EYE ON THE GRID BLOG

Archive for '2013'

    Electric car driver arrested for stealing 5 cents of electricity

    December 4, 2013 4:32 PM by Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power
    Just the other day, I saw my first Tesla Motors all-electric vehicle driving near our offices here in Tulsa, Oklahoma. With more and more electric vehicles taking to the streets — even in this former oil capital — the way people think about electricity could be set for some big changes.

    Take this news story from Georgia as an exhibit A on what I mean.

    Electric car owner Kaveh Kamooneh was arrested at his home after police filed a report on a complaint of stealing what amounts to 5 cents worth of electric power that he used to recharge his vehicle, according to reports.

    While picking up his 11-year-old son from a Saturday tennis game at Chamblee Middle School in Chamblee, Georgia, Kamooneh plugged his car into an exterior power outlet of a school building. The electric car, a Nissan Leaf, had been plugged in about 20 minutes, which was estimated to be enough time to absorb about $.05 worth of power.

    Moments later, a Chamblee police officer told Kamooneh that he would be written up on the spot for electricity theft.

    About 11 days after the officer wrote him up — and after the department confirmed he hadn't asked anyone's permission — a pair of deputies arrested Kamooneh at his home. According to public records, he spent some 15 hours in the county jail before his release.

    Chamblee police, perhaps feeling a little defensive for throwing someone in jail over a nickel's worth of juice, told media outlets that a crime is a crime, and stealing is still against the law.

    The first thing I thought after reading this story was you probably wouldn't see something like this happen in a northern state like, say, Minnesota. People there are much more used to having to plug their cars in there, albeit for a different reason.

    In interviews, Kamooneh compared his "offense" with sipping water from a public water fountain. Granted, a drinking fountain is only meant for sipping from — but how about people who fill up their mugs or water bottles? Maybe they're taking more than the property owners meant. How many cents could it cost to fill an empty bottle?

    If you want to compare apples to apples, just consider other, smaller battery-powered devices. People often top off their laptop or smartphone batteries at electric outlets that they don't pay the bills for. In fact, some venues and businesses provide charging kiosks for customers just as a service. The only difference is size, and an electric car is obviously bigger and more power-hungry than an iPhone.

    Drivers are adopting electric vehicles slowly but steadily — and they're doing so despite the fact that in many places the charging infrastructure is not yet there. A situation like the one in Georgia illustrates this problem perfectly, and it makes you wonder. How understanding are people going to be toward those who leave gasoline behind and fuel their commutes and trips with electricity?

    Will people figure a few cents is just a few cents, or will people start to get more territorial about their power? I think in a lot of cases, electric vehicle owners will look out for one another while on the go, but what about those who aren't early adopters?

    Kamooneh's unfortunate run-in with the Chamblee police is an extreme case, sure. But I'd be willing to be we will see more stories like this. Business owners and property managers could be set for clashes with power-seeking EV drivers — at least until we establish some electric vehicle etiquette for better relations between EV drivers and everybody else.



    Where natural gas and power transmission intersect

    November 6, 2013 8:55 AM by Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power
    By Teresa Hansen
    Editor-in-Chief

    I recently attended a conference in Washington, D.C. called TransForum East. It was organized by PennWell through one of its latest acquisitions, TransmissionHub, a research, analysis and news portal. As the name implies, the conference deals with electricity transmission , but this year the low price of natural gas and how it is affecting the electric power sector was a hot topic.

    Kent Knutson, TransmissionHub 's director of data strategy and content, said transmission investment in the U.S. is growing. During the first nine months of 2013, nearly $6.7 billion was invested in transmission projects, up considerably from the $5.6 billion spent in all of last year.

    Knutson expects continued growth through 2015. Most activity is in 345 kV projects being driven by Texas competitive renewable energy zone (CREZ) and Western Interconnection projects. A fair amount of activity is also occurring in the Midwest and PJM independent system operators and the Northeast Power Coordinating Council territories.

    As in other areas of the electric power industry, uncertainty is prevalent in the transmission sector. Changing technologies, cyber and physical security threats, regulations, siting issues and customer expectations are to blame for much of that uncertainty.

    Cheap gas becomes a transmission driver

    The changing power generation mix, however, is perhaps the biggest culprit. Electricity generated by wind and solar energy is rapidly being added into the mix. Coal plants are being retired because they can't meet EPA regulations. Cheap natural gas is resulting in a build-out of new gas-fired combined-cycle generation to replace retired coal plants and back up intermittent renewable energy.

    New transmission is needed to connect renewable energy with load centers, plus load forecasting and balancing technologies must be added to manage this intermittent supply. New gas-fired generation being built in areas with inadequate transmission capacity is also driving new transmission construction. In addition, in some areas, especially the northeast, gas-fired plants are being built in areas with constrained gas pipeline capacity.

    Transmission operators are concerned that these plants, which they count on for supply, could fall off the grid if pipeline capacity is used for other demands such as home heating. Because many new gas-fired plants are owned by independent investors and merchant generators, differing opinions and uncertainty exist about who will pay for needed electric transmission infrastructure as well as gas pipeline infrastructure.

    Will FERC address uncertainty?

    Many look to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for clarity on these issues. FERC Commissioner Philip Moeller, who spoke at TransForum, acknowledged that transmission owners and operators face many hurdles. Moeller said FERC knows the lack of a federal policy allowing transmission owners to build across state lines is a problem, but he doesn't foresee a federal law changing siting issues for interstate transmission lines in the near term.

    He also said that uncertainty surrounding return on equity (ROE) exists. He said FERC has created much of this uncertainty, but his only words of encouragement came when he said ROE is a "live" issue for FERC.

    Low- to moderate-priced natural gas, which Moeller said will stick around for some time, will continue to drive gas-fired generation and transmission growth. Better coordination between gas suppliers and electricity generators must be addressed, he said.

    Longer-term issues, he said, such as who pays for the gas infrastructure to secure supply to generators, are more vexing. A big part of the solution involves the two industries learning more about how the other one works, he said.

    Even with the uncertainty, Moeller said he is "bullish" on transmission and "it's an exciting time" in the transmission industry. "If the issues were easy, someone else would have already solved them. You need to stay active and involved," he said.

    A harder, better, faster, stronger smart grid

    October 4, 2013 2:09 PM by Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power
    By Andy Bennett,
    Senior vice president of infrastructure at Schneider Electric

    The Obama administration recently published a report that calls for increased spending on the nation's electric power system to increase power grid resilience. The report highlights the enormous economic risks that come with not addressing grid resilience, as power outages cost the economy billions of dollars per year and disrupt the lives of millions of Americans.

    Severe weather is the No. 1 cause of power outages in the U.S. and also costs the economy billions of dollars per year in lost output and wages, spoiled inventory, delayed production, inconvenience and damage to grid infrastructure. The report estimates the average annual cost of power outages caused by severe weather to be between $18 billion and $33 billion per year. In a year of record-breaking storms, the costs can run much higher.

    Creating a resilient electric grid is critical to reducing our nation's vulnerability to severe weather. Furthermore, as highlighted in the report, smart grid technology designed to increase resilience can improve the overall effectiveness of grid operations leading to great efficiencies in energy use and reduction in carbon emissions. As utilities look to modernize the grid, they not only have the opportunity to improve storm resiliency, drive greater energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions, but also to support the integration of renewable energy .

    In my experience as senior vice president of infrastructure at Schneider Electric , investing in resiliency doesn't have to be at the expense of efficiency or vice versa. Instead, savings from efficiency can actually help fund investments in resiliency. Furthermore, some activities actually increase resiliency and efficiency at the same time.

    Examples include leveraging microgrids to smooth out the intermittency of renewable generation, allowing less efficient generators to shut down; or real-time analysis of power grids to determine optimal configuration to minimize electrical losses.

    To move towards a more modernized grid and in turn reduce distribution network performance, investment should be made to replace aging infrastructure. As the demand for higher quality power increases, the evolving grid of the future will likely be upgraded to include self-healing capabilities designed to minimize outages from disasters and other natural events. In the near future, we foresee a movement toward multi-user, multi-site microgrids that will create an environment for a stronger and more self-sufficient power system.

    In our view, modernizing the electric grid is the foundation for creating smarter, more resilient data centers, homes, buildings, cities and communities. Collaboration across all levels of government and the private sector will be key to enabling the development of the smart grid and ultimately to creating a more sustainable, resilient, energy efficient country.

    Moody's puts Energy Future Holdings on bankruptcy watch

    September 9, 2013 2:46 PM by Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power
    Moody's Investors Service, one of the Big Three credit rating agencies, has given Energy Futures Holdings Corp. until the end of the year before the energy company declares for bankruptcy protection and restructures itself.

    In an analysis of its own call, Moody's says this would be one of the top 10 largest non-financial corporate bankruptcies in the U.S. since the 1980s. In terms of debt, it could be one of the biggest of all time, ranking with Enron, WorldCom, General Motors and Chrysler. The holding company reportedly has more than $41 billion in debt.

    The electric utility company's assets include a power generation portfolio that consists mostly of nuclear energy and coal-fired power (through Luminant), a power transmission business (through Oncor Electric Delivery) and a retail power provider (through TXU Energy).

    The company was bought out in 2007 in what was at the time one of the largest leveraged buy-outs in history when a group of Wall Streeters (including Goldman Sachs, KKR and TPG Capital) paid $45 billion for what was then known as TXU Energy.

    The idea was that even though the private equity firms that bought up TXU would be taking on a significant amount of debt, the notoriously unstable price of natural gas would surely soon peak, helping the financiers turn a profit. As we now know, this hoped-for spike did not occur, and instead we saw sustained record-low prices for natural gas. The gamble also anticipated that coal-fired electricity would remain inexpensive and high-profit. Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20.

    Energy Future Holdings has been carrying a large amount of debt for some time now, leading analysts to speculate about its future. Moody's downgraded the company's credit rating from Caa1 to B3 in August 2013.

    From the end-user's perspective, should the worst happen for EFH, the power will continue to flow because of a survival blueprint already plotted out back in April 2013. One potential bankruptcy restructuring plan would forgive billions in debt owned by Luminant in exchange for a large share of the company. The investors, in this scenario, would get the short end of the stick — an estimated return of 50 percent or less. However, subsidiaries like Oncor and Luminant could be preserved.

    You can read more about that debt restructuring plan in this story .

    China thinks big on power generation, delivery

    August 30, 2013 9:29 AM by Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power
    The world's second-biggest economy, China, is setting its sights on a massive expansion of its electric power sector. The country is growing increasingly energy hungry as its already massive manufacturing sector expands — and the smog haze around populated areas grow indisputably denser.

    Some power sector expansion scenarios laid out by Bloomberg New Energy Finance could address both power reliability and environmental concerns, however at least one scenario would require 88 GW in new power generation capacity every year from now until 2030.

    That would mean a build-out equal to the entire generation capacity of the United Kingdom every single year. Still, if any country can accomplish this, it's probably China .

    China, which by the way is already the world's largest single source of carbon dioxide emissions and the most powerful generator of electric power in the world, could add more than 1,500 GW of new power generation in the next two decades, according to Bloomberg's surveys.

    In a scenario called "The New Normal," a reasonably progressive yet still conservative estimate of what China might do with its energy sector, this would require an investment just shy of $4 trillion.

    At the same time, though, cuts in overall emissions could still be achieved as soon as 2027 through the adoption and integration of more renewable energy capacity and the phase-out of coal-fired power. Large hydropower would constitute more than half of new capacity. China is already home to the world's biggest and most powerful hydropower projects, and even more are being planned.

    The New Normal plan also calls for an expansion of China's natural gas-fired fleet that would push down coal-fired generation from 67 percent of China's energy mix to 44 percent by 2030. Coal-fired power would still expand in this scenario by nearly 40 GW per year, it should be noted.

    Separate from this planned massive power generation build-out, another way China is thinking big is its anticipated $100 billion investment in ultra high-voltage transmission lines (Read more about that here ). The State Grid Corp. of China, which according to some estimates is the world's biggest utility, has either approved or is already building 20 such transmission projects.

    These 20 high-voltage lines will form a massive network that will link up the densely populated and heavily industrialized southern and eastern parts of China with the west, where the country's hydropower potential is already better realized than just about anywhere else in the Eastern Hemisphere. China has already built the world's most massive and powerful dams in its eastern provinces, including Three Gorges, which at 22,500 MW generates as much electricity as 15 nuclear power plants.

    Linking up the country's east and west with high-voltage power transmission is a smart way for China to make effective use of low- or no-carbon generation. Over the long term, this will help China's overall power portfolio become less polluting. Focusing on a well-built power grid with plenty of storm-hardening countermeasures and redundancies will prevent a scenario like we see in Brazil, which also uses massive dams to power far-flung population centers, but which suffers from regular outages when transmission lines are damaged or cut off.

    As I write this, Brazilian authorities are working to restore power to eight states and tens of millions of people because a fire in northeast Brazil damaged transmission lines that link huge hydro assets from cities (See that story here ). As China grows, it would do well to keep an eye on Brazil and remember what happens when you build out your cities and power plants, but neglect your transmission infrastructure.

    Connecting BEMS in smart buildings to smart grid

    August 15, 2013 10:07 AM by Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power
    By Allan McHale, Memoori Business Intelligence

    Just look down a listing of enterprise energy management suppliers and you will find a mixture of some of the world's leading IT organizations and start-up software companies fighting hard to get established in this burgeoning market.

    The two major prongs of this business lie in making smart buildings much smarter and the smart grid fully ADR right across the transmission and distribution network by providing a real-time analysis of supply and demand. These two markets alone have the potential to spend upwards of $225 billion by 2030 with smart buildings looking the more attractive and robust business. Installing smart grid is highly dependent upon changes to the regulatory control procedures and the utility companies finding the $2 trillion investment needed to deliver a fully operational smart grid around the world.


    In the meantime, the utilities are coming under increasing pressure to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and are being forced to phase out their fossil fueled generating plants. In the U.S. particularly, they are encouraging their major consumers, coincidentally smart building owners, to join demand response programs and are entering arrangements to take their distributed power.

    This provides a ready an fast-growing market for all those companies that have the software products and skills to interface buinding energy management systems (BEMS) in smart buildings to deliver demand response and distributed energy. This is therefore becoming a niche market, not least because we can't wait for ADR to produce a fully operational smart grid.

    This market is currently worth around $350 million but the technical market potential to retrofit these two functionalities to smart buildings has a potential value of $30 billion and we forecast it should reach $2.65 billion by 2017. This is therefore a sizable business, but it is made much more attractive by the fact that by far the biggest component is the unrealized potential in existing smart building stock. It may be a smaller market, but it delivers a solution to a problem that must be solved — it can't wait for smart grid to be in place or smart buildings to incorporate a comprehensive enterprise energy management.

    So for all of the budding energy management suppliers, that's the good news. The bad news is that there are some other suppliers out there that are hungry for this business. These are BEMS suppliers and energy service companies (ESCOs). Although not particularly well-known for their energy management prowess, they have been acquiring companies with this expertise for the past half-decade. These companies include Johnson Controls, Honeywell, Schneider Electric, Siemens and ABB. They are the world's leading suppliers and the last four are also leading suppliers of smart grid products and services.

    This puts them in a very strong position for two reasons:
    • They are in daily contact with the owners of smart buildings who are existing clients both through installing their BEMS and also taking their ESCO service. This gives them a massive heritage estate to work with.
    • They have the practical ability to bring all the various electrical loads in the building together and not all are being controlled through BEMS. Both are important factors that will influence buying decisions.
    Despite their strong potential hold on this market, energy management suppliers have an important role to play. This is likely to be unrealized unless they form alliances with BEMS and ESCO companies or their system integrators. This is particularly true for smaller energy management companies where they will need to target priority markets. This is a fragmented market with hundreds of thousands of smart buildings and identifying the buying influence will not be an easy task.

    It is a different matter for major energy management companies because most of their clients will be owners of large smart building real estates and they will have contact with sources that will influence buying decisions on energy management purchases. These companies will be targeting comprehensive energy management systems in smart buildings. However even here, the interest in forming partnerships with the major BEMS companies.

    Schneider Electric has just signed a strategic technology agreement with one of the world's major software companies, OSIsoft. OSIsoft will provide their PI System, a leading infrastructure technology for the management of real-time data and events while Schneider Electric, a global specialist in energy management, will provide innovative energy management solutions.

    Connecting BEMS in smart buildings to smart grid to deliver demand response is a niche market that is needed now. It could be provided through smart buildings installing comprehensive energy management or waiting 10 to 20 years before ADR is operational within smart grid in the developed countries of the world.

    The cost of installing it is less than 1 percent of the investment needed to deliver smart grid. The return on investment is attractive and it reduces the carbon dioxide emissions and gets the utilities companies out of a hole.

    U.S. wind takes off

    August 6, 2013 1:33 PM by Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power
    The U.S. wind energy industry is continuing to pay off for those who have invested in it, both in terms of power generated as well as manufacturing and jobs. This is according to a pair of studies the DOE has made public.

    More than 13 GW of wind energy capacity was added onto the U.S. grid last year. That's double what was added the year before. To boot, more of these wind turbines and their parts (towers, nacelles, blades, gearboxes, etc.) are being built in the U.S.

    The DOE estimated that 72 percent of the wind turbine equipment used in the U.S. was  manufactured domestically — up from about 25 percent in 2007.

    Crucially, the report also reveals that the American wind energy sector now employs some 80,000 people who work at all levels — from building wind turbine blades to installing nacelles or performing needed wind farm maintenance.

    Other factoids from the report that I thought were worth noting:
    • Texas added 1,300 MW of new wind capacity last year, beating out California, an early adopter of the technology and home to some of the nation's oldest wind farms
    • The country's cumulative installed wind capacity has jumped 22-fold since the turn of the century
    • There are three states that get more than 20 percent of their power from the winds: Iowa, South Dakota and Kansas
    • The price of a kilowatt hour of wind energy ran about 4 cents from 2011 to 2012
    • There are now 69,000 distributed wind turbines operating in all 50 states
    Even though 2012 is the most recent year for which such detailed figures exist, some of this information has trickled out before I wrote this. But the reason I wanted to write about these reports  even though the information in them isn't that new is because I get the feeling that the new reality reflected here hasn't sunk in yet for many. I still hear people talking about how wind energy is a flash in the pan or an unrealistic dream, and at this point I don't know how that still gets repeated.

    There was a time to wonder whether wind power could make it as a viable power generation technology. For the U.S., that time has passed. Now the question has become: What is the best way to integrate wind energy onto the power grid without causing too many disturbances due to intermittancy.

    If you want to see how wind farms have spread across the U.S. over the years, the DOE has an interactive map at their website. Click here to see it.

    Are we trying to be too smart about smart metering?

    July 25, 2013 4:22 PM by Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power
    By Craig Edge, chief consulting engineer, Wheatley Associates

    With yet another delay announced in the U.K. government's proposed smart meter implementation plan, the time has come to take stock of the situation, reflect on the rollout and ask the question, "Are we trying to be too smart about smart metering in the U.K.?"

    On May 10, 2013, the U.K.'s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) announced that it was putting back the start of the full-scale U.K. smart meter rollout program by one year to fall 2015 with targeted completion for 50-plus million smart meters in 30-plus homes and businesses by the end of 2020. DECC said the main reason for this delay is to give suppliers more time to create the data communications network that will underpin the rollout.

    There is no denying that the smart metering program has the potential to transform energy management and consumption in the U.K. if all goes to plan. Considerable cost savings are potentially available to suppliers and consumers alike. But are we really being overambitious and biting off more than we can chew?

    It is a colossal undertaking. Although there is nothing wrong with grand plans, the U.K.'s track record on IT projects of this scope and scale is not good. Maybe this further slippage is just symptomatic of trying to implement a program that is both overcomplicated and overcontrolled. When it cones to technology-based projects, how realistic is it to expect the network infrastructure to have an extended life-span of 20 years, as mandated? Is a one-time solution really feasible?

    Here in the U.K., with smart metering intended to cover both gas and power supplies, we have arguably embarked upon one of the most ambitious implementation programs yet conceived. Other countries, by contrast, are focusing solely on strategies for electricity. It also seems something of a paradox that, given the U.K. energy market's recent history of deregulation and competition, smart metering in the U.K. has indirectly led us to seek to develop a highly regulated, centralized communications infrastructure to manage the data and energy management requirements. Communication of data to and from smart meters in the domestic sector will be managed centrally by a new, country-wide function covering both the electricity and gas sectors, known as the central data and communications company.

    As the program generalities give way to the detail of the high-level deliverables, there remain a small but significant number of the technical requirements that still do not have a proven solution on the table. The mechanism to make the smart metering accessible to almost all customers, un a non-discriminatory manner, is still searching for a capable and reliable technology. Rather than criticize the delay, Dr. Martyn Thomas, chairman of the IT policy panel at the Institution of Engineering and Technology, called for the government to take advantage of the time to formalize specifications for the system that are currently only expressed informally, leading to a danger of "inconsistency, ambiguity and contradiction."

    But once specified, what chance is there that it will still be fit for purpose in twenty years, as required? Surely flexibility and openness to technology advances will be essential for ongoing success? Just look at the development of the mobile telecommunications industry as a comparative example.

    The wireless nature of the proposed communications network needed to underpin the smart metering program also opens up a potential strategic vulnerability to the utility system as a whole. Industry commentators are increasingly expressing concern that this is not being properly addressed. Little consideration has apparently been given to how the proposed wireless network might be hacked and the suggestion is that it will be with ease. With the energy supply system until now largely protected by its invisibility, suddenly there will be a proliferation of potential access and consequently hacking points. The system compliant smart meters currently available are also coming in for criticism for their apparent lack of security.

    Certainly, the objectives of reducing carbon dioxide output, improving competitiveness in the energy sector and increasing energy security are as laudable today as when the government first mandated the installation of smart meters by October 2008. But, nearly five years on, it is hard to argue that anything has yet changed for U.K. households or, indeed, that the future holds an abundance of promise.

    There continues to be a distinct lack of public understanding about the smart metering proposals. Skepticism, disinterest and a simple lack of knowledge abound and rather than seeking to effect a substantial shift in attitudes, many of the key benefits messages are seemingly being diluted. Many of the benefits expounded on government and quasi-government websites seem alarmingly unambitious for the estimated program cost of $18 billion, a cost that is bound to rise. If you want to be super critical, many of the benefits that smart metering will deliver could be achieved at a fraction of the cost through the installation of simple prepayment meters!

    Nevertheless, smart metering is undoubtedly the way forward. Constantly reviewing the project and slipping the timetable is no bad thing if it ensures that we get it right. But there remains an open question for us all: Should there be a broader and deeper review of the current approach? Having flirted with revolution, and probably rightly so, perhaps it is time to contemplate switching to a more evolutionary approach.

    Blackouts on the way in Britain?

    July 11, 2013 10:59 AM by Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power
    It's seldom that there's much drama in the energy world, however, in the U.K., a report by that country's government electricity regulator touched off a swarm of responses, defensive statements and condemnations — in short, genuine electricity drama.

    It started with a report from the Office of Gas and Electricity Market (Ofgem ) that warned of power shortages in the coming few years. Since 2012, Ofgem reported in its June 2013 capacity assessment, the risk of blackouts in the U.K. has doubled. Energy margins could shrink to as low as 2 percent in 2015 and 2016, according to Ofgem.

    Ofgem said power outages are by no means guaranteed, but the risk is growing and the government needs to act swiftly to address the problem. Ofgem is calling for more government investment in power generation , as it places the blame for the potential power shortfalls mostly on the power generation sector.

    Some factors that could increase the risk of power interruptions include a particularly cold winter or a higher than expected level of industrial activity.

    Also at issue is the size and speed of Britain's decarbonization efforts. To comply with E.U. carbon-cutting goals, the U.K. is shutting down coal-fired power plants.

    Some numbers: Since last year, more than 2 GW in installed capacity has gone offline in the U.K., and further shut-offs and retirements are expected. The economic situation in Britain and the E.U. is making new investment in new generation sources difficult. No new power plants are expected to be built until 2016.

    The same economic downturn that is making power plants difficult to build is also making power plants less necessary — because of the downturn and investments in energy efficiency, peak demand has fallen an estimated 5 GW.

    With such few new power sources in the pipeline, Ofgem is working with transmission authority National Grid and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to come up with ways to depress demand. National Grid has a scenario that anticipates power demand to fall an additional 3 to 4 GW by the end of the decade in part due to demand-side management.

    This puts the U.K. government in the awkward position of having to root against an economic recovery. Because if factories start humming again, the country's power grid and its generation capacity will be that much more strained.

    In 2008, the U.K. set its own greenhouse gas emissions limits and agreed to cut emissions by 80 percent by 2050. The U.K. is also a signatory to the E.U.'s 20/20/20 plan, which calls for a 20 percent reduction in E.U. greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels.

    This month, members of Parliament debated the creation of quantitative targets for cutting carbon in the energy sector, effectively speeding up the country's decarbonization process. The proposal (an amendment to a wider energy policy reform bill) was struck down following a close vote, pushing energy policy into the headlines of U.K. news outlets.

    Given the country's shrinking energy margins, rapidly approaching decarbonization goals, aging power generation fleet and the looming threat of power outages hanging over it all, the U.K. has some serious thinking to do on energy policy.

    The country cannot expect to shut down multiple gigawatts of coal power and just expect the lights to stay on without a plan to maintain reliability. It's one thing to sign on to carbon-cutting treaties, but actually making a low-carbon power grid work is a more difficult trick.

    An energy reform bill has passed through Parliament's lower house and is now being debated in the House of Lords. One hopes the debate will not have to be carried out by candlelight.

    One thing liberals and conservatives agree on

    June 25, 2013 2:39 PM by Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power
    We're often told how far apart the red states and blue states are. Aside from the obvious stalemates and squabbles in Washington, conservative and liberal Americans watch different TV shows, eat different foods, drive different cars and listen to different music. But there is one thing lefties and right-wingers seem to agree on: Using less energy is a good thing.

    Because when you inform an American about exactly how much energy they are consuming, it doesn't matter whether they voted for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. Either way, they want to use less electricity.

    Given the news stories about compact fluorescents vs. incandescent light bulbs or hybrid cars vs. sport utility vehicles, this might come as a surprise. However the evidence — as gathered by Opower — backs it up.



    The survey examined the energy use habits of customers across party lines (conservative, liberal and unaffiliated) from several regions of the country. The differences between political ideologies and geographical locations were quite close. All saved energy, and it didn't much matter how they were affiliated politically.

    In the Mountain West region, liberals saved a little more than others, but only by a single percentage point. In the Northeast and Southeast, conservatives saved a little more than the liberals or the unaffiliated. So, in the end, people will save energy when they participate in programs that inform them of their electricity use, but the exact percentages can vary a bit from place to place.

    There is, however, a "backfire" effect the surveyors noticed that is exclusive to conservative users. It seems that when a customer learns they are using less energy than average, the liberal-minded customer will continue doing what they are doing. The conservative-leaning one, however, will sometimes increase their energy use — perhaps feeling they're off the hook. This behavior was not observed in liberals or the unaffiliated.

    The reason for this backfire effect was not fully explained by the analysis, but it appears that providing detailed information on energy use to customers who are already energy efficient is still well worth it. The more information people have, the more behavioral changes they will make in the interest of using less energy.

    When it comes to trying to encourage customers to make positive behavioral changes on energy use, tech firms and energy companies can leave politics out of the equation. This is good news because making human beings of any ideological bent change their behaviors is already difficult enough.

    Speeding up solar power

    June 19, 2013 3:59 PM by Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power

    Many renewable energy projects, once a site is found and construction begins, deal with a lot of land, a lot of labor and a lot of building materials and equipment. Imagine an entire range of rolling hills that slowly becomes a wind farm , or an empty expanse of desert badlands gradually filling up with row upon row of 10,000 or more photovoltaic panels. The finished product can be a majestic sight, sure, but before the control room fires up and power starts flowing onto the grid, there's still the matter of all that construction that has to happen first.

    Companies that can cost-effectively speed up this process while still producing a reliable and long-lasting product could probably clean up with the renewable energy market performing as strongly as it is right now.

    A colleague of mine, James Montgomery of RenewableEnergyWorld.com introduced me to Alion Energy (pronounced like the words "a" and "lion"). This company's process builds solar photovoltaic panels into a sort of ramp structure that uses fewer materials to put together than other methods, and the entire process is done with robots.

    And why not use robots? Similar processes using robots are already used to lay traintracks or build sidewalks. Alion's president and CEO Mark Kingsley is a veteran of ABB's robotics unit, Trina. 


    During construction, the "Rover" installation robot (seen above, courtesy to Alion Energy) travels along a concrete railing built for the project that also serves as the mounting for the solar panels. To begin with, Rover is loaded up with solar panels. Rover fixes the solar panel legs into the concrete railing with a high-strength, high-durability epoxy that is used in bridge construction. The panes and their preattached mountings come next, attached to the legs. With that, the robot moves on to the next solar panel.

    One of the big advantages to this approach is using fewer materials. The concrete that the railings are shaped out of is cheap and can be acquired on a local basis. There's no large panes of glass to worry about transporting, unbroken, to the site. No bulky metal frames or fasteners are needed.

    Labor costs, similarly, can be reduced this way. No trenches have to be dug, no nuts and bolts need tightening. Plus, the robots don't get fatigued by repetitive work in areas where the sun beats down with a lot of heat, either.

    As far as scalability goes, Alion told RenewableEnergyWorld.com that the benefits of the approach only increase when applied to bigger solar projects. Essentially, the bigger the project, the more money can be saved. The railing system can be used in areas with high winds or prone to storms, and in rocky areas or urban brownfields, according to the company.


    With Rover's job done and the solar power feeding onto the power grid, another robot takes over to perform maintenance duties. A smaller robot named "Spot" (above) performs automatic cleaning of the mounted solar panels so dust and dirt do not accumulate and cause a loss of generation efficiency. Spot has his own solar-powered battery and his own solar panel, and when he isn't working, he "lives" near one end of of the concrete rail system before sliding across the panels to perform his duties. Spot can also use a hedge-clipping attachment for vegetation management, where and when it is needed.

    Automated, efficient construction could potentially mean a lot for the renewable energy sector when and where it can be used. Increasing a generation technology's speed-to-market can only make it more attractive to the prospective investor — the people without which a project can't reach fruition.

    How much of a setback is San Onofre's closure?

    June 11, 2013 11:05 AM by Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power
    The word "uncertainty" has become quite a buzzword in business and financial reporting, but it's perhaps nowhere more aptly used than it is when talking about the state of the U.S. nuclear power industry. Uncertainty is the stated reason why Edison International's Southern California Edison decided to permanently retire its already shut down San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS ).

    This uncertainty stems from low natural gas prices, the lingering memory of Fukushima, cheaper alternatives, nervous investors and capital costs that seem to start out high only to be revised higher — as is the case with both the SCANA Corp.'s V.C. Summer Nuclear Station expansion and Southern Co.'s Plant Vogtle expansion.

    The uncertain environment is in no way helped by the spate of awful headlines that is plaguing the industry as of late — everything from cracked equipment and plant closures to the strange case of how two goldfish wound up in a juice pitcher in a restricted area of FirstEnergy 's Perry nuclear plant.

    Headlines such as these (and others, as the parade of bad news for the nuclear industry has been almost too overwhelming to keep track of lately) have a cumulative negative impact on public opinion, and the nuclear sector has always had to be more concerned about public goodwill than most other businesses.

    So call it navel gazing, soul searching or just a much-needed conversation, but people are wondering about the long-term future of this industry. Proponents of nuclear generation are hoping the technology didn't peak in 2001 when it produced more than 20 percent of all power in the U.S., though that figure has since fallen to 19 percent.

    What are the bright spots for nuclear? Well, one advantage that will never go away is the technology's superior carbon emissions profile — namely, it releases none. However, there are alternatives to nuclear that release no pollution, are easier to install, suffer from less of a NIMBY effect and are generally better-liked by the public.

    Another area where nuclear proponents are holding out hope for is small modular reactors. The Department of Energy is backing R&D for SMR technology, and several big-name companies are looking into getting involved or are already involved. The benefit of the SMR is safety and scalability, but developers still need to prove they can get an SMR up and running. The advantages of SMRs don't mean much if they prove every bit as hard to get deployed and operating as conventional reactors are.

    For California, the permanent loss of SONGS' nuclear generation capacity means a less diverse generation portfolio overall, to be sure, however, all is not lost on that score. Around the same time SCE announced they were throwing in the towel on SONGS, the California ISO announced that the Golden State was now capable of producing more than 2 GW of solar energy.

    Normally when nuclear power plants are taken offline, for whatever reason, the only feasible solution is to replace the lost baseload with coal-fired power or natural gas power. California, though, is one of the top 10 economies in the world and in possession of an incredible variety of natural resources and geological variety. The potential for developing geothermal assets, hydropower facilities and solar and wind farms is more promising in California than in many other areas of the world. The state already generates more than 23 percent of its power from renewable sources, including hydropower.

    What California does or doesn't do about its generation mix, though, is cold comfort to the nuclear industry at large. The economics of power generation is changing as fuel prices fluctuate and new regulations kick in. Coal as well as nuclear energy — both proven ways to generate baseload power — are becoming liabilities to their owners instead of assets.

    Given the economics of the situation, it's hard to blame Southern California Edison's for its decision on San Onofre. The plant had become a money pit. However, even now that the decision to close it has been made, the plant itself will continue to cost its owners a significant sum. Safely disassembling the facility will take decades — perhaps even a half century. You have to wonder what things will look like for the American nuclear power industry by the time the plant has been completely taken apart.

    An Oklahoma perspective on deadly tornadoes

    May 21, 2013 3:00 PM by Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power
    Oklahomans have a strange kind of relationship with our surroundings. Many of our cities were put on the map by the oil we discovered in our ground. Before that, the earth dried up and blew away. And at just about every point in our history, we've been living with tornadoes. The word itself is synonymous with the name of our state.

    It must come as a surprise to people who aren't from here when they hear people who have lived through such destructive storms say things like, "It's just part of living here."

    It also surprises me when I'm reminded that people think of Oklahoma City as a hard-luck town, but why wouldn't they? Just about all anyone who isn't from here has heard about our capital in my lifetime has been tragedy on a national scale, whether it has been bombings or lethal storms. In the first Moore tornado of 1999, wind speeds were measured at 312 mph — among the fastest every recorded on the earth. The one that hit Moore last night struck with 600 times the destructive power of the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

    I can assure you, though, that those of us who call this state home don't see things the same way. Every one of us who has lived here for any significant period of time know what it is like to go through a series of storms similar to the ones that came through May 20. As I type this, there's still thunder rumbling over my head, and there will probably be more alerts as the night goes on.


    We know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning. We learned the names of many of the state's smaller towns (like Greasy, Bushyhead and Hogshooter) by watching National Weather Service radar displays on TV. We know where you're supposed to go (basements, interior rooms), and where you're not supposed to go (highway overpasses, near windows) in a tornado. We know all the familiar meteorologist buzzwords, like "rotation," "rain-wrapped" and "straight-line winds." Sometimes we joke about it. Black humor helps take a lot of the pressure off.

    Last year, when a series of earthquakes rumbled through the central and eastern parts of the state, I remember thinking that I didn't have a clue what to do in an earthquake. Had it been a tornado, I'd have immediately known how to respond, but neither me nor anyone in my family had the slightest idea how to handle an earthquake.

    It's because we know what it is like to go through these storms that makes it easier to live here. Not just because we tend to get numb to all the warnings from time to time, but also because storms like the one that hit Moore, a prosperous and populated suburb of Oklahoma City, remind us of how serious these storms can be. They remind us of times when we pulled together to help out others who had to put their towns back together.

    I remember three tornado seasons ago, it was Joplin, Missouri that was forever changed by a tornado. The very next day, there were big trucks in front of my grocery store with people gathering up food to ship across the state line where it was needed. Boxes were set out at my office, and quickly filled with badly needed supplies. Blood drives sprang up everywhere, with hand-painted signs facing busy roadways. On social media, people gave numbers and addresses of where you could donate your money, your goods or your time. When other need help, we step up — because we know what it's like.

    This time around, the people of Missouri will be helping us, I'm sure. As will Texans and Kansans and Arizonans and Californians, New Yorkers and people from around the world. Knowing that others will be there for you when it counts is part of what makes living here such a great thing.

    From Electric Light & Power and POWERGRID International magazines, our thanks go out to the emergency responders who are conducting search and rescue in Oklahoma, as well as to the utility staff and work crews laboring to restore electricity to those who have been cut off by severe weather.

    If you are so inclined, you can offer something to help the relief efforts in Oklahoma, you can donate to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund here .

    Springtime for Tesla

    May 13, 2013 10:50 AM by Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power
    In my past couple blog posts, I've written about the electric car market and inventor Nikola Tesla , but I'd be remiss if I didn't take a moment to talk about Telsa Motors and the very big waves the company has been making lately.

    Tesla is having a very, very good May so far. Stock prices raised eyebrows on Wall Street, the company turned its first profit, and its first quarter sales have exceeded those of luxury competitors Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi.

    The cars are not only seen as high-tech and cool, but increasingly they're also viewed as being a smart buy. Personal finance guru Clark Howard owns a Tesla car (he switched from a Nissan Leaf), and Consumer Reports gave the Tesla Model S a near-perfect score, calling it one of the finest cars made since 2007. To be widely accepted by prospective car buyers, electric cars must be seen as practical and reliable to justify their price tags.

    So while stock prices might go up and down, the embrace of a magazine like Consumer Reports could be invaluable to Tesla — even more meaningful to the accolades given by Automobile Magazine and Motor Trend in 2012.

    By Consumer Reports' math, owning a Tesla is like traveling back to the days when you could buy gas for $1.20 per gallon. The company itself, on its website, touts their vehicle's reasonable cost of ownership. Still, the vehicles themselves remain undeniably expensive (the Model S has a base price of about $62,000), and consumers that don't live in areas with plentiful charging stations still have justifiable concerns about range — even if the cars can take you more than 200 miles per charge, handily beating out other plug-ins that are limited to 75 to 80 miles per charge.

    Elon Musk, Telsa's founder and probably the closest thing the planet has to a real-life Tony Stark (the alter ego of Iron Man), is a tech guy first and foremost. Not only did his space travel company SpaceX become the first privately funded company to send a cargo payload to the International Space Station, but Musk's renewable energy company SolarCity is also projecting growth. Going further back, he became a multimillionaire by selling his start-up company PayPal to online auction site EBay for $1.5 billion.

    Given that Musk has sold his ideas at top dollar before, there have been rumblings that he might sell off Tesla to a cash-rich, tech-savvy company looking to get into the electric vehicle industry — perhaps even Apple, Inc. Musk, however, says he began Tesla with the goal of mass-marketing an electric car that is affordable. He adds that he will not step away from Tesla until this goal is reached.

    What could be limiting factors in Tesla's rise? The loss of government subsidies is one and manufacturing capacity is another. Tesla benefits from manufacturing credits (state and federal) that give breaks to manufacturers of vehicles that produce zero emissions. Should these subsidies and tax breaks be cut or eliminated, Tesla's bottom line would suffer, and the now-soaring stock prices that were fueled by said profitability would likely fall as well.

    Furthermore, there's the potential problem of production constraints. According to reports, Tesla is capable of rolling out about 400 cars per week. At this rate, demand is likely to outstrip supply. Now, this might actually be good for a company that markets its products as "cool" and "exclusive," but I don't think Musk has any interest in building EVs just for the super-rich. To succeed in his goal of making the "Model T of electric cars," he'll have to boost his production capacity at some point.

    I remember when the Prius had a similar problem. People wanted them, but weren't able to buy them. There were waiting lists for the first couple generations of Prius hybrids, and I think the same thing happened with the Honda Insight. Then again, Tesla is a different kind of company than Toyota or Honda. Everything operates on a much smaller scale.

    There is one more thing that could cause trouble for Tesla and other electric vehicle makers in the long term. What if the EV charging infrastructure simply doesn't materialize? Range anxiety remains a problem for people who are the target audience for buying this sort of vehicle, and it is a real problem. As is always the problem in the electricity delivery industry — somebody's got to pay for it.

    For the time being, though, there are apparently a lot of people who are willing to pay for an electric car — enough for one company to beat the odds and stand out in a field that has seen so many recent bankruptcies and disappointing sales figures. That alone makes what is happening at Tesla Motors pretty big news, and for the moment at least the electric vehicle market's lone success story.

    Honoring the inventor behind alternating current

    May 6, 2013 9:53 AM by Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power
    Credit where it's due is a simple and remarkable thing, although unfortunately history has a way of shortchanging people of it. It's hard to think of a better example of this tendency than one Nikola Tesla — the person who, by rights, ought to be considered the father of the electronic age, but more often is remembered as a mad scientist who died penniless and alone.


    In recent years, however, there's been a growing acknowledgement of the many contributions made to modern life by this Serbian-American genius. Two "crowdfunding" projects are attempting to honor Tesla with statues and museums from Shoreham, New York (the site of one of Telsa's old laboratories) to Silicon Valley, California, a place whose very existence would be difficult to imagine without Tesla's inventions.

    Crowdfunding, by the way, is a way to combine social media with traditional fundraising. One such campaign, begun on Kickstarter by start-up veteran Dorrian Porter, seeks to commemorate Telsa with a bronze statue, a mock-up of which can be seen here . Should enough money be raised by the Kickstarter campaign , the statue would be erected in Palo Alto, California. As of this writing, 34 backers have pledged about $3,800 to build the statue.

    Another, perhaps more ambitious, campaign was started by Internet cartoonist and blogger Matthew Inman, whose comic strips on The Oatmeal are frequently shared all over the internet. Inman wants to use another crowdfunding site called Indiegogo to collect funding to transform Tesla's old laboratory called Wardenclyffe into a museum that will educate the public about his contributions to energy transmission and wireless communications. The campaign succeeded in meeting its original $850,000 goal, and has since expanded into a project not just to build a museum, but a Telsa Science Center at Wardenclyffe .

    History doesn't always remember the people who made the present possible. Particularly if the people in question didn't devote themselves to making a fortune or at least spreading their name far and wide before passing on. During his life, Tesla was too busy pursuing his ideas to bother with making money or gaining notoriety. Still, companies like General Electric, Westinghouse and others would not exist without his innovations. Commonplace technologies such as the hydroelectric dam or the electric car or the radio, even if Tesla is not remembered for having contributed to them, are nevertheless the products of his brain.

    It's true genius is seldom recognized in its own time, but to break out a different cliche: "Better late than never."

    A coda for another electric car maker

    May 1, 2013 4:06 PM by Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power
    After selling just 100 units of its product, electric car manufacturer Coda Holdings has filed for Chapter 11 in a Delaware bankruptcy court.

    Coda Automotive's only vehicle was its Coda Car, an all-electric sedan with four doors and a battery pack. The company has its headquarters in Los Angeles. Coda Cars have an EPA-rated battery range of about 88 miles to a charge — less than electric vehicles made by competitor Tesla Motors.

    The future for Coda could take a different shape, however, provided a successful restructuring. According to a Reuters report, the company may elect to exit the automobile industry entirely and instead license its battery technology to the electric utility industry, which has a need for battery energy storage.

    As potentially interesting as this might be to the power generation and delivery sector, it's hard to explain consumer's reluctance to embrace electric vehicles — even as the price at the pump could leap just as high or higher than it has in the past.

    Economic analysts have blamed the overall economy as well as "range anxiety" — a prospective drivers' worry of running out of charge far away from a charging station.

    Personally, I'd like for my next car to be a plug-in, but range is a concern. If I were to buy such a car, I would like it to have a range of at least 115 miles per charge — the distance I would drive from Tulsa to visit relatives in Oklahoma City.

    There are other problems too. If I had a plug-in, I'd like to have a charging station in my own garage. I know there are stores that sell conversion kits so you can install one, but truth be told I'm not sure how the install would work, how much it would cost, and how heavily the charging would affect my electric bill. Questions like these, I'm sure, are pretty common.

    Maybe it's unanswered consumer questions that are sinking companies like Fisker Automotive, which could, like Coda, soon go before a bankruptcy court. Fisker had to return $21 million worth of Department of Energy loan support after failing to make a payment on the loan. Things started to go south for Fisker when the company's battery maker, A123 Systems (itself a DOE loan recipient that later had part of its loan revoked), declared bankruptcy.

    It's a bit of a catch-22 for electric car makers. Customers have legitimate questions about what it's like to own an electric vehicle. They want to know if they are reliable, easy to charge, fun to drive and cheap to own. Questions like these could be answered if they had a friend, neighbor or family member that owned one. But nobody seems to know one because the cars aren't selling.

    There is a bright spot, perhaps. At least, to the extent that the stock market can be an indicator. Shares in Tesla Motors have surged to a new high as of this writing, and the company has sold about 7,000 of its Model S, a premium electric sedan that sells for about $95,400. The stock market can turn on a dime, though, so it's impossible to say whether the good times will last for the Fremont, California-based company.

    I realize I have not mentioned the established automakers, like Ford and Nissan for example, which are marketing their own electric vehicles. Their advantage, obviously, is that they are able to dip a toe into the market without having to go "all in" and start a company from the ground up, as many others have. Still, sales have been disappointing so far, and fans of electric vehicles are left to hope that the larger manufacturers are taking the long view and remain willing to take a risk on electric vehicle technology as consumers grow more comfortable with the idea of a car you plug in.

    Verizon to invest in solar power, fuel cells

    April 30, 2013 2:11 PM by Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power
    The energy industry and the communications industry are getting quite cozy these days, and no wonder. Information technology and telecom companies like Google, Apple, Sprint and Microsoft (just to name a few) need innovative approaches to keep the power flowing to their ever-expanding networks of data centers, call centers, corporate offices and other properties.

    Just this week, telecom giant Verizon Communications announced its plans to invest as much as $100 million in natural gas fuel cells and solar energy capacity in 19 facilities in seven states.

    According to Reuters, SunPower Corp. will provide rooftop and ground-based solar arrays, some of which will be mounted onto parking facilities. Natural gas will power the fuel cells, which will be provided by Oregon-based ClearEdge Power.

    Verizon will put these energy improvements into place at office space, call centers and data centers in Arizona, California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and North Carolina.

    Officials from Verizon are insisting that these green energy sources are meant to boost system reliability — not merely to boost the company's environmental profile. The point out that fuel cells already in place at a switching station in Garden City, Long Island, N.Y. stayed active throughout Superstorm Sandy even when the local grid was knocked out of service.

    The technology will be able to generate 8 million kilowatt hours of electricity every year — enough to power about 6,000 homes.

    Verizon already uses fuel cells and solar energy, but this is the company's largest investment on such technology so far, officials said.

    Likewise, Apple is building solar energy and fuel cell capacity to serve its data centers in North Carolina. Apple has told news sources that it wants to power its data centers entirely with clean energy.

    Google is spending about $1 billion on clean or renewable energy for its energy needs and recently floated the idea of special renewable energy rates for large commercial and industrial firms whose customers would prefer them to use cleaner power.


    Louie the Lightning Bug returns

    April 15, 2013 1:05 PM by Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power
    A press release hit my inbox over the weekend that sent me into a nostalgic YouTube spiral. Apparently AEP Texas, Public Service of Oklahoma and the Southwestern Electric Power Co. are bringing back their Louie the Lightning Bug character in safety literature aimed at school kids.

    After watching a few of "Louie's" old PSAs, I started emailing people I know who live all over the country to see how widespread the little guy's fame was. Just about everyone remembered him once they saw a clip.

    If you don't remember Louie, he was a prominent figure during your Saturday morning cartoons, where his PSAs (sponsored by your regional utilities) would warn you about the dangers of fallen power lines , flying kites near power lines , or messing around with power outlets and cords in the household. (click hyperlinks to see the YouTube videos)

    The voice of Louie and his animation style could be familiar to you even if you don't recognize him on sight. In his original PSAs, Louie was voiced (and sung) by Jack Sheldon, whose voice also featured prominently in "Schoolhouse Rock!" Especially the "I'm Just a Bill" skit, that walks kids through how a bill becomes a law.

    Being reminded of this stuff and seeing how much of the visuals and music that I actually remember to this very day made me wonder why companies don't bother much with public service announcements anymore. They were hugely popular in the '70s and '80s, made big contributions to pop culture and were clearly successful in communicating their messages.

    Utilities are always talking about the lessons they need the public to understand. Maybe a PSA with a catchy tune is in order every now and then.

    What is in Obama's budget for energy?

    April 10, 2013 3:12 PM by Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power
    President Barack Obama's running mate Joe Biden is fond of saying "show me your budget, and I'll show you where your priorities are." Media outlets have already begun picking through the wording of the president's $3.78 trillion 2014 budget to see what is being prioritized at a time when seemingly every cent of spending results in overheated press conferences on Capitol Hill and the threat of some catastrophic government shut-down.

    When you look at just one area of the budget, massive at it is, it gets a little easier. So let's see what the budget has to say about energy policy. Here are some highlights:

    The budget provides $28.4 billion in discretionary funds for the Department of Energy (DOE ) — an 8 percent increase about the 2012 enacted level. This is meant to position the U.S. as a leader in clean energy while boosting energy security.

    The budget proposes for $615 million to promote wind, solar , geothermal and hydrokinetic energy.

    The document calls for a "Race to the Top" program to promote grid modernization and energy efficiency, which is something Obama mentioned in his most recent State of the Union. The awards would support state-level policies that increase energy productivity and modernize the grid — with the goal of cutting energy waste in half over the next two decades.

    Also in the budget is more than $5 billion — 5.7 percent more than 2012 — for energy sector research and development. The need to continue R&D even in difficult economic times is something the present has said repeatedly, so finding it in the budget is perhaps not unexpected.

    About $153 million in research and development funding is proposed for grid modernization, cybersecurity and energy control systems. Advances in the technologies and tools for improved clean energy integration onto the grid through an $80 million coordinated effort within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

    Part of this tranche would include $20 million for a new Electricity Systems Hub, which would explore the interface between transmission and distribution systems in the smart grid context. The budget would support hardware and modeling R&D to improve the integration of renewable energy into the distribution grid, distributed generation, electric vehicles and residential/commercial buildings loads behind the meter.





    About $575 million will be invested in alternative vehicle technologies, according to this budget — presumably this goes further than electric vehicles and charging stations, but likely includes both. There is also mention of a $2 billion of proposed mandatory funding for an Energy Security Trust (also mentioned in the State of the Union), intended to transition cars, trucks and other vehicles off of oil (biofuels, hydrogen, natural gas and electricity are specifically mentioned).

    The budget provides $735 million for the Office of Nuclear Energy, which includes funding for small modular reactors. There is also $379 million for the Advanced Research Projects Agency — Energy, or ARPA-E, which is the agency that investigates "long game" technologies.

    Carbon capture and storage is mentioned in the budget breakdown, with $421 million for the Fossil Energy Research and Development program, including an investment of $266 million in fossil energy R&D primarily dedicated to carbon capture.

    The budget eliminates $4 billion yearly in "unnecessary subsidies to the oil, gas and coal industries;" restructuring the plutonium disposition program; cutting low performing programs; and using existing facilities and infrastructure.

    In another energy efficiency measure, the budget calls for funding of the president's Better Buildings Initiative, which is meant to help consumers and businesses save money through energy efficiency.

    There is $16 million — up from $10 million — in enhanced energy infrastructure security and energy recovery capabilities.

    Separate from the DOE funding, the Environmental Protection Agency budget is about $296 million lower than the 2012 level, with the president's budget allocating the EPA $8.2 billion.

    First fatal accident at Arkansas Nuclear One is painful for many

    April 4, 2013 3:20 PM by Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power
    By Teresa Hansen
    Editor in Chief

    You've probably heard by now that a fatality accident occurred on Easter morning at Entergy's Arkansas Nuclear One Unit 1 in Russellville, Ark. The accident was an industrial accident and did not involve the nuclear side of the plant, so the public and most workers on site were never at risk.

    The worker who died and eight other injured workers were removing handrails in the travel path of a generator stator replacement project when the lift system collapsed and the stator fell. Unit 1 is offline for maintenance, which included the turbine-generator work.

    Any accident at a power plant, especially a nuclear power plant, resulting in injury or loss of life is certainly tragic. For me, this accident seems almost personal. I got my start in the electric utility industry at Arkansas Nuclear One, where I worked for 13 years. I still have many ties to the area. In fact, I was in Russellville celebrating Easter with my family when I heard about the accident.

    I've been reading about it daily in the local newspaper and have read statements from people with whom I once worked closely. My heart goes out to the family of the young man who died, and to the people who work at the plant. I know from first-hand experience that it is a close-knit group and those who work at and manage the plant are heartsick. Russellville itself is a close-knit community that has been hit hard by this tragedy.

    Arkansas Nuclear One Unit 1 came online in 1975 and Unit 2 came online in 1980. Construction began almost a decade earlier. This is the first fatality accident at the plant and as far as I know it was the first serious accident. I hope the fact that it occurred at a nuclear power plant doesn't create negative press or taint public opinion about the nuclear power industry. Such an accident could have occurred at any industrial facility.

    I will continue to follow the news of the accident as Entergy and federal authorities work to determine what went wrong. We will update this website as new information is released. In the meantime, please let this tragedy be a reminder for you to make safety your No. 1 priority.

    Getting serious on cybersecurity

    March 21, 2013 11:08 AM by Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power
    There's no shortage of cyber-attack stories in the news, but as you read them you tend to wonder how serious the problem really is. Maybe this is because no group of hackers has been able to do something big and dramatic, like say triggering a cascading power outage that knocked San Francisco off the power grid for a full day.

    But just because it hasn't happened yet is no guarantee that it can't or won't happen. I spoke with Marty Meyer, president and CEO of Corero Network Security, who said utilities, if anything, are more vulnerable than entities that have already been attacked.

    "We're on the first step of a twelve-step program to admitting we have a potential problem with cybersecurity ," Meyer said.

    Cyber-attacks on utilities are up 52 percent, according to the Department of Homeland Security's cybersecurity protection arm.

    An attack like a distributed denial of service attack (or DDOS attack) can flood a computer network with a large, sudden volume of attack traffic until it is overwhelmed and shuts down, he said. The systems that support power grids weren't designed to handle this level of attack traffic, and a DDOS attack is relatively unsophisticated — easily within the capability of a small group of hackers, such as Anonymous.

    "There was an attack reported on an unnamed U.S. utility, and it was one of these DDOS attacks. The impact was that people could not pay their bills online. It wasn't people losing their electricity and freezing in their homes, but it was still a successful attack that denied service to people," he said.

    Cyber-attacks can range in severity from "this is annoying" to something more malicious, he said. Furthermore, a relatively simple DDOS attack could be used as a diversionary tactic to distract from a more sophisticated network intrusion.

    "So while I would say there's been no advertized take-down of a major utility where people lost actual services, but there certainly could be concerned from the utilities to protect themselves now instead of waiting around," he said.

    Simple firewalls by themselves are not a prudent strategy to prevent malicious attacks, he said. Geoblocking (also known as geofiltering) is an extra layer of protection that works by cutting off network access to computers from IP addresses that are affiliated with a geographic area or country that you don't want to allow access to.

    Another way of launching a malicious attack is to "spoof" an IP address, which lets a malicious computer disguise itself as coming from a trusted address. Utilities can upgrade their systems to unmask such attacks, he said.

    "There are technologies that can make sure that addresses are trusted," he said. "Utilities need to specifically look at technologies that restrict access in terms of geography or known problem locations to ensure that the network connection that's coming in is a real connection and not a spoofed connection."

    My thanks to Marty Meyer for his help in putting this post together. His company, Corero Network Security , is based in Hudson, Massachusetts.


    10 facts about Obama's new head of the DOE

    March 5, 2013 11:13 AM by Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power
    After a lot of speculation, the official announcement has been made. Ernest Moniz will be President Barack Obama's main man at the Department of Energy pending approval by the Senate. Here are 10 things worth knowing about Moniz, who will run the DOE during Obama's second term.

    1. Moniz is a nuclear physicist by training, and an advocate for the safe use of nuclear power as an energy source. In the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Moniz said it would be a mistake not to pursue a nuclear friendly energy policy in the U.S.

    2. Obama is the second president Moniz has worked for. Moniz was President Bill Clinton's undersecretary of the DOE from 1997 to 2001. He also served as an associate director for science in Clinton's Office of Science and Technology Policy.

    3. Moniz has a "wait and see" approach to new techniques in natural gas extraction, like "frakking." He says the risks of such techniques are challenging, but manageable. He has also referred to natural gas as a "bridge" fuel that can take the country to a future low-carbon energy portfolio (i.e. Away from coal).

    4. Among the issues Moniz has handled at the DOE are: Oversight of science and energy policy, nuclear weapons proliferation and stockpile stewardship, nuclear fuel cycles (including waste disposal) and solar energy in a low-carbon world.

    5. In a Washington Post story about carbon capture and storage, Moniz was quoted as saying in 2009 that there is no credible pathway to meeting greenhouse gas reduction targets without cutting carbon dioxide from existing coal-fired power plants.

    6. As director of MIT's Energy Initiative, Moniz has some financial ties to the energy industry via the research group's $125 million in donations from the oil and gas industry since 2006, according to reports. Founding members of the organization include BP, Saudi Aramco and Shell.

    7. Unlike his predecessor Steven Chu, Moniz will probably have less funding to work with. Chu's tenure at the DOE was marked by the early passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which significantly expanded the department's operating budget.

    8. Moniz's grandparents were immigrants to the U.S. who came from the Azores, an archipelago that is an autonomous region of Portugal. He grew up speaking some Portuguese.

    9. Moniz serves in Chu's Blue Ribbon Commission on nuclear energy's future, which was tasked with finding new solutions for storing and disposing of nuclear waste. Moniz advocated transferring spent nuclear fuel from pools to dry casks.

    10. On solar power, Moniz said he is "bullish," adding, "It just has so many features, including the fact that even though it's intermittent, at least it tends to be on when you want it." He adds, however, that fossil fuels like oil and gas will remain at the forefront of the world's energy picture for the foreseeable future.

    Our changing generation mix

    February 21, 2013 12:19 PM by Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power
    As an online editor, I handle stories every day of new wind farms going up or some local dignitaries pulling the switch for a new solar energy project. You read stories that use phrases like "dash for gas" or "war on coal," but absorbing stuff like this day by day has a way of numbing you to the big picture.

    The big picture is that things are changing in a big way. I realized recently that the way I think about the generation mix in the U.S. is seriously out of date. I did a mental check. "OK, so natural gas is about 25 percent, nuclear is a steady 20 percent, coal is like half at least, right?"

    Wrong.

    New data from FERC shows the picture is changing drastically. Especially natural gas, coal and renewables. Wind and solar — which used to be relegated to a tiny sliver of the pie, or else an asterisk or an "other" — are contributing more than 5 percent of the total generation mix of the country.

    Even more surprising perhaps is coal, which has fallen to less than 30 percent of the pie. What's replacing it, largely, is natural gas, which is now 42.37 percent of the mix.

    Certainly I knew that coal-fired power plants were retiring. I hadn't missed those announcements. Indeed, sometimes it felt like the only coal stories I ever filed were those concerning coal power plants shutting down or switching to natural gas.

    Nuclear, known for its reliability, is sticking at a steady 20 percent. However, given the potential of small modular reactors and the NRC granting new licenses, even just a few new projects going online could change that figure in the future.

    Even unexpected generation technologies, like geothermal energy, seems to be showing some growth with more than 147 MW of new capacity being brought online last year — an increase of 5 percent from 2011.

    I first started to notice this when FERC released a recap of the power generation that came online in 2012. Half of that new generation had been renewable energy. Some analysts I spoke to at the time considered this a fluke. They said there was no way that this could sustain itself. But FERC keeps reporting the data, and if anything the numbers look like this trend is speeding up. Coal is out, natural gas and renewables are in.

    Things are changing in statistically significant ways. When you watch it every day, like energy experts tend to do, sometimes you can lose track of just how fast it's moving.

    Outages remind public of the grid's needs

    February 8, 2013 10:38 AM by Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power
    By Teresa Hansen,
    Editor-in-Chief, Electric Light & Power and POWERGRID International magazines

    The past few months have been unkind to the electric utility industry. Disruptive weather events, especially Hurricane Sandy, and a blackout during the Super Bowl, have caused politicians, regulators, media and customers to questions U.S. utilities' ability to provide reliable service.

    It's unfortunate that news about the 34-minute outage that occurred shortly after the second half began could become bigger than news about the Ravens' victory over the 49ers. One of the many headlines I saw after the story broke read, "Blackouts are on the rise across the United States."

    The article didn't include statistics or sources to back up this headline, but at this point the facts are less important than the perception: That electric utilities are failing at their job of providing uninterrupted, reliable electricity. When more than 108 million people are watching a live event on television and the lights go out, headlines and stories such as this one should be expected.

    Editor's Note : Since the time of this writing, Entergy New Orleans has traced the cause of the Super Bowl outages to an electrical relay device.

    The outage's cause hasn't been determined. Entergy New Orleans, which provides power to the Superdome, is working with its management to determine what happened. Nondisclosure of their findings hasn't, however, kept the media from reporting on likely causes. A report from CBS Interactive Inc. (CBS online news source) said Philip Allison, a communications specialist at Entergy, said power had been flowing into the stadium before the lights failed and all the distribution and transmission feeds into the Superdome were operating "as expected." According to the CBS report, Allison said the outage appeared to have been caused by the failure of equipment maintained by stadium staff.

    An Associated Press report said Superdome officials "warned just months before the Super Bowl that the venue's electrical system could suffer a power outage and rushed to replace some of the equipment ahead of the big game." It doesn't say who these officials warned, but who cares? Once again, perception trumps fact.

    Even if Entergy and Superdome management discover the cause was simple and could be easily fixed to avoid similar events at the venue, most people won't care; the public relations damage has been done. The outage is at best a black eye for Entergy New Orleans, as well as reinforcement to a conclusion made by many Americans: U.S. electric utilities are unreliable.

    Utilities in the Northeast have been criticized heavily since Hurricane Sandy caused major damage to grid infrastructure in New Jersey and New York. The hurricane knocked out power to almost all of Long Island Power Authority's 1.1. million customers and some were without power for more than three weeks. Mainstream media, government officials and customers relentlessly criticized the utilities, especially LIPA, as well as their management. The criticism led to the resignation of Michael Hervey, LIPA's chief operating officer, the formation of a commission to investigate LIPA's slow response and aged infrastructure, as well as a recommendation by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to replace the non-profit municipal utility with a privately owned power company. Never mind that the storm's winds and surge were much worse than experts predicted or imagined, the consensus is that electric utilities should have been better prepared and customers deserve better.

    Maybe one good thing that has come from these recent disruptive events is that people from outside the industry are beginning to recognize that the current electricity deliver infrastructure needs attention and investment. Admitting that a problem exists is the first step to solving it. The next step, which is resolution, will be much more difficult.

    Upgrading the current infrastructure won't be cheap or easy. It will require cooperation between utilities, utility shareholders, regulators, politicians, technology providers and customers. All of these parties want electricity at a reasonable cost, however their definition of reliable and reasonable can be vastly different. At least the first steps of a long infrastructure rehabilitation and modernization process have been taken.

    DR the talk of DTECH

    February 5, 2013 1:37 PM by Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power
    Every year, the editors of POWERGRID International and Electric Light & Power magazines, our conference chairs, our logistics people and our conference staff work hard to put on an informative show at DistribuTECH. Every detail is meticulously planned out. One thing we can't control, though is what people want to talk about when they finally do come to the show.

    I did notice a few topics, though, that people wanted to talk about more than others. Here's my top five:

    1. Demand response

    The single most often-mentioned technology at DistribuTECH 2013 was demand response. Far and away, I heard more about good old automated DR than I did about any other smart grid technology. Silver Spring Networks introduced a demand-side management system meant to boost DR programs. Honeywell and Opower rolled out an energy management platform to help utilities in their efforts to manage peak loads. Also, Alstom Grid and Capgemini paired up on a cloud-based demand response management system. That doesn't include just the general "buzz" at the show about DR as an idea. Just about everyone I spoke with had something to say about the application of automated DR.

    2. Analytics

    "Big Data" is becoming quite a buzzword. At the show, exhibitors would often tell you (with a note of either apprehensiveness or excitement in their voices) about the brain-twisting volume of data that their systems are expected to take in, digest, slice, dice and finally serve up as something a grid operator can easily understand and use. In the press room, I was asked by another reporter who the "top" provider of data analytics for utilities is. While I wanted to be more helpful, I couldn't answer the question because this technology is still too new. There isn't really a Nike or an Apple for data big data yet and there are so many different approaches you could take, there might not ever be.

    3. Last gasp capabilities

    This is a phrase I learned shortly before the conference, and I heard some incredibly detailed conversations about it — including some high-level engineer talk that went a little beyond me, honestly. But it's easy to understand the advantage offered by smart meters with capacitors that can send out an information-packed "last gasp" back to grid operators in the microseconds before power is cut off. This information, which can include but is not limited to the customer's account, when and where the outage happened, etc., could be crucial to the development of a truly "self healing" smart grid.

    4. A "bite sized" approach to smart grid

    This is not to say that smart grid projects are becoming less ambitious. It's more like utilities and technology providers are approaching them differently — if not backwards, then at least sideways. Instead of trying to build out a smart grid meter by meter and creating a full-on AMI system from whole cloth, some companies are looking for a way to deliver the benefits of a distribution automation service to a utility in short order. Hence the phrase "bite sized" smart grid. What utilities want today is something they can quickly realize benefits from without a large capital investment, then turn around to their customers and say, "Look, we did X, Y and Z for you." Saving money is nice, but sometimes it's even better to be able to say, "We kept the lights on when other utilities didn't, and it's because we invested in this technology." 

    5. Utility customer apps for smart phones

    In handling the dozens and dozens of news releases sent from the exhibit hall floor, I saw several companies releasing brand new apps designed to help customers manage their energy use at home from anywhere they carry their smart phone. Most major utilities have already at least taken a stab at releasing a customer app that does things like let the customer pay a bill or view energy usage. The more savvy tech providers are building apps with functionalities such as remote smart thermostat operation, social media-based outage reporting ... or better yet, combining all of these things into one program. And of course bonus points for those providers who are able to roll out their apps to the most gadgets at once — not just iPhones, but also iPads, Androids and others.

    China's 'airpocalypse' chokes Beijing

    January 15, 2013 2:23 PM by Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power
    China is suffering industrial strength growing pains — particularly in its capital, Beijing, where the air pollution is so bad that the problem can no longer be ignored.

    Even the People's Daily, a mouthpiece of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, is publicly asking in its editorials for answers to the pollution problem. This is remarkable given the Chinese government's reluctance to address the problem at all in recent years.

    The air pollution level in Beijing in the past few days hit levels 25 times worse than what the U.S. government considers safe. In fact, one reason this story rose to a level beyond any government's control was that people started to notice the difference between the air pollution forecasts released by the Chinese government and those tweeted out by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing (see that information here ).

    (Above: A NASA image shows Beijing's smog is visible from space )

    The first time people worldwide began to notice how embarrassed China was of its unfriendly skies was during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, when rumors of how the government was covering up its pollution problem abounded. According to some, they shut down power plants and rerouted all power to Beijing while leaving the outlying areas in the dark just to get a few clear-skied days. Others said the athletes had to move in early and practice doing their events while breathing Beijing's air, just to get used to it.

    Beijing isn't even the worst-polluted place in China. Other cities reporting high levels of smog are Tianjin and Wuhan City. In total, some 30 major cities and their outlying areas could be affected.

    In response to the air crisis, authorities have shut down several major construction projects. One Hyundai Motors plant shut down completely, while others are merely reducing their output. The Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center has encouraged the elderly, children and those suffering from respiratory ailments to stay indoors and avoid strenuous exercise.

    The pollution in question is particulate matter less than 2.5 micrograms in diameter, or "fines," as they are sometimes called in the power generation industry. The primary causes of the smog include tailpipe exhaust, emissions from coal-fired power plants and even the coal-burning heaters that people in poorer areas use to keep warm in China's unusually cold winter this year.

    What can China do other than what it has already done? Well, the country has made up its mind to continue building nuclear power plants , which can serve the needs of a power-hungry nation without polluting.

    China's roads are filling up with cars, too, so perhaps the country could take a cue from another country that is also growing quickly. India's prime minister recently unveiled his plan to put 7 million electric vehicles on his country's roads. With China's famous manufacturing sector, the country could probably build 7 million cars before lunchtime. (In seriousness, the country only has 5 million vehicles and the process for getting a license to own a car can take years)

    When it comes to designing cities, high-rises could be spread out and planners could focus on building greenbelts and planting more trees. More open air would mean more places for the wind to circulate and sweep away some of the smog.

    The application of energy efficiency in older buildings could go a long way, as could the installation of scrubbers and other retrofits at coal-fired power plants.

    Something has to give, though. What good can come from building huge, glittering cities that you can't safely power? What's the point of becoming an economic superpower whose people can't go outside?

    China's government has long been mindful of dissidents, so it's hard to see them not taking this problem seriously. When nobody can breathe easily, it gets harder and harder to get people to look the other way.

    As they say, the first step is admitting you have a problem.

    Energy stats to remember

    January 4, 2013 1:35 PM by Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power
    Every now and then I like to be able to raise eyebrows with an impressive, unexpected or otherwise ... well, eyebrow-raising fact about energy. The people over at OPower shared a list they compiled with me, and I wanted to pass them on to you. Maybe you'll find one or two of them worth passing on.

    The increase in power generation capacity from natural gas-fired power plants in the U.S. between 2000 and 2012: More than 96 percent.

    As previously predicted on this blog, the dash for gas is a trend many energy analyists expect to see continue into 2013 and beyond.

    In April 2012, for the first time ever in the U.S., the amount of power generated from natural gas was equal to that generated from coal. Because of low prices and other factors, natural gas is on the rise and coal is on the decline. Even given all of that, this is a statistic I wouldn't have easily guessed.

    The annual cost of charging an iPhone 5: $0.41

    I'm kind of surprised that Apple doesn't talk about this. I would. Then again, when it comes to getting people to want to buy their stuff, Apple has never had a problem with that at all. But still, that's pretty impressive. You can't buy much for four dimes and a penny, so to find out that gives your iPhone a year's worth of juice for that amount is surprising.

    The year that the United States will become the world's largest producer of oil: 2017

    "Drill here, drill now" say the bumper stickers. Well, we actually do quite a bit of drilling here and now. So much so, in fact, that the U.S. is giving Saudi Arabia a run for its money. And America beating the Saudis at drilling oil is a bit like beating Canada at hockey. It's kind of their thing.

    The consequences of this trend are obvious. The U.S. gets to brag that it is less reliant on foreign oil than ever before. This has been a goal of every president since Richard Nixon, and one it felt like we'd never make any real progress on. But we have managed already to become a net exporter of petroleum, and we did it with expanded drilling, new technology and energy efficiency .

    2012's rank in the list of the warmest years ever recorded in the continental United States: No. 1

    I am writing this blog from Tulsa, Oklahoma. And nobody knows this fact better than we Oklahomans. Except perhaps Texans. During the summer we were trapped in a cruel heat bubble, and we had a winter that wasn't a winter.

    Me personally, I'd rather be hot than cold, and part of me enjoyed a winter that was more cool than cold, but it is creepy to see weather act this way. Especially when storm season rolls around. Watching the damaging hurricanes and hybrid "Frankenstorms " of the past year have made more people than yours truly wonder whether "once in a lifetime" weather is the new normal.

    The average miles per gallon of new cars sold in the first half of 2012 in the U.S.: 23.8 MPG

    Consumers rank fuel economy as the first question they ask a car salesman about, and no wonder with fuel prices being what they are. But high gas prices and consumer demand is only one factor. Government action is another. Congress passed new CAFE standards in 2007. The measures of this law are now taking effect and the average fuel economy of a car is expected to rise to 35.5 MPG by 2016.

    The proportion of U.S. households that have a smart meter installed: 1 in 3

    The number of smart meters deployed in the U.S. has increased fivefold in just five years. Utilities love them because they provide the two-way communication that helps them in so many different ways, and some consumers like them too because they can make billing easier and make sure they don't pay too much for the electricity they use.

    By mid-decade, it's predicted that half of U.S. households will have a smart meter installed. Economists foresee that the world smart meter market could grow to $34 billion in spending from 2012 to 2020.

    The number of new nuclear reactors in the U.S. that were granted licenses in 2012: 2

    These were, of course, the first new licenses granted to any nuclear reactor in the U.S. since 1978. For fans of nuclear energy, this is an exciting number. Perhaps even more exciting than that is the number of new nuclear reactors currently under consideration by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission: 16 other plants across the country have applications with the NRC to build 25 new reactors.

    The number of nuclear reactors that Japan has announced it will close by 2040: 50

    Likewise, if you're not a fan of nuclear energy, here's a statistic that should be important to you. Japan is, by and large, getting out of the nuclear power industry when it used to be at the forefront of the science of nuclear energy. A surprising development that few would have predicted a few years back, when many were talking about a worldwide nuclear renaissance. If there is a nuclear renaissance, it doesn't look like it will be happening in Japan. It's not looking too good in Germany, Switzerland or France, either.

    The percentage of energy that is wasted in the U.S. every year: 56.2 percent

    That's right, the U.S. wastes more energy than it uses. Despite recent advances in the world of energy efficiency, we are still a deeply inefficient country when it comes to what we do with our energy once it's generated. Of the 97.3 quadrillion British Thermal Units of raw energy that the U.S. generates, only 41.7 were used constructively. Most of this wastage has to do with how we generate energy in the first place. Most power plants are inherently inefficient. As is our transportation sector, even though it is becoming more efficient.

    Thanks again to OPower for helping gather these facts.

    How smart grid helped New York weather Sandy

    January 2, 2013 1:48 PM by Editors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power
    The sight of the island of Manhattan and its world-famous skyline going almost completely dark is a memory from 2012 that few will forget, but New York City did not lose power completely. Thanks to smart grid technology installed before Hurricane Sandy (2012's so-called "Frankenstorm"), there were buildings that did not darken the night the storm made landfall.

    General Electric was in touch with at least a dozen utilities in Sandy's path and provided essential support before the hurricane came aground, said John McDonald, director of technical strategy and policy development with GE Digital Energy.

    Because of the deployment of smart grid technology on site, GE's home base in New York City, the famous Rockefeller Center never lost power.

    To keep the lights on at 30 Rock, power operators used technology similar to that used to channel continuous, uninterrupted power to data centers.

    "It's similar to the technology that Google supplies to its very large data centers. It's a business called critical power. We look at the needs of the building. At 30 Rock we had an uninterruptable power supply and a series of batteries," McDonald said. "In a storm situation, the volts can bound around a lot in terms of power quality. But with this system, no mater what the volatility is, it is able to provide a steady stream of consistent voltage."


    If power is interrupted completely, the batteries can kick in for the short term. If the battery energy storage system runs low on charge, then an on-site power generation system powered by diesel engines kicks in.

    Using these systems, the building complex was able to compensate for dips in the grid with power from batteries and stayed lit until after gale-force winds calmed down. Thanks to the advent of this technology, 30 Rock stayed lit for the duration of the storm, he said.

    Of course, a storm of Sandy's rarely-seen scale and power affected more than just New York City. During the storm's impact, GE was in touch with multiple utilities whose service areas were in the path of the storm.

    Once the storm swept through, those in charge of the restoration had an easier time estimating the damage in areas that had deployed smart meters.

    "Utilities like PPL had made recent investments in some key technologies. They had smart meters with two-way communications," he said.

    The biggest advantage offered by smart meters in storm scenarios is that in the nanoseconds before a customer loses power, the smart meter contains a capacitor that stores enough energy for a "last gasp" communication to the grid operator telling them that power has just been cut off.

    "That's key, because then the utility knows the exact time, the exact customer and how the customer is connected to the grid," he said. "Without that information, the utility would have to wait for the customer to call in, which could take many minutes, if they call at all."

    GE also worked to increase production of new transformers that the company realized would be needed as part of the grid repair effort.

    A geographical information system (GIS) that lists out all the assets owned by a utility (as well as their locations) also sped the power restoration process for utilities with large workforces to mobilize, he said.

    "This GIS system is really the reference map for our outage management system. Its input, for many utilities, is from phone calls. The other source of input we have today is interfacing with the distribution management system," he said.

    The distribution management system has an application called fault detection isolation restoration (FDIR ). Once it isolates the disturbance, it enables all "healthy" parts of the grid to keep using power, he said.

    Again, two-way communication is crucial for utilities dealing with a storm-battered grid and potentially angry or frightened customers. Functioning in such an environment was made easier after Sandy by the proliferation of Facebook and Twitter.

    "Something we've been working on is bringing in social media. We can gather information from our customers from social media, particularly tweets," he said.

    My thanks to John McDonald for his contributions to this post. McDonald provides strategic leadership and develops long-term plans to operate GE Digital Energy's position. He received his BSEE and MSEE (power engineering) degrees from Purdue University and an MBA in finance from the University of California at Berkeley. He is past president of IEEE PES and co-author of "Automating a Distribution Cooperative, From A to Z," published by the National Rural Electric Cooperative.

PREVIOUS POSTS

Electric car driver arrested for stealing 5 cents of electricity

Wed Dec 04 16:32:00 CST 2013
Just the other day, I saw my first Tesla Motors all-electric vehicle driving near our offices here in Tulsa, Oklahoma. With more and more electric vehicles taking to the streets — even in thi...

Where natural gas and power transmission intersect

Wed Nov 06 08:55:00 CST 2013
By Teresa HansenEditor-in-ChiefI recently attended a conference in Washington, D.C. called TransForum East. It was organized by PennWell through one of its latest acquisitions, TransmissionHub, a r...

A harder, better, faster, stronger smart grid

Fri Oct 04 14:09:00 CDT 2013
By Andy Bennett,Senior vice president of infrastructure at Schneider ElectricThe Obama administration recently published a report that calls for increased spending on the nation's electric power sy...

Moody's puts Energy Future Holdings on bankruptcy watch

Mon Sep 09 14:46:00 CDT 2013
Moody's Investors Service, one of the Big Three credit rating agencies, has given Energy Futures Holdings Corp. until the end of the year before the energy company declares for bankruptcy protectio...

China thinks big on power generation, delivery

Fri Aug 30 09:29:00 CDT 2013
The world's second-biggest economy, China, is setting its sights on a massive expansion of its electric power sector. The country is growing increasingly energy hungry as its already massive manufa...

Connecting BEMS in smart buildings to smart grid

Thu Aug 15 10:07:00 CDT 2013
By Allan McHale, Memoori Business IntelligenceJust look down a listing of enterprise energy management suppliers and you will find a mixture of some of the world's leading IT organizations and star...

U.S. wind takes off

Tue Aug 06 13:33:00 CDT 2013
The U.S. wind energy industry is continuing to pay off for those who have invested in it, both in terms of power generated as well as manufacturing and jobs. This is according to a pair of studies ...

Are we trying to be too smart about smart metering?

Thu Jul 25 16:22:00 CDT 2013
By Craig Edge, chief consulting engineer, Wheatley AssociatesWith yet another delay announced in the U.K. government's proposed smart meter implementation plan, the time has come to take stock of t...

Blackouts on the way in Britain?

Thu Jul 11 10:59:00 CDT 2013
It's seldom that there's much drama in the energy world, however, in the U.K., a report by that country's government electricity regulator touched off a swarm of responses, defensive statements and...

One thing liberals and conservatives agree on

Tue Jun 25 14:39:00 CDT 2013
We're often told how far apart the red states and blue states are. Aside from the obvious stalemates and squabbles in Washington, conservative and liberal Americans watch different TV shows, eat di...