approved by the North Carolina Utilities Commission as a pilot program under the company’s Save-A-Watt recovery. The program began acquiring commercial building customers and installing digital metering technology to enable the near real-time collection of energy usage data. In addition, Duke Energy, in collaboration with Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Environmental Defense Fund, brought together more than 40 experts in energy efficiency, advanced metering infrastructure, information feedback behavior change and commercial building operations to discuss community engagement and achieving community-level energy efficiency targets in commercial office space.

Early Fall 2011. An interactive kiosk was installed in each Smart Energy Now participant’s building. Kiosks display community-aggregated energy usage information.

Oct. 28, 2011. Duke Energy, Cisco and Verizon launched the campaign in the community to make Charlotte the most environmentally sustainable urban core in the nation. Kiosks display live energy data and provide building occupants with information about the current energy consumption, recommendations and tips for changes they can make to decrease their energy usage. At launch some 65 buildings in Uptown Charlotte participated in the program.

Smart Energy Now drives energy efficiency program participation beyond the residential customer segment. Through collaborative partnerships, creating awareness and encouraging behavioral change, Smart Energy Now brings together community leaders and public-private partnerships to reduce energy usage and positively impact the environment.


ABB to rehab power distribution network in Iraq

ABB has won an order from the Ministry of Electricity (MOE) in Iraq to provide a state-of-the-art power distribution management system. The solution will incorporate advanced communication technology with monitoring and control functions to improve the availability, performance and reliability of power supplies in the capital, Baghdad.

ABB will upgrade the existing control center with an integrated solution comprising its Network Manager SCADA DMS (supervisory control and data acquisition distribution management system) software, now a part of its Ventyx portfolio.

ABB also will supply the communications equipment and remote terminal units (RTUs) to control and monitor power supplies in this densely populated area. The refurbished control centers will provide operators with a system wide view of conditions in the distribution grid, enabling smooth operations as well as rapid detection and correction of faults. The scope of the project includes operator training.

“The refurbishment of the distribution system with advanced monitoring and control capabilities will help improve availability and quality of electricity for consumers and support economic development in the region,” said Jens Birgersson, head of ABB’s network management business unit, a part of the company’s power systems division. “Our unique ability to facilitate the integration of operational and information technologies provides a multicomponent system from a single source, reducing both cost and complexity for our customers.”

This project is one of several infrastructure improvement initiatives underway in Iraq and part of a reconstruction effort to establish a dependable power network to support economic and social development in the country.

First Utility, Opower help UK households save money

First Utility announced a partnership with Opower in 2011 to create a program to reduce U.K. households’ energy bills by as much as 400 million pounds (nearly $635.8 million) each year. First Utility will use Opower’s software to translate customer smart meter data to help households save energy and money. Customers will be engaged via mailed reports, Web portal, email and text messages, as well as social media. The program, the first of its kind in the U.K., is a multi channel approach that will allow First Utility to reach all demographic and drive a high level of customer engagement and energy savings.

“We are thrilled to be working with a customer-focused utility like First Utility,” said Opower President and co-founder Alex Laskey. “Our experience in the U.S. has taught us that utilities that put the customers first and proactively help them manage their energy use have more engaged and satisfied customers, which is ultimately good for business. We expect that our partnership with First Utility will yield significant savings on bills for households and plan to share these results with DECC and the cabinet office as they consider policies to realize the most customer benefits from smart meters.”

Mark Daeche, founder of First Utility, said household budgets are under increasing pressure and energy bills are part of that.

“At First Utility, we are able to provide cutting-edge home energy management tools enabled by our recently deployed smart meters,” Daeche said. “First Utility has partnered with Opower, a leading energy management software provider in the United States, to help us deliver the best utility customer experience in the U.K. and help our customers save on their bills.”

First Utility site: http://first-utility.com/home-energy/our-tariffs

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