Projects of the Year 2017

By Rod Walton, Senior Editor

A ComEd customer service rep performs a meter status check

Stretching the potential of the smart grid is crucial for utilities if they want to stay one step ahead.

It’s also a common theme among this year’s winners for the POWERGRID International Projects of the Year. The four category champions hail from all over the U.S., deploying new cutting edges services that, most importantly, meet customer needs.

The winning utilities and projects, listed by category, are: Customer Engagement: Commonwealth Edison, AMI Outage Reporting Channel Integration; Grid Optimization: Indianapolis Power & Light Co., IPL Advancion Energy Storage Array; Demand Response/Energy Efficiency: CPS Energy, Demand Response Management System; and Renewable Grid Integration: Arizona Public Service, Solar Partner Program.

The winners were announced by POWERGRID International Editor-in-Chief Teresa Hansen during the Jan. 31 keynote at DistribuTECH in San Diego. “We received nominations for some remarkable utility projects. Many of them were award worthy, but we had to make some difficult decisions and select only one in each category.” Hansen said. “We believe we’ve made the right picks.”

Customer Engagement: AMI Outage Reporting Channel Integration

ComEd, based in Chicago, crafted its program to deal with the challenge that about 60 percent of outages reported on blue sky days were due to problems on the customer’s side of the meter, such as tripped breakers. The utility integrated a meter ping across all of its customer-facing outage reporting channels including information systems, interactive voice response, the website, mobile apps, text messaging and Facebook.

The meter pings were automatic when the customer reported an outage on blue sky days. If successful, the customer was notified that ComEd had verified power to the meter and advised them to check their breakers.

“When we started working on this project, we wanted to strategically leverage our AMI outage management capabilities in the most advanced ways we could think of,” said Jennifer Joseph, principal IT project manager at ComEd parent Exelon Corp. “What surprised us was how many customers were acting on the information. For meters where the meter check confirms the power is on, customers resolve their issue on first contact roughly 70 percent of the time. We initially thought this percentage would be closer to 30 to 40 percent. This (project) results in the customer getting their power back sooner and ComEd avoiding a truck roll.”

ComEd identified customer-side issues more than 26,000 times, and the perceived outage was resolved nearly immediately close to 19,000 times, saving call-outs, research time and, last but not least, money.

The primary aim, Joseph pointed out, is to provide customers with the information they want through their desired communication channel. ComEd is still working on other customer-facing capabilities such as integrating an AMI evaluation into outage communication and improving the accuracy of messages.

CPS Energy employees monitor the utility’s demand response management system

“For example, if the customer is about to be sent an ETR (estimated time to restoration) notification, we will perform an AMI evaluation to check the meter prior to sending the ETR notification. If the power is actually back on, we send the customer a restore message instead,” Joseph said.

ComEd worked with contractors Accenture, Olenick and Associates and Silver Spring Networks on the project.

Demand Response/Energy Efficiency: Demand Response Management System

Specificity is goal No. 1 with all of these projects, no matter how large. San Antonio-based CPS Energy also sought granular detail when it rolled out the first phase of its demand response management system (DRMS) in March 2016. This first of four phases focused on commercial and industrial (C&I) demand response (DR), managing a combined DR portfolio totaling 165 MW on a single platform.

Vendor partner AutoGrid’s DROMS-based system achieved an average load shed of more than 60 MW per event. Over the summer, 20 DR events were called involving more than 370 C&I customers.

“The main thing we learned is that DRMS touches a lot of functional areas and is really more of an enterprise-wide system, rather than just a dispatch system,” said Wayne Callender, zero emissions resource manager at CPS Energy. “I think that was the main surprise of implementing the system.”

Ultimately CPS Energy plans to roll solar, electric vehicles and storage into its DRMS. The utility uses its DR programs to relieve pressure on the Texas electrical grid and meet its Save for Tomorrow Energy Plan goal of reducing demand by 771 MW within the next three years. Partners included AutoGrid and Black & Veatch.

“Aside from having all of our DR programs under one system, we are looking to expand the DRMS to control distribute resources, such as smart inverters, thereby making it into a true distributed energy resource management system,” Callender added.

Grid Optimization: IPL Advanction Energy Storage Array

DR can be seen only within the data analytics. The next winner’s project can be easily viewed by the human eye. Indianapolis Power & Light’s (IPL’s) Advancion Energy Storage Array was completed last year at the Harding Street Generation Station in Indianapolis. The 20-MW project was touted as the first grid-scale, battery-based energy storage system in the 15-state footprint of the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO).

IPL’s 20-MW project was touted as the first grid-scale, battery-based energy storage system in MISO’s footprint

“As the resource mix in the Eastern Interconnection changes to include more wind, solar and gas-fired generation with less flexibility to respond to grid disturbance conditions than coal-fired generation, IPL sought state-of-the-art solutions to provide both frequency and voltage control. We wanted solutions that are physically and economically efficient to provide benefits to our customers,” said Richard Benedict, IPL’s director of project development. “IPL chose to build a static VAR compensator for voltage control and the IPL storage array for frequency control.”

Deviations away from 60 Hertz, of course, can negatively impact electric delivery and cause problems with equipment for both utilities and customers. In a worst-case scenario, a high-magnitude deviation can trip off power plants and lead to brownouts or blackouts.

IPL’s facility helped mitigate those potentially devastating outcomes by keeping the grid humming when other parts are silenced by outage or error. The new-build facility has 244 Advancion nodes, each controlled individually. So, instead of operating as one giant 20 MW battery, it performs like 244 coordinated 80-kW nodes controlled individually by the Advancion software.

The IPL Advancion Energy Storage Array can provide 5 MW of energy for four hours, if needed, within MISO.

“There is no greater teacher than operating a lithium-ion battery array,” Benedict said. “IPL engineers have gained a greater appreciation for the technology since we placed it in service and can see for ourselves the amazing performance.”

The APS Solar Partner Program is a $30 million utility-owned residential rooftop solar project

Another surprise benefit in addition to performance, Benedict added, was the global interest. Engineers, regulators and utility executives from around the world have traveled to Indianapolis to see the array up close and pick the brains of those who planned it.

Suppliers included Samsung SDI and Parker Hannifin. The Casteel Corp. worked on the plant itself.

Renewable Grid Integration: Solar Partner Program

Finally, the competition for renewable grid integration was a crowded field full of unique projects. Arizona Public Service Co. (APS) stood out with its Solar Partner Program partially because it not only functions in the here and now, but also due to its potential to provide meaningful insights that can be applied years down the road. APS and partner Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) are working together to study the effects of solar on peak load, the use of advanced inverters and energy storage systems within local distribution grids.

The smart inverter pathways are forged through the utility’s AMI network. APS also worked closely with inverter vendors to identify and clear logistical hurdles as smoothly as possible.

“We sourced from the very best suppliers for inverters, controllers and communications and assembled a fantastic team that moved mountains in a very short period of time,” said Erik Ellis, manager for technology assessment and integration at APS. “Still, at every juncture we faced times of significant problem-solving in cooperation with our vendors and EPRI, as nothing like this had ever been done at this scale and breadth.”

Solar Partner’s planners set priorities to optimize its impacts. West-facing roofs were prioritized to better align solar production with system peaks. Heavily loaded feeders were targeted to potentially defer substation or line upgrades.

The Solar Partner Program is a $30 million utility-owned residential rooftop solar project consisting of approximately 1,600 homes with 10 MW of installed capacity.

Some systems were directed toward low-income customers who can, for the first time, access rooftop solar without the need for a high credit score. The pilot will focus on impacts before growing its base.

“Currently we don’t plan to add more customers,” Ellis said. “But we are moving now into the second phase of the Solar Partner Program from an R&D perspective with the technologies we have installed. Right now the focus will be to test advanced inverters against energy storage, two MW each on two different feeders and IVVC (integrated volt VAR control) on the same two feeders. The goal will be to examine how energy storage and integrated Volt-VAR technology compare to advanced inverters in their ability to perform the same power and voltage-regulation services made possible through advanced inverters.”

Contractors on APS Solar Partner Program include Siemens, SMA-America, SolarEdge and Landis+Gyr.

Videos of the award winners, who were interviewed shortly after they were announced at DistribuTECH, are available at

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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

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