New report explores 10 grid reform concepts, case studies for utilities to consider

utility grid modernization

A frequent topic on this site over the last year is the need for more advanced utility business models and a new report from the Advanced Energy Economy and Rocky Mountain Institute echoes this sentiment, noting that advancing efficient and equitable approaches to update the utility business model is crucial to the grid’s transition to a more secure, clean and affordable customer-centric system.

In identifying, evaluating and encouraging innovation in business models, the report, Navigating Utility Business Model Reform: A Practical Guide to Regulatory Design, offers a menu of regulatory options for policymakers, utilities and electric customers to best support and manage the maturation of a 21st-century grid.

Powerful trends are impacting the contours of the electric system, including growing policy demands for improved environmental performance, the increasingly widespread availability of distributed energy resources like rooftop solar and storage, more customer demand for energy choice and the need for strengthened resilience in the face of more extreme weather across the country. Navigating Utility Business Model Reform offers electricity system leaders and stakeholders 10 reform options to best respond to these pressures and support policy and regulatory decision-making.

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“The grid is experiencing rapid changes in its shift to a 21st-century system, and electric utilities have a fundamental role to play in ensuring this transition strengthens resilience, improves environmental performance and protects the interests of customers while maintaining essential features of affordability and reliability,” Dan Cross-Call, a manager at RMI and one of the report’s authors, said. “This report offers a practical guide to industry leaders—regulators, utilities, grid operators, policymakers and policy influencers—on how to best engage with an increasingly decarbonized and distributed energy system, shepherding and managing this transition to maintain the fundamental role of utilities and achieve new policy objectives.”

The 10 reform options the report examines include revenue decoupling, platform revenues, performance-incentive mechanisms and multiyear rate plans, among others. In addition to Navigating Utility Business Model Reform, the three groups released a set of case studies providing current examples of utility business model reforms and the regulatory constructs that make them work.

The five case studies examine:

• Oklahoma’s Energy Efficiency Incentives—How Public Service Co. of Oklahoma and Oklahoma Gas & Electric are responding to shared savings and lost revenue adjustment mechanisms intended to remove the utilities’ financial disincentive to maximize customer energy efficiency opportunities.

• Maryland’s Behavioral Demand Response Program—How Baltimore Gas & Electric (BGE) lowered summertime demand driven by air-conditioning use through customer rebates for reducing consumption during peak-demand days, with BGE able to sell the energy and peak-demand reductions directly into the PJM wholesale market.

• Regulatory Accounting of Cloud Computing—How Illinois and New York are trying to level the playing field for service-based alternatives to traditional capital investments through the regulatory accounting treatment of software-as-a-service.

• Brooklyn Queens Demand Management Program—How Con Edison is deferring distribution infrastructure upgrades in an area of rising demand by deploying nontraditional methods of customer- and utility-side demand reduction, with the utility rewarded with performance incentives and accelerated depreciation.

• United Kingdom’s RIIO Performance-Based Framework for Driving Innovation and Delivering Value—How the UK’s Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) created RIIO (Revenue = Incentives + Innovation + Outputs), the most comprehensive performance-based regulatory system yet developed to reflect changing market conditions. RIIO allows utilities to take advantage of the growing service economy and rewards utilities for achieving desired outcomes.

“With so many utilities launching new grid modernization initiatives, now is the time to address utility regulation and business model shortcomings. Energy is now extremely cheap if solar and wind power are the backbone of our electricity system,” said Mike O’Boyle, director of America’s Power Plan. “To succeed, utilities must be intrinsically motivated to invest in modern technologies that make the grid more efficient, flexible, affordable and resilient. Navigating Utility Business Model Reformis a toolbox for policymakers, utilities and key stakeholders to do just that.”

— Solar Builder magazine

Internet of Energy update: Google, Stanford, SunTech to collaborate on new DER, customer load controllers

internet of energy

I assume this is what it looks like.

SunTech Drive is part of a new collaboration with both Stanford University and Google that is tied to the Department of Energy’s NODES (Networks of Distributed Energy Systems) initiative. The objective is to coordinate and control consumer loads and distributed energy resources (DERs) out to the absolute edge of the grid. SunTech Drive’s Pico family of universal variable speed motor controllers will be the end nodes driving each of the individual loads, upgrading installed systems to “smart” loads.

“I am glad that SunTech Drive joined Stanford University and Google in this DOE funded initiative to advance the state of the art in the area of distributed energy systems. The envisioned technology could revolutionize the IoT control in the domain of electric motors, by enabling a bi-directional, cloud-based communication and control for a wide variety of residential and industrial loads,” said Ana Radovanovic, Research Scientist at Google.

RELATED: Six solar industry storylines to watch from Solar Power International 2018

SunTech’s products offer full Internet-of-Things and solar ready variable frequency drives that will work with any electric motor regardless of voltage, frequency or phase. These universal motor con-trollers also support multiple analog and digital sensors making every motor an intelligent distributed energy end node. These products are deployed around the globe in applications including livestock cooling, water pumping and oil and gas installations.

“We are very excited to be partnering with SunTech Drive to develop the higher level software ar-chitectures that will leverage their Pico controller architecture at the end node,” said Ram Rajagopal, associate professor at Stanford University.

The project will also involve developing mechanisms for electric utilities to interact with individual loads using metadata schemas for both demand reduction and diversion load control.

“We are very excited to be partnering with such notable partners on a project with vast implications for the future of the grid,” said John LoPorto, Chief Executive Officer of SunTech Drive.

— Solar Builder magazine

Five ways to modernize the U.S. electric power grid via Advanced Energy Economy

Advanced Energy Economy

Advanced Energy Economy (AEE) and Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions Forum (CRES Forum) released a policy paper outlining five recommendations to modernize the U.S. electric power grid. By unleashing advanced energy investment, encouraging innovation in the electricity sector, and providing more affordable energy options for all consumers, there are opportunities for Congress to expand our economy and invest in new energy resources. AEE and CRES Forum offer these recommendations for consideration in an effort to accomplish key eco-nomic and energy goals for the U.S.

The five recommendations embrace different technologies and innovations while also moving toward a more clean, secure, and affordable grid. These ideas include:

• Streamline Federal Permitting for Advanced Energy Projects
• Encourage Grid Planners to Consider Alternatives to Transmission Investment
• Allow Energy Storage and Energy Efficiency to Compete with Additional Generation
• Allow Large Customers to Choose their Electricity Sources
• Allow Utilities and Consumers to Benefit from Cloud Computing Software

RELATED: How a transparent, modern grid properly values solar, DER

“We see several ways Congress can drive market-based solutions that will drive investment and innovation in the economy while bringing affordable energy options to all Americans,” said Dylan Reed, Head of Congressional Affairs for Advanced Energy Economy. “Advanced energy already represents a major part of our economy as a $200 billion industry supporting more than 3 million jobs across the United States. These ideas can help drive even more economic and job growth while saving consumers money to put back into their wallets.”

”CRES supports an all-of-the-above strategy when it comes to energy. We believe that these market-based solutions offer an opportunity for all Americans to benefit from clean energy tech-nology and policies designed to encourage energy innovation, energy efficiency, and energy stor-age,” said CRES Forum Director of Policy and Advocacy Charles Hernick. “Our hope is that this guide provides energizing ideas for clean energy advocates, thought leaders, legislators, and think tanks alike. We see the value for consumers, businesses, and governments to engage in thoughtful discussion around these topics. These grid modernization strategies can make a differ-ence for years to come by providing affordable, reliable, secure, and clean energy solutions and advancing America’s energy economy.”

The opportunity for increased modernization across every state leads to lower energy costs and increased choice for consumers, while spurring investment and job creation for all advanced en-ergy resources across communities nationwide.

— Solar Builder magazine

How a Virginia Tech researcher plans to use smart inverters to change the grid

grid probe smart inverters

The U.S. power grid, after faithfully delivering electricity to our neighborhoods for generations, is facing significant changes to how it operates — thanks to solar installations, wind farms, new energy storage systems and electric vehicles. As utilities meet the challenges of incorporating distributed energy sources on the low- and medium-voltage grids, however, they are hindered by incomplete knowledge.

“Limited instrumentation and their sheer size has kept a full picture of distribution grids out of focus,” said Vassilis Kekatos, an assistant professor in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Kekatos and his team hit upon a novel technique called grid probing to generate the information needed about what is often called the world’s largest machine. Their pioneering process engages smart inverters — devices that convert the direct current output of renewable sources into the alternating current used by consumers — outside their intended function.

For this effort, Kekatos, who specializes in power systems and smart grids, was awarded the National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award.

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The state of the grid

Today’s residential electricity networks are sprawling configurations and reconfigurations of decades-old infrastructure strung through a patchwork of smart updates. A utility company may own 3,000 feeders, each of which transfers power from substations to thousands of nodes. Half of those nodes may be outfitted with smart meters, but those are only sampled hourly.

To accomplish any meaningful grid-wide optimization, we need to know the power consumed or generated at every node, the line and transformer parameters, and the grid layout — all in real time, said Kekatos.
“Utility companies do not have information this detailed,” he said. “But we must acquire it to bring about the smart grids of the future.”

Grid probing explained

Kekatos plans to close the information gap with an original and potentially transformative solution he calls grid probing.

“Grid probing casts smart inverters in a second role,” explained Kekatos. “This is in addition to their standard conversion and control functionality.”

Smart inverters are found in solar panels, energy storage devices, and electric vehicles and come with unprecedented capabilities in sensing, actuation, and communication. Kekatos wants to use them for learning tasks as well. He plans to direct smart inverters to inject a short burst of power through the grid, eliciting additional grid readings at the inverter meter. By comparing “probed” voltage responses with baseline voltages, he expects to discover non-metered loads and unknown network parameters.

The power injections will be minimally invasive, causing no harm, but could yield significant information for understanding the nonlinear behavior of power grids.

Kekatos and his team will combine data from the grid probing with data from existing smart metering and grid sensing. Coupling power system modeling with data analytics, they plan to map the connectivity and line parameters of the distribution networks.

Outreach and education

All CAREER awards have an educational component and Kekatos has designed an integrated approach. Undergraduate students are actively involved in this research via grid visualization and cross-validation tasks. The students will also work with graduate students in testing and cross-validating grid learning schemes.
Kekatos has designed a new graduate-level course on power distribution systems with emphasis on multi-phase analysis, optimization, and learning.

— Solar Builder magazine

NREL asks: What’s the state of EV infrastructure in the U.S.?

EV charging stations

A new study from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) quantifies how much charging infrastructure would be needed in the United States to support various market growth scenarios for plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs).

Sales of PEVs—which include plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and all-electric vehicles (EVs)—have surged recently. Most PEV charging occurs at home, but widespread PEV adoption would require the development of a national network of non-residential charging stations. Strategically installing these stations early would maximize their economic viability while enabling efficient network growth as the PEV market matures.

“The potential number, capacity, and location of charging stations needed to enable broad PEV adoption over the coming decades hinge on a variety of variables,” said Eric Wood, lead author of the National Plug-In Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Analysis. “NREL’s analysis shows what effective co-evolution of the PEV fleet and charging infrastructure might look like under a range of scenarios.”

NREL analyzed PEV charging requirements within urban and rural communities and along interstate corridors. For each type of area considered, NREL examined the station coverage needed by early-market PEVs and the station capacity required to satisfy potentially high future demand for electric charging.

The results suggest…

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…that a few hundred corridor fast-charging stations could enable long-distance EV travel between U.S. cities. Although many of these early-market stations could be underutilized at first, NREL’s analysis of driving patterns and vehicle characteristics suggests how corridors could be prioritized and station spacing set to enhance station utility and economics.

Compared to interstate corridors, urban and rural communities are expected to have significantly larger charging infrastructure needs. About 8,000 fast-charging stations would be needed to provide a minimum level of urban and rural coverage nationwide. In a PEV market with 15 million vehicles, the total number of non-residential charging outlets or “plugs” needed to meet urban and rural demand ranges from around 100,000 to more than 1.2 million. Understanding what drives this large range in capacity is critical. For example, whether consumers prefer long-range or short-range PEVs has a larger effect on plug needs than does the total number of PEVs on the road. The relative success of PHEVs versus EVs also has a major impact, as does the number of PHEVs that charge away from home.

“This study shows how important it is to understand consumer preferences and driving behaviors when planning charging networks,” said Chris Gearhart, director of NREL’s Transportation and Hydrogen Systems Center.
This work was funded by the Vehicle Technologies Office in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

— Solar Builder magazine