Autovation Shows Innovation

by Kathleen Davis, senior editor

In late September just outside Washington, D.C., exhibitors and attendees discussed the automated side of utilities during the 24th Autovation at the Gaylord National Hotel & Convention Center in National Harbor, Md.

Autovation is run by Utilimetrics, an association that brings together “diverse stakeholders of electricity, water and gas distribution utilities to promote and share best practices for smart grid/smart metering, communications, utility automation and data management.”

Pepco Holdings Inc. shared during the opening session how it’s looking at new technologies and transmission projects. Commonwealth Edison Co. (ComEd) closed the show with an example of the perfect smart energy home, which could include smart meters, demand response options, energy-efficient appliances and other “killer applications” of smart grid technology.

Smart tech was a theme. Advanced metering infrastructure and communications always has been an Autovation staple and is now a smart grid staple, given the need for those items. Topics within the track devoted to electric vehicles (EVs) ranged from managing distribution system impacts to identifying utility and customer issues. (In 2010, Deloitte predicted EVs and other alternative fuels would make up a third of global sales by 2020. J.D. Powers predicted EVs at 3.5 percent by 2015.)

During another packed session, Portland General Electric (PGE) insiders Eric Spack and Steve Sprague shared how the utility is using new meter tech to examine revenue protection–and bust pot growers who steal power. They included photos of home nurseries and local news reports on PGE’s work. (How often do you hear a speaker say his favorite part of the presentation is the marijuana part that will come later?)

Hydro One Inc. won the Utilimetrics Excellence in Project Management Award for its Ontario smart meter deployment. Nearly all Hydro One customers have smart meters, and more than 1 million have switched to time-of-use pricing.

San Diego Gas and Electric Co. won the Utilimetrics Consumer Outreach Award for its smart metering program and consumer communications plan.

Between sessions, awards, breakfasts and receptions, attendees visited the show floor, which featured industry staples such as Elster, Aclara and Itron Inc. and niche companies such as Mad Dash Inc. and Ecologic Analytics.

Communications and open standards provider SmartSynch Inc. announced that Michigan’s Consumers Energy has chosen the company to provide the metering system for the utility’s modernization program; that’s 1.8 million electric customers.

“As we develop our program, it will allow us to offer new options to customers and allow them to use our system to integrate new technology, such as smart appliances and plug-in electric vehicles, into their daily lives,” said John Russell, Consumers Energy president and CEO, in a release.

Autovation 2012 will be Sept. 30 through Oct. 2 in the hometown of the Queen Mary, Long Beach, Calif. 


Eight Steps to Contain Cost, Risk of Litigation

By Chris Churchill, Iron Mountain

The utility industry creates massive amounts of data while conducting daily business. All of this data has to be readily accessible, especially in the event of litigation. Failure to have information available in times of litigation can result in costly fines and potential loss of reputation. An organization’s ability to respond effectively and timely to litigation and information discovery requests is mission-critical.

With the stakes associated with discovery on the rise, many organizations struggle to strike the ideal balance between the cost and risk of litigation compliance. The solution calls for a combination of technology and organizational policies to handle the complex processes of litigation requests and discovery.

The following eight steps map that journey to reduce complexity, improve compliance and contain litigation costs and risks:

  1. Get the (information) house in order. Utilities are creating and storing more documents in more formats than before, driven partly by regulatory and compliance pressures. Gaining control of information is sound business practice. Knowing what utilities have (physically and digitally) and where is critical when litigation occurs.
  2. Know how long to keep it. Every official record has a lifespan, and some are longer than others. Developing and implementing a sensible, legally credible retention schedule helps reduce data volumes. Sometimes utilities may dispose of information not essential for legal, regulatory, business or compliance obligations, and sometimes there are industry- or federally mandated guidelines for these schedules. If utilities don’t know the schedule or need help developing one, however, they should seek external experts and consultants for guidance.
  3. Reduce legal fees by bringing some of the processes in-house. In this cost-cutting economy, general counsel and corporate legal teams are under a mandate to contain legal costs. Functions that were often performed in the past by outside counsel may be more efficiently and cost-effectively handled by an information management service partner.
  4. Look for a complete solution from a single vendor. Choosing an integrated solution to manage all records will improve regulatory compliance, reduce the complexity of the discovery process, increase response time and help mitigate the high cost of litigation.
  5. Have a defensible data gathering plan. In most cases, parties under litigation have 99 days or less to determine what data is needed and to physically produce it. When litigation requests arrive, organizations must collect and find the data they need and ensure that the requested data is not inadvertently deleted. To be successful, general counsel, information technology and records management groups must be part of the development and implementation of such a plan.
  6. Identify high-risk information, and scan in advance. Many utilities have begun digitizing their physical records to streamline their storage and access processes. The benefits are better management, more compliance, less risk and quicker access to information. One of the biggest benefits is the ability to identify high-risk documents.
  7. Ensure secure chain of custody. Records and information involved in discovery might be critical to a case. Utilities must establish a full chain of custody so they know where information is at all times.
  8. Don’t just apply technology. Many tools and technologies promise to deliver a complete solution for litigation support, but technology alone is not the answer. Companies can extend their technology and process investments by adding expertise and best practices from a trusted partner for their litigation readiness plan.

Chris Churchill is Iron Mountain’s vice president of document management services. 


Arizona Transmission Project a Go

Western Area Power Administration’s Transmission Infrastructure Program and Arizona electricity providers are committed to build a large-scale transmission project in Arizona’s Maricopa and Pinal counties.

Financed through Western’s authority to borrow from the U.S. Treasury, the project will increase transmission capacity to deliver renewable energy–primarily solar–to consumers in Arizona, southern Nevada and southern California. The Electrical District No. 5-Palo Verde Hub Project (ED5-PVH) will connect a renewable-rich zone south of Phoenix with the Palo Verde market hub, a major electrical trading hub in the western U.S.

Western will borrow up to $91 million from the Treasury to complete the project. Upon completion in 2015, ED5-PVH will be able to deliver 254 MW of renewable energy to the Palo Verde market hub. In total, up to 410 MW of bidirectional capacity will be added to the grid.

The project, planned and developed in cooperation with Western customers and other electricity providers, is composed of two parts:

  • Purchasing transmission capacity rights on the 500-kV Southeast Valley Project transmission line between Western’s Test Track substation and the Palo Verde market–a distance of 64 miles, and
  • Building 45 miles of new 230-kV transmission line from the Test Track substation to Western’s Electrical District No. 5 substation south of Phoenix.

Survey Shows Smart Meter Adoption Rate

A survey by the Institute for Electric Efficiency (IEE) shows that more than one in five households have a two-way communicating digital electric meter. By 2015, more than half of U.S. homes will have one of the new smart meters.

Survey results show that, as of September, 27 million of the digital meters–23 percent of U.S. households–have been installed nationwide, and that approximately 65 million–54 percent of U.S. households–are projected to be deployed by 2015. During the past year, 10 million smart meters have been deployed. (See map for details.) 


EYE ON EUROPE

Association Asks European Commission to Lead Cross-border Rules

European electric association Eurelectric in September requested a mandate that would allow the European Commission to clarify rules for the management of electricity networks in the Baltic region.

Eurelectric also requested that the mandate extend beyond the geographical scope of the Baltic market to all interconnectors between the EU, Russia and Belarus. The objective should be to develop compatible grid and market rules to facilitate cross-border electricity trade in the region. According to Eurelectric, negotiations should address technical management of the grids and system operator cooperation, including cross-border balancing and sharing of reserves; competitive market access to the border; market-based capacity allocation and congestion management; and alignment of market rules.

Winter Worries European TSOs

The European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity released a peek at its winter outlook report in October. Based on preliminary results, transmission system operators (TSOs) are concerned about adequacy margins for winter. TSOs remain concerned about reduced generation margins resulting from the shutdown of eight German nuclear power plants. TSOs expect to maintain generation adequacy under average weather conditions. Key European areas, however, cannot be ensured under extreme conditions. Extended cold spells and lower than average temperatures could require significant counter measures.


Cellular Smart Electricity Meter Market to Grow, Study Says

Advanced electricity meters with integrated cellular communication modules are forecast to increase from 2.6 million shipments in 2010 to 9.5 million shipments annually in 2016, according to IMS Research. This is one conclusion the research company’s report “The World Market for Smart Electricity Meters — 2011” published in October.

“The U.S. and United Kingdom are forecast to experience the largest volumes of cellular shipments through 2016 for distinct reasons,” said Rolando Campos, the report’s author. “In the U.S., telecoms have reduced the cost of data plans for meters significantly to about one dollar (or less) per meter, per month. Utilities that wish to reduce up front capital expenditures by over 40 percent and reduce operating expenses are finally realizing the benefits of using public cellular providers.”

Operating costs are lowered by reducing or eliminating the networking and maintenance staff needed to maintain a metering network. In the U.S., a larger percentage of the opportunity for new smart meter installations (i.e. endpoints not under contract) will likely come from smaller utilities that have spread-out populations in diverse geographies. Smaller utilities have less capital and often do not enjoy the tax write-offs that come with large fixed-capital intensive projects, the report said.

“As telecom providers lower the total cost of ownership for a cellular-based smart metering solution, not only will small utilities in the U.S. switch to a cellular option but larger utilities in the U.S. and throughout the world may begin to seek ways to collaborate with local telecoms to make cellular a more viable option,” Campos said.

The United Kingdom is forecast to have the largest cumulative volume of cellular smart meters in the world from 2010 to 2016, the report said. Cellular solutions are key in the United Kingdom due to the general structure of the utilities and grid operators, whereas a meter change-out may happen piecewise, making cellular machine-to-machine devices the likely solution.

In addition, the report said some suppliers plan to ship cellular meters next year and as telecoms in the United Kingdom begin to see the business opportunity in the U.S. mature, those in the region are likely to follow suit and make pricing per meter more competitive.

IMS Research is a supplier of market research and consultancy services on a wide range of global electronics markets. The company is supported by headquarters in Wellingborough, United Kingdom and offices in Austin, Texas, and Shanghai, China.


COMMENTARY

Obama Wants to Build Better Grid Now

by Kathleen Davis, senior editor

The Obama administration in October said it wants to build stuff.

President Barack Obama said that before with the stimulus package. That version of building stuff looked more like the Works Progress Administration of the 1930s–roads, bridges, hard and solid infrastructure. This time, Obama wants to build infrastructure of the less concrete and more dynamic sort–namely, power lines.

He’s focused on seven projects in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Minnesota, New Mexico, Nevada, Wyoming, Utah, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Wisconsin. Obama’s contribution to the projects isn’t financial; it’s regulatory, or reducing regulatory red tape.

The president said it will create thousands of jobs.

To create those new gigs, Obama wants to speed federal permitting for the seven projects: getting all players together, working out a game plan and making it happen. Power line siting, however, is more difficult than getting everyone to chat. Congress chats all the time, and the American people still see much gridlock.

Gridlock on the permitting and siting front is almost inevitable, chatting or no chatting. It’s an admirable concept to get more power flowing to the people, but the people can be picky about seeing the inner workings. Everyone wants power; no one wants to live near power lines.

Much of Obama’s proposed lucky seven are in the West. That will help speed siting and permitting–more elbow room, fewer people. Fewer people living near the lines means fewer people complaining about living near the lines. So, a lot of these have a decent shot of completion.

The projects for which Obama’s hurry-up plan might work include a new 500-kV transmission line proposed by Idaho Power Co. running a 300-mile-long, single circuit from Boardman, Ore., to Melba, Idaho; an Idaho Power-Rocky Mountain Power project between Glenrock, Wyo. and Melba; the SunZia Southwest Transmission Project plan to construct and operate up to two 500-kV transmission lines in New Mexico and Arizona; and the TransWest Express Transmission Project to assist Wyoming wind projects. Those likely will proceed with fewer problems because they go through a lot of uncharted country and involve fewer people. With transmission siting, less is more: Fewer people equal fewer complications.

The Cascade Crossing Transmission Project that involves many substation upgrades around green-leaning Salem, Ore., might encounter a few hurdles, as might the CapX2020 project in Minnesota and Wisconsin and the Susquehanna-Roseland power line in Pennsylvania and New Jersey that’s heavy on substations and people interaction.

A local paper quoted a lawyer for the Citizens Energy Task Force in Wisconsin, which opposes the CapX2020 project, as having asked if the government would just “ram it through no matter what.”

Locals near the Susquehanna-Roseland line have protested the capacity upgrade for many reasons: aesthetics, energy fuel source, the location of the line through a recreation area, and required tower height. (Current towers are about 80 feet tall. The new ones could be closer to 200 feet.) The New Jersey Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against the proposal, as well. An entire website dedicated to the opposition, called Stop the Lines, says the proposed project is about utility “greed” at the state’s expense.

After the White House announcement, Stop the Lines issued a statement.

“Corporate profit should not be given priority here,” the statement said. “Fast-tracking the destruction of a priceless national treasure–the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area–must not be allowed.”

All might not be quick in this expedited expedition.

On top of the people living near power issue, there’s the government’s concept of time. Transmission line siting is considered speedy if accomplished in five years, and it can take decades. By expediting the process, Obama might shave off a few years. In 2015, Americans might see those New Mexico, Arizona and Wyoming lines start up. By early retirement, Generation X might hear of the Susquehanna-Roseland completion. But there’s no way Obama will see a foot of new power line before the next election.

Here’s hoping transmission siting wasn’t a large part of his new presidential campaign.

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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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