J.D. POWER: PRICES, COMMUNICATION MAKE RESIDENTIAL UTILITY CUSTOMERS HAPPIER
Ongoing communication efforts and increased price satisfaction are key drivers behind the third consecutive year of improved overall customer satisfaction with residential electric utility companies, according to the J.D. Power 2015 Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study.
The study, now in its 17th year, measures customer satisfaction with electric utility companies by examining six factors: power quality and reliability; price; billing and payment; corporate citizenship; communications; and customer service. Satisfaction is calculated on a 1,000-point scale.
Overall satisfaction averages 668 in 2015, a 21-point improvement from 2014. A 33-point increase in communications (625) and a 35-point improvement in price (595) are key contributors to the year-over-year improvement in overall satisfaction.
The average monthly bill remains unchanged this year from 2014 at $132 per month; yet, customer satisfaction improves more in the price factor than in any previous year. One contributor to the increase in price satisfaction is that fewer customers have read or heard about a rate increase in 2015, compared with 2014 (32 percent vs. 38 percent, respectively), while a slightly higher percentage have read or heard about a rate decrease (4 percent vs. 3 percent).
“Utility companies are doing a better job at the fundamentals-minimizing service interruptions, communicating with customers and improving customer service,” said John Hazen, senior director of the energy practice at J.D. Power. “Proactive communication during power outages remains a challenge, suggesting that utilities should focus on improving in this area.”
The study finds that utility companies are providing critical information during a power outage, such as the cause of the outage, the number of customers impacted and more accurate estimates on when power will be restored. Proactive communications, like when a utility calls, emails, or sends a text message, however, are reaching only 7.3 percent of customers, a slight increase from 5.6 percent in 2014. Power quality and reliability satisfaction among customers who receive proactive updates during an outage is significantly higher (777) than among those who do not receive such communications (683).
“The industry knows this is a key component of effective communication, but implementation is not happening fast enough,” said Hazen. “Many utility companies are moving in this direction, but the industry as a whole has been slow to institute proactive communications.”
Nearly three in 10 customers are considering solar power in the next two years. Slightly more than one-fourth (28 percent) of customers who do not already have solar power say they “probably will” or “definitely will” consider using solar power in the next two years. The main reasons for considering solar are to reduce their bill, positively impact the environment and protect against rising energy costs. Solar power has had a notable effect in the utility industry. Among customers who currently have solar power, 33 percent have developed a positive opinion of their utility.
“As solar penetration increases, utilities must be ready to handle the call volume from customers with questions related to new system installation, ongoing usage and billing,” said Hazen. “Until customers become familiar with their solar system, they are three times more likely to call their utility to better understand the myriad of issues that arise compared with those who don’t have a solar system. Utilities will need to ramp up their incoming and outgoing communications processes to meet the growing demand.”
- Among the 48 states included in the study, satisfaction is highest among customers in Georgia, Arizona and Utah and lowest among those in Connecticut, West Virginia and Massachusetts.
- Communications about a utility company’s infrastructure are among the topics that most resonate with customers. Communications satisfaction is 767 among customers who indicate that the topic of the most recent communication from their utility was the reliability of electric delivery. Satisfaction among customers whose most recent communication concerned electric system upgrades or improvements is 751. Satisfaction among customers who received communications about price or rate changes averages 683 vs. 625 among those who receive no price or rate communication at all from their utility.
- Billing and payment satisfaction is higher among customers who receive bill alerts than among those who do not receive such alerts (765 vs. 706, respectively).
- Most customers perceive their electric utility provider as a good corporate citizen, as 62 percent believe their utility supports economic development of local community and 32 percent are aware of their utility’s efforts to improve its impact on the environment.
The Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study ranks midsize and large utility companies in four geographic regions: East, Midwest, South and West. Companies in the midsize utility segment serve between 100,000 and 499,999 residential customers, while companies in the large utility segment serve 500,000 or more residential customers.
PPL Electric Utilities ranks highest among large utilities in the East region for a fourth consecutive year, with a score of 693. PSE&G (680) ranks second, followed by Duquesne Light (676), Con Edison (673) and BGE (664).
Among midsize utilities in the East region, Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative ranks highest for an eighth consecutive year, with a score of 727. Penn Power (674) ranks second; Delmarva Power (669) ranks third; and Green Mountain and Met-Ed (656 each) rank fourth in a tie.
MidAmerican Energy ranks highest in the large utility segment in the Midwest region for an eighth consecutive year, with a score of 692. DTE Energy (681) ranks second; Alliant Energy (674) ranks third; and Consumers Energy and Xcel-Energy Midwest (670 each) rank fourth in a tie.
Connexus Energy and Otter Tail Power Co. tie for highest ranking in the midsize segment in the Midwest region (694 each), making this the first time each utility has ranked highest in this study. Great Lakes Energy (693) ranks third, followed by Kentucky Utilities (691) and Minnesota Power (689).
OG&E ranks highest in the large utility segment in the South region for a third consecutive year, with a score of 710. Alabama Power ranks second (707); Georgia Power ranks third (705); and CPS Energy and Florida Power & Light (700 each) rank fourth in a tie.
SECO Energy ranks highest in the midsize utility segment in the South region with a score of 749 for the first time, followed closely by NOVEC at 746. Walton EMC ranks third (735); Sawnee EMC (733) ranks fourth; and Jackson EMC (730) ranks fifth.
Salt River Project (SRP) ranks highest in the large utility segment in the West region for a 14th consecutive year, with a score of 738. SMUD (723) ranks second, followed by Portland General Electric (698), Rocky Mountain Power (696) and APS (692).
Clark Public Utilities ranks highest in the midsize utility segment in the West region for an eighth consecutive year, with a score of 717. Colorado Springs Utilities ranks second (692), followed by Seattle City Light (687), Idaho Power (685) and Tacoma Power (684).
The 2015 Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study is based on responses from 102,525 online interviews conducted July 2014 through May 2015 among residential customers of 140 electric utility brands across the United States, which collectively represent more than 96 million households.
GOV. CUOMO AWARDS FUNDING TO 83 NY COMMUNITIES FOR CLEAN ENERGY
New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo awarded $100,000 each to 83 communities across the state to support microgrid projects. The awards are part of the NY Prize microgrid competition to support a new generation of community-based power under Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision strategy.
The 83 communities will study the feasibility of installing a community microgrid-a standalone energy system that can operate independently of the main grid in the event of a power outage. Such systems would integrate renewable power with other advanced energy technologies to create a cleaner, more affordable and more resilient localized energy grid for a limited number of users.
Announced by Gov. Cuomo last August and administered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the NY Prize microgrid competition generated interest from communities across the state, with more than 130 cities, villages, towns and municipalities submitting proposals for the competition’s Stage 1 award.
In addition to offering energy independence during a power outage, microgrids can benefit utilities on days of high power demand by reducing energy drawn from the main grid and providing additional power when needed.
Award recipients include local governments, community organizations, non-profit entities, for-profit companies and municipal utilities. All winning projects must be integrated into utility networks and serve multiple customers, including at least one “critical infrastructure” customer, such as a hospital, police station, fire station or water treatment facilities.
Awards represent all 10 regions of the state, including:
- Capital Region: 9 projects/awards
- Central New York: 4 projects/awards
- Finger Lakes: 3 projects/awards
- Mid-Hudson: 23 projects/awards
- Long Island: 14 projects/awards
- Mohawk Valley: 2 projects/awards
- New York City: 9 projects/awards
- North Country: 7 projects/awards
- Southern Tier: 7 projects/awards
- Western New York: 5 projects/awards
Project descriptions and contact information for winners are featured on the NY Prize Opportunity Zone Map. Five communities receiving awards-Buffalo, Westfield, Bath, Sherburne and East Hampton-were announced previously.
Over the next six to eight months, winners will assess the technical, operational and financial feasibility of their proposed community microgrid. These studies will uncover the most favorable technical configurations, as well as immediate opportunities for energy efficiency and distributed energy installations.
Once the studies are completed, communities can compete for further support from NY Prize or pursue the distributed energy resource opportunities uncovered in their feasibility study.
The 83 communities receiving support for feasibility studies may choose to apply for detailed engineering support in Stage 2 of the competition. NYSERDA also will work with third parties and the state’s utilities to provide access to existing clean energy programs and services for communities that do not receive NY Prize support. In Stage 3, the final competition stage, NY Prize funding will be made available for project construction; both Stage 2 and 3 will involve a cost-share.
SMART GRID CONSORTIUM OFFERS UTILITY PHOTOVOLTAIC FORECASTING MODELS
The Smart Grid Research Consortium (SGRC) announced new SGRC Utility Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Forecasting Models and Forecasting Service. The SGRC Solar Models and Service provide commercially available annual forecasts of residential solar PV system installations, energy and hourly load impacts, costs and benefits over a 10-year forecast horizon.
Forecasts are provided for distribution feeders, substations, ZIP areas and the entire utility service area. Low, medium and high forecasts are provided to reflect the range of likely PV installation and load impacts.
The consortium, which is known for its smart grid investment models (SGIM), recently extended its analysis to “grid-edge” technology applications and, with the Solar PV Forecasting Models and Forecasting Service, is now addressing utility financial and load impacts of solar PV distributed energy resources.
Continuing PV cost reductions, growing popularity of power purchase agreements, tax incentives and other factors are responsible for year-over-year doubling, or more, of PV installations in many states.
Recent Austin Energy and NV Energy utility-scale procurements at less than 4 cents/kWh portend a rapidly arriving transformation for residential utility customer installations with increasing solar PV penetrations in nearly all utility service areas. These PV impacts present both utility challenges and benefits that are quantified with the SGRC Solar PV Forecasting Models and Forecasting Service.
The consortium models and service provide utilities with annual, geographically detailed forecasts of the likely number and hourly load impacts of residential PV installations on their distribution systems over the next decade. The agent-based statistical models underlying these forecasts are estimated with data on more than 7 million utility customers and nearly 500,000 solar PV installations.
Models are applied at feeder/substation and ZIP level and reflect the “clustered” nature of PV installations resulting from geographic patterns of household, dwelling unit, neighborhood and other characteristics that drive PV sales.
PV forecasts are designed both to assist utility distribution planners and to provide a program evaluation tool for utility solar program development.
IPL BREAKS GROUND ON UTILITY SCALE BATTERY STORAGE PROJECT IN MISO
Indianapolis Power & Light Co. (IPL), a unit of The AES Corp., broke ground on an advanced battery-based energy storage facility, which will improve reliability and lower costs for its customers.
The IPL Advancion Energy Storage Array will be a grid-scale storage system in the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) grid system. The facility will provide 20 MW of interconnected energy storage, equivalent to 40 MW of flexible resource.
Energy storage is part of IPL’s plans to meet the growing needs of its customers. With all coal units at Harding Street Station set to convert to natural gas, pending approval from the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, and with the addition of energy storage at the site, IPL has taken steps to modernize its generation fleet.
IPL continues to pursue a balanced generation portfolio that includes coal, oil, gas, wind and solar. By 2017, IPL’s generation resources will include 45 percent natural gas, 44 percent coal and 10 percent wind and solar.
IPL’s parent company, AES, is a provider of grid-scale energy storage. AES used grid-connected lithium-ion batteries during a project in Indianapolis in 2008. Globally, AES has 86 MW of energy storage projects in commercial operation and has announced 260 MW of interconnected battery-based storage, equivalent to 520 MW of flexible power resource, in construction or late-stage development.
Construction on the IPL array will begin immediately, with the facility expected to come online in the first half of 2016. The facility will provide operational flexibility, will lower costs and emissions by enabling more efficient dispatch of existing generating assets, and will support the ongoing integration of renewable power sources.
TESTING CENTER FOR ENERGY STORAGE BATTERIES PLANNED
The Battery Innovation Center (BIC) and the MESA Standards Alliance announced a strategic partnership to create a MESA compatibility and interoperability testing center.
As the energy storage industry takes off and the number of component vendors proliferates, the need for a physical location where companies can bring their products, plug them in, verify their compatibility with published standards and test their ability to interoperate is clear.
Modular Energy Storage Architecture (MESA) is a non-proprietary set of specifications and standards for energy storage developed by a consortium of electric utilities and technology suppliers. The goals of the MESA Standards Alliance are to:
- Standardize communications and connections, which will accelerate interoperability and scalability;
- Give electric utilities more choice by enabling multi-vendor, component-based energy storage systems;
- Reduce project-specific engineering costs, enabling a more robust energy storage market;
- Enable technology suppliers to focus on their core competency, facilitating quality, safety and cost-effectiveness; and
- Reduce training costs and improve safety for field staff through standardized procedures for safety and efficiency.
“We’ve had a productive first year as an alliance and this partnership is well-timed to our needs as an organization,” said Craig Collar, board chair of the MESA Alliance and assistant general manager at Snohomish County Public Utility District in Washington State. “Our specifications are taking shape and we need a location and an organization that is vendor-independent where our industry and utility members can come to verify that things work as designed.”
Located adjacent to Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane in Indiana, the BIC is centrally located for U.S.-based companies and is well-equipped to address the needs of the MESA Standards Alliance.
“Establishing a strategic partnership with MESA is an honor for the BIC,” said David Roberts, president of BIC. “The opportunity to serve the industry in this capacity validates BIC’s position as a trusted resource to market participants. We see this sector of the energy storage market increasing dramatically as the number of vendors with commercially viable smart grid products increases and as vital entities like MESA help to define and standardize communication protocol between the various products. We are confident our partnership will catalyze the MESA standardization efforts.”
The BIC facility has a full suite of electrical test and evaluation capabilities, and includes wind and solar generation, 1 MWh of energy storage and a 1 MW inverter onsite, along with a 6.4 MW net metering capability onto the adjacent MISO node.
These physical resources will be augmented in the second half of 2015 with the establishment of a microgrid test lab that will include AC grid simulation capabilities, multiple energy storage systems and standards-based software to control and evaluate performance of various microgrid components under multiple operating profiles. A Duke Energy grant awarded in March of this year is sponsoring the microgrid test lab.
With the partnership finalized, the next steps involve the BIC seeding its facility with components that are MESA compliant and getting up to speed on MESA specifications. The center will be a resource for informal testing of capabilities until formal compatibility tests are defined for the various protocols.
EYE ON THE WORLD
Tabuchi Electric launches solar storage solution in North America
Tabuchi Electric, a solar inverter manufacturer, announced at the recent Intersolar North America event that it has entered the North American market with the launch of a residential solar and storage solution.
The company’s EneTelus Intelligent Battery System is a grid-friendly, inverter and storage system that is optimized to deliver compelling energy management and cost performance benefits to solar installers, as well as home owners.
The Tabuchi solar and storage system combines a solar and storage hybrid all-in-one inverter with a lithium ion battery.
In addition to launching the EneTelus Intelligent Battery System (EIBS) for residential homes, Tabuchi will also offer an inverter for the commercial customer called the EneTelus Mega Value System.
Meters and More appoints CESI S.p.A as first accredited test house
Meters and More AISBL, an international non-profit association that promotes communication protocols that enables bidirectional data transfer in an advanced metering infrastructure system, appointed CESI S.p.A as the first accredited test house for Meters and More products.
Earlier this year the association’s technical committee for product certification (TCC) released the first version of the Meters and More Testing Tool-a testing tool available to accredited providers to support the full range of certification tests described in the Meters and More Testing Specification.
The TCC is working to improve certification procedures, specifications and tools as it continues to roll out its compliance and interoperability program to help utilities and device manufacturers move to a new generation communication solution between the meter and end-customer devices; and to develop Meters and More compatible communication technologies for smart city applications.
Prysmian Group to install HVDC submarine interconnector between Norway, UK
Prysmian Group won a new contract worth around $602 million from Statnett SF and National Grid NSN Link Ltd, a project specific unit of National Grid. The company will provide a high voltage direct current (HVDC) submarine interconnector linking Norway and the UK,
The new HVDC interconnection will provide the Norwegian and the UK countries a means to share renewable energy and increase the security of electricity supply. It is intended to reduce electricity prices, provide cleaner energy and compensate for the supply from aging generation plants in the UK that will be taken out of service.
The project will follow a nearly 460 mile route between the converter stations in Kvilldal in Norway and Blyth in the UK.
The Prysmian contract involves the turnkey supply and installation of around 590 miles of submarine and land cables in two sections of the overall route length. The interconnection is comprised of an HVDC bipole-using single core cables with mass impregnated paper insulation-that will operate at a voltage level of ±525 kV with a rating of 1400 MW.
All cables will be produced in the Arco Felice factory in Naples, Italy, one of the group’s centers of technological and manufacturing excellence for submarine cables. The main marine cable laying will be performed by the group’s “Giulio Verne” cable-laying vessel, which can handle extremely long cable lengths and install these at depth. The delivery and commissioning of the system is slated for September 2021.
STUDY RESULTS SHOW CONSUMERS BETTER OFF WITH ELECTRICITY CUSTOMER CHOICE
Nearly two decades of empirical data allow for an objective review of the performance of competitive electricity choice markets vs. the traditional monopoly model. The facts show that consumers with choice benefit in terms of improved price, investment and reliability. This is according to results of a new study sponsored by the COMPETE Coalition.
“In a compelling example of what Justice Louis Brandeis termed states serving as laboratories of democracy, for nearly two decades, two retail electricity models, choice and monopoly, have operated in parallel allowing reliable comparison of the two models on key indicators,” said William Massey, COMPETE counsel. “The data demonstrate that customer choice jurisdictions that steadily adapted and expanded retail choice out-perform, or at least compare favorably with, the states that have so far rejected broad-based customer market access.”
The study, “Evolution of the Revolution: The Sustained Success of Retail Electricity Competition,” found empirical data for key indicators demonstrate that the retail electric choice revolution has evolved successfully with consumers increasingly embracing competition and customer choice jurisdictions outperforming monopoly states in both price and generation trends.
Some specific findings are:
- From 1997 through 2014, prices in customer choice jurisdictions increased 4.5 percent less than inflation while prices in monopoly states increased 8.4 percent more than inflation.
- Electricity in monopoly states accounted for a larger share of the consumer cost of living in 2014 than in 1997, while electricity’s share of the consumer pocketbook in customer choice jurisdictions was less in 2014 than in 1997.
- From 2003-2013, accounts served by competitive suppliers increased 524 percent for commercial and industrial customers and 636 percent for residential customers.
- From 2003-2014, electricity demand served by competitive suppliers surged even during a period of flat growth in consumption: 181 percent for C&I customers and 673 percent for residential customers.
- Generation in customer choice jurisdictions as a group outperformed that in monopoly states producing billions of dollars of new, more efficient generation with higher capacity factors than in monopoly states.
The study’s authors are Philip O’Connor, president of PROactive Strategies Inc. and former chairman of the Illinois Commerce Commission, and Erin O’Connell-Diaz, president of FutureFWD Inc. and former commissioner with the Illinois Commerce Commission.
“The empirical data demolish the unsupported claims of market critics in terms of price, investment and reliability,” said O’Connor. “There has been sustained growth of customer choice both in numbers of accounts and electric load served by competitive providers. There has been substantial investment in generation and favorable generation performance trends in customer choice jurisdictions. And price trends under customer choice have been more favorable to customers than in monopoly states.”
“Given the sustained, demonstrable success of customer choice both in price trends and in generation investment and performance, the terms of the debate should shift to how retail customer choice provides a better platform for addressing innovation, accommodating environmental goals, allocating risk, and responsiveness to fast changing economic, financial and technology conditions,” said O’Connell-Diaz.
The study was released in conjunction with the summer meeting of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, where the study’s academic approach and factual conclusions were welcomed by key state utility regulators.
“The data on price performance in customer choice jurisdictions are among the most compelling findings of this paper,” said Brien Sheahan, chairman of the Illinois Commerce Commission. “Over the past nearly two decades, electricity prices in customer choice jurisdictions increased 4.5 percent less than inflation while prices in monopoly states increased 8.4 percent more than inflation. The numbers truly speak for themselves when you take into account the impact of electricity prices on consumer cost of living. Electricity competition has proven to be quite beneficial to consumers and economic competitiveness here in Illinois and in other states.”
“It has been nearly two decades with workably competitive electricity markets in 13 states and the District of Columbia, and we can no longer ignore the facts. Customer choice works for electricity consumers and businesses, helping to drive down prices and attract billions of dollars of investment in new, more efficient generation,” said Robert Powelson, commissioner and former chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. “I am encouraged by the findings of this paper, which are certainly consistent with our experience with competition here in Pennsylvania, and pleased that the facts speak for themselves. In some service territories across Pennsylvania, customers are paying less for power than they did prior to electric restructuring. Coupled with locally sourced Marcellus gas, Pennsylvania is poised to be an economic powerhouse for job creation.”
CYBERSECURITY: RESEARCHERS COMPROMISE SECURE NETWORK WITH BASIC CELL PHONE
Cybersecurity researchers in Israel demonstrated a way to defeat one of the foundational security measures in computer science, known as air gapping or an air wall, with an ordinary cell phone. Air gapping means a computer network is physically isolated from unsecured Internet connections.
Using this attack method, an air gap can be defeated and data extracted from the protected network using a GSM network, a standard cell phone and electromagnetic waves, according to a July 27, 2015, article at Wired.com.
For the attack to work, both phone and targeted computer must be infected with malware. From there, data thieves would use the electromagnetic fields produced by both devices to wirelessly extract data from the supposedly secure computers.
Researchers said attackers could use phones with only basic voice and text capabilities; no advanced Wi-Fi, camera or video capability is used or needed.
Lane Thomas, security research and software development engineer for Tripwire, said the research should give security professionals cause for concern.
“Indeed, this research is quite interesting. The important point here to me, however, is that we all need to recognize that ‘air-gapped-ness’ is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Ubiquitous computing and communication technologies and their associated devices, such as those driving the growth of the Internet of Things, will cause many headaches for enterprises who require high-levels of security, and this is especially true for organizations that manage critical infrastructures,” Thomas said.
Findings like these present new challenges to cybersecurity professionals, he said.
“We currently have plenty of very powerful, small-footprint devices that, in theory, could be used to penetrate physically secure, air-gapped environments (think miniature drones and micro-robotics). Essentially, we in the security industry will need to devise new ways of handling this emerging threat scenario. The physical security problems and solutions of tomorrow will absolutely be different than what we have today,” he said.
Potential measures against such an attack, the researchers said, could include removing all cell phones of any type from the premises or installing protective partitions.
In high-security areas like power plant and transmission system control rooms, contractors and other staff often are not allowed to have smartphones on their person due to cybersecurity concerns.
GE INVENTOR WINS IEEE FLEXIBLE AC TRANSMISSION AWARD
Richard Piwko, senior technical director for GE’s Energy Consulting business, received the 2015 IEEE Power and Energy Society’s Nari Hingorani Flexible AC Transmission System (FACTS) Award.
Piwko accepted the award at IEEE’s annual PES Awards Dinner July 28, part of the IEEE PES General Meeting in Denver.
Named in honor of Narain Hingorani, who pioneered the concepts of FACTS and custom power, the award recognizes major contributions to FACTS technology and its applications. Piwko was selected through a competitive, vetted nomination process.
“I am honored to receive the IEEE PES Nari Hingorani FACTS Award. While this is an individual award, it’s important for me to share the recognition with my colleagues at GE whose teamwork, expertise and diligence made these technical achievements possible,” Piwko said.
Over the course of his career at GE, Piwko contributed to several new technologies that advanced electric power transmission.
One such contribution was the invention of the thyristor-controlled series capacitor (TCSC). This piece of equipment uses high-voltage power electronics to quickly control the flow of power on AC transmission lines while simultaneously mitigating detrimental subsynchronous resonance effects inherent with conventional series capacitors. The original TCSC was installed in the early 1990s at the Slatt 500-kilovolt substation in Oregon, and is still in service today.
Piwko also introduced the variable frequency transformer, an alternative to high-voltage DC technology. This piece of equipment uses a rotating transformer in combination with power electronics to rapidly control power transfer between two asynchronous power grids. The prototype was installed at the Langlois substation in Quebec and has been transferring power between Quebec and New York since 2003.