http://localhost:4503/content/elp/en/blogs/eye-on-the-grid.html2016-12-09T06:40:37.632ZEye On The GridRead the latest blog for utility issues, regulation and new technologies in the power markets.Adobe Experience ManagerElectric car driver arrested for stealing 5 cents of electricitynoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerJust 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 &mdash; even in this former oil capital &mdash; the way people think about electricity could be set for some big changes.<br /><br />Take this news story from Georgia as an exhibit A on what I mean.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />Moments later, a Chamblee police officer told Kamooneh that he would be written up on the spot for electricity theft.<br /><br />About 11 days after the officer wrote him up &mdash; and after the department confirmed he hadn't asked anyone's permission &mdash; 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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />In interviews, Kamooneh compared his "offense" with sipping water from a public water fountain. Granted, a drinking fountain is only meant for sipping from &mdash; 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?<br /><br />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.<br /><br />Drivers are adopting electric vehicles slowly but steadily &mdash; 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?<br /><br />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?<br /><br />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 &mdash; at least until we establish some electric vehicle etiquette for better relations between EV drivers and everybody else.<br /><br /><br /><br />, natural gas and power transmission intersectnoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerBy Teresa Hansen<br />Editor-in-Chief<br /><br />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 <a href="" target="_blank">transmission</a>, but this year the low price of natural gas and how it is affecting the electric power sector was a hot topic.<br /><br />Kent Knutson, <a href="" target="_blank">TransmissionHub</a>'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.<br /><br />Knutson expects continued growth through 2015. Most activity is in 345 kV projects being driven by Texas competitive<a href="" target="_blank"> renewable energy</a> 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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br /><b>Cheap gas becomes a transmission driver</b><br /><br />The changing <a href="" target="_blank">power generation</a> 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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br /><b>Will FERC address uncertainty? </b><br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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, harder, better, faster, stronger smart gridnoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerBy Andy Bennett,<br />Senior vice president of infrastructure at Schneider Electric<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />Creating a resilient electric grid is critical to reducing our nation's vulnerability to severe weather. Furthermore, as highlighted in the report, <a href="" target="_blank">smart grid</a> 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 <a href="" target="_blank">renewable energy</a>.<br /><br />In my experience as senior vice president of infrastructure at <a href="" target="_blank">Schneider Electric</a>, 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.<br /><br />Examples include leveraging <a href="" target="_blank">microgrids</a> 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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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,'s puts Energy Future Holdings on bankruptcy watchnoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerMoody'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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />The electric utility company's assets include a <a href="" target="_blank">power generation</a> portfolio that consists mostly of nuclear energy and coal-fired power (through Luminant), a power <a href="" target="_blank">transmission</a> business (through Oncor Electric Delivery) and a retail power provider (through TXU Energy).<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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 <a href="" target="_blank">natural gas</a> 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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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 &mdash; an estimated return of 50 percent or less. However, subsidiaries like Oncor and Luminant could be preserved.<br /><br />You can read more about that debt restructuring plan <a href="" target="_blank">in this story</a>., thinks big on power generation, deliverynoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerThe 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 &mdash; and the smog haze around populated areas grow indisputably denser.<br /><br />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 <a href="" target="_blank">power generation</a> capacity every year from now until 2030.<br /><br />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 <a href="" target="_blank">China</a>.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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 <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>). 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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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 <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>). 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, BEMS in smart buildings to smart gridnoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerBy Allan McHale, Memoori Business Intelligence<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br /><div class="separator" style="clear: both; text-align: center;"><a href="" imageanchor="1" style="margin-left: 1em; margin-right: 1em;"><img border="0" height="246" src="" width="320" /></a></div><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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 &mdash; it can't wait for smart grid to be in place or smart buildings to incorporate a comprehensive enterprise energy management.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />This puts them in a very strong position for two reasons:<br /><ul><li>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.</li><li>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.</li></ul>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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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, wind takes offnoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerThe 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.<br /><br />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. <br /><br />The DOE estimated that 72 percent of the wind turbine equipment used in the U.S. was&nbsp; manufactured domestically &mdash; up from about 25 percent in 2007.<br /><br />Crucially, the report also reveals that the American wind energy sector now employs some 80,000 people who work at all levels &mdash; from building wind turbine blades to installing nacelles or performing needed wind farm maintenance.<br /><br />Other factoids from the report that I thought were worth noting:<br /><ul><li>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</li><li>The country's cumulative installed wind capacity has jumped 22-fold since the turn of the century</li><li>There are three states that get more than 20 percent of their power from the winds: Iowa, South Dakota and Kansas</li><li>The price of a kilowatt hour of wind energy ran about 4 cents from 2011 to 2012</li><li>There are now 69,000 distributed wind turbines operating in all 50 states </li></ul>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&nbsp; 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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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. <a href="" target="_blank">Click here </a>to see it. <br />, we trying to be too smart about smart metering?noemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerBy Craig Edge, chief consulting engineer, Wheatley Associates<br /><br />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.?"<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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?<br /><br />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?<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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."<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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!<br /><br />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, on the way in Britain?noemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerIt'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 &mdash; in short, genuine electricity drama.<br /><br />It started with a report from the Office of Gas and Electricity Market (<a href="" target="_blank">Ofgem</a>) 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.<br /><br />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 <a href="" target="_blank">power generation</a>, as it places the blame for the potential power shortfalls mostly on the power generation sector.<br /><br />Some factors that could increase the risk of power interruptions include a particularly cold winter or a higher than expected level of industrial activity.<br /><br />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 <a href="" target="_blank">coal-fired</a> power plants.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />The same economic downturn that is making power plants difficult to build is also making power plants less necessary &mdash; because of the downturn and investments in energy efficiency, peak demand has fallen an estimated 5 GW.<br /><br />With such few new power sources in the pipeline, Ofgem is working with transmission authority <a href="" target="_blank">National Grid</a> 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.<br /><br />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. <br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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, thing liberals and conservatives agree onnoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerWe'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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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 &mdash; as gathered by Opower &mdash; backs it up.<br /><br /><div class="separator" style="clear: both; text-align: center;"><a href="" imageanchor="1" style="margin-left: 1em; margin-right: 1em;"><img border="0" height="213" src="" width="320" /></a></div><br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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 &mdash; perhaps feeling they're off the hook. This behavior was not observed in liberals or the unaffiliated.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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, up solar powernoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power<br />Many <a href="" target="_blank">renewable energy</a> 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 <a href="" target="_blank">wind farm</a>, 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.<br /><br />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. <br /><br />A colleague of mine, James Montgomery of <a href=""></a> introduced me to <a href="" target="_blank">Alion Energy</a> (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.<br /><br />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.&nbsp; <br /><br /><div class="separator" style="clear: both; text-align: center;"><a href="" imageanchor="1" style="margin-left: 1em; margin-right: 1em;"><img border="0" height="320" src="" width="238" /></a></div><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />As far as scalability goes, Alion told 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.<br /><br /><div class="separator" style="clear: both; text-align: center;"><a href="" imageanchor="1" style="margin-left: 1em; margin-right: 1em;"><img border="0" height="258" src="" width="320" /></a></div><br />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.<br /><br />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 &mdash; the people without which a project can't reach, much of a setback is San Onofre's closure?noemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerThe 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 (<a href="" target="_blank">SONGS</a>). <br /><br />This uncertainty stems from low <a href="" target="_blank">natural gas</a> prices, the lingering memory of Fukushima, cheaper alternatives, nervous investors and capital costs that seem to start out high only to be revised higher &mdash; as is the case with both the SCANA Corp.'s V.C. Summer Nuclear Station expansion and Southern Co.'s Plant Vogtle expansion. <br /><br />The uncertain environment is in no way helped by the spate of awful headlines that is plaguing the industry as of late &mdash; everything from cracked equipment and plant closures to the strange case of how two <a href="" target="_blank">goldfish</a> wound up in a juice pitcher in a restricted area of <a href="" target="_blank">FirstEnergy</a>'s Perry nuclear plant.<br /><br />Headlines such as these (and others, as the parade of bad news for the <a href="" target="_blank">nuclear</a> 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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />What are the bright spots for nuclear? Well, one advantage that will never go away is the technology's superior carbon emissions profile &mdash; 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.<br /><br />Another area where nuclear proponents are holding out hope for is small modular reactors. The Department of Energy is backing R&amp;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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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 &mdash; both proven ways to generate baseload power &mdash; are becoming liabilities to their owners instead of assets.<br /><br />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 &mdash; 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.<br /><br />, Oklahoma perspective on deadly tornadoesnoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerOklahomans 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.<br /><br />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."<br /><br />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 &mdash; 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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br /><div class="separator" style="clear: both; text-align: center;"><a href="" imageanchor="1" style="margin-left: 1em; margin-right: 1em;"><img border="0" height="297" src="" width="320" /></a></div><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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 &mdash; because we know what it's like.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />From Electric Light &amp; 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.<br /><br />If you are so inclined, you can offer something to help the relief efforts in Oklahoma, you can donate to <a href="" target="_blank">the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund here</a>, for Teslanoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerIn my past couple blog posts, I've written about the <a href="" target="_blank">electric car market </a>and inventor <a href="" target="_blank">Nikola Tesla</a>, 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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />So while stock prices might go up and down, the embrace of a magazine like Consumer Reports could be invaluable to Tesla &mdash; even more meaningful to the accolades given by Automobile Magazine and Motor Trend in 2012.<br /><br />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 &mdash; 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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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 &mdash; 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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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 &mdash; somebody's got to pay for it. <br /><br />For the time being, though, there are apparently a lot of people who are willing to pay for an electric car &mdash; 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.<br /><br />, the inventor behind alternating currentnoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerCredit 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 &mdash; 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.<br /><br /><div class="separator" style="clear: both; text-align: center;"><a href="" imageanchor="1" style="margin-left: 1em; margin-right: 1em;"><img border="0" height="320" src="" width="267" /></a></div><br />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.<br /><br />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 <a href="" target="_blank">seen here</a>. Should enough money be raised by the <a href="" target="_blank">Kickstarter campaign</a>, the statue would be erected in Palo Alto, California. As of this writing, 34 backers have pledged about $3,800 to build the statue.<br /><br />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 <a href="" target="_blank">Telsa Science Center at Wardenclyffe</a>. <br /><br />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.<br /><br />It's true genius is seldom recognized in its own time, but to break out a different cliche: "Better late than never.", coda for another electric car makernoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerAfter selling just 100 units of its product, electric car manufacturer Coda Holdings has filed for Chapter 11 in a Delaware bankruptcy court.<br /><br />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 &mdash; less than electric vehicles made by competitor Tesla Motors.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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 &mdash; even as the price at the pump could leap just as high or higher than it has in the past.<br /><br />Economic analysts have blamed the overall economy as well as "range anxiety" &mdash; a prospective drivers' worry of running out of charge far away from a charging station.<br /><br />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 &mdash; the distance I would drive from Tulsa to visit relatives in Oklahoma City.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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, to invest in solar power, fuel cellsnoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerThe 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.<br /><br />Just this week, telecom giant Verizon Communications announced its plans to invest as much as $100 million in <a href="" target="_blank">natural gas</a> fuel cells and solar energy capacity in 19 facilities in seven states.<br /><br />According to Reuters, <a href="" target="_blank">SunPower Corp.</a> 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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />Officials from Verizon are insisting that these <a href="" target="_blank">green energy sources</a> are meant to boost system reliability &mdash; 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.<br /><br />The technology will be able to generate 8 million kilowatt hours of electricity every year &mdash; enough to power about 6,000 homes.<br /><br />Verizon already uses fuel cells and solar energy, but this is the company's largest investment on such technology so far, officials said.<br /><br />Likewise, <a href="" target="_blank">Apple</a> 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. <br /><br /><a href="" target="_blank">Google</a> 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.<br /><br /><br />, the Lightning Bug returnsnoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerA 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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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 <a href="" target="_blank">fallen power lines</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">flying kites near power lines</a>, or <a href=";list=PL2A61BB71DC906188&amp;index=3" target="_blank">messing around with power outlets</a> and cords in the household. (click hyperlinks to see the YouTube videos)<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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, is in Obama's budget for energy?noemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerPresident 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.<br /><br />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:<br /><br />The budget provides $28.4 billion in discretionary funds for the Department of Energy (<a href="">DOE</a>) &mdash; 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.<br /><br />The budget proposes for $615 million to promote wind, <a href="">solar</a>, geothermal and <a href="">hydrokinetic</a> energy.<br /><br />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 &mdash; with the goal of cutting energy waste in half over the next two decades.<br /><br />Also in the budget is more than $5 billion &mdash; 5.7 percent more than 2012 &mdash; for energy sector research and development. The need to continue R&amp;D even in difficult economic times is something the present has said repeatedly, so finding it in the budget is perhaps not unexpected.<br /><br />About $153 million in research and development funding is proposed for grid modernization, <a href="">cybersecurity</a> 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.<br /><br />Part of this tranche would include $20 million for a new Electricity Systems Hub, which would explore the interface between <a href="">transmission</a> and distribution systems in the smart grid context. The budget would support hardware and modeling R&amp;D to improve the integration of renewable energy into the distribution grid, distributed generation, electric vehicles and residential/commercial buildings loads behind the meter.<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />About $575 million will be invested in alternative vehicle technologies, according to this budget &mdash; 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).<br /><br />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 &mdash; Energy, or ARPA-E, which is the agency that investigates "long game" technologies.<br /><br />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&amp;D primarily dedicated to carbon capture.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />There is $16 million &mdash; up from $10 million &mdash; in enhanced energy infrastructure security and energy recovery capabilities.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />, fatal accident at Arkansas Nuclear One is painful for manynoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerBy Teresa Hansen<br />Editor in Chief <br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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, serious on cybersecuritynoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerThere'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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />"We're on the first step of a twelve-step program to admitting we have a potential problem with <a href="" target="_blank">cybersecurity</a>," Meyer said.<br /><br />Cyber-attacks on utilities are up 52 percent, according to the Department of Homeland Security's cybersecurity protection arm.<br /><br />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 &mdash; easily within the capability of a small group of hackers, such as Anonymous.<br /><br />"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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />"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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />"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." <br /><br />My thanks to Marty Meyer for his help in putting this post together. His company, <a href="" target="_blank">Corero Network Security</a>, is based in Hudson, Massachusetts.<br /><br /><br />, facts about Obama's new head of the DOEnoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerAfter 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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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).<br /><br />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.<br /><br />5. In a <i>Washington Post </i>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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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, changing generation mixnoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerAs 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.<br /><br />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?"<br /><br />Wrong.<br /><br /><a href="" target="_blank">New data from FERC</a> shows the picture is changing drastically. Especially natural gas, coal and renewables. Wind and solar &mdash; which used to be relegated to a tiny sliver of the pie, or else an asterisk or an "other" &mdash; are contributing more than 5 percent of the total generation mix of the country.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />Even unexpected generation technologies, like <a href="" target="_blank">geothermal</a> energy, seems to be showing some growth with more than 147 MW of new capacity being brought online last year &mdash; an increase of 5 percent from 2011.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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, remind public of the grid's needsnoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerBy Teresa Hansen,<br />Editor-in-Chief, <i>Electric Light &amp; Power</i> and <i>POWERGRID International</i> magazines <br /><br />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.<br /><br />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."<br /><br />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.<br /><br /><b>Editor's Note</b><i>: Since the time of this writing, Entergy New Orleans has traced the cause of the Super Bowl outages to an <a href="" target="_blank">electrical relay device</a>.</i><br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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, the talk of DTECHnoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerEvery year, the editors of <i>POWERGRID International</i> and <i>Electric Light &amp; Power</i> 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.<br /><br />I did notice a few topics, though, that people wanted to talk about more than others. Here's my top five:<br /><br /><b>1. Demand response</b><br /><br />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 <a href="" target="_blank">introduced</a> a demand-side management system meant to boost DR programs. Honeywell and Opower <a href="" target="_blank">rolled out</a> an energy management platform to help utilities in their efforts to manage peak loads. Also, Alstom Grid and Capgemini <a href="" target="_blank">paired up</a> 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.<br /><br /><b>2. Analytics</b><br /><br />"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.<br /><br /><b>3. Last gasp capabilities</b><br /><br />This is a phrase I learned shortly before the conference, and I heard some incredibly detailed conversations about it &mdash; 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.<br /><br /><b>4. A "bite sized" approach to smart grid</b><br /><br />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 &mdash; 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."&nbsp; <br /><b><br /></b><b>5. Utility customer apps for smart phones</b><br /><br />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 &mdash; not just iPhones, but also iPads, Androids and others.<br /><br />,'s 'airpocalypse' chokes Beijingnoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerChina is suffering industrial strength growing pains &mdash; particularly in its capital, Beijing, where the air pollution is so bad that the problem can no longer be ignored. <br /><br />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. <br /><br />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 <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>).<br /><br /><div class="separator" style="clear: both; text-align: center;"><a href="" imageanchor="1" style="margin-left: 1em; margin-right: 1em;"><img border="0" height="179" src="" width="320" /></a></div>(<i>Above: A NASA image shows Beijing's smog is visible from space</i>)<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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 <a href="" target="_blank">China's unusually cold winter </a>this year.<br /><br />What can China do other than what it has already done? Well, the country has made up its mind to continue building <a href="" target="_blank">nuclear power plants</a>, which can serve the needs of a power-hungry nation without polluting. <br /><br />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 <a href="" target="_blank">his plan</a> 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)<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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?<br /><br />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.<br /><br />As they say, the first step is admitting you have a, stats to remembernoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerEvery 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.<br /><br /><i>The increase in power generation capacity from natural gas-fired power plants in the U.S. between 2000 and 2012: <b>More than 96 percent.</b></i><br /><br />As <a href="" target="_blank">previously predicted</a> on this blog, the dash for gas is a trend many energy analyists expect to see continue into 2013 and beyond.<br /><br />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.<br /><br /><i>The annual cost of charging an iPhone 5: <b>$0.41</b></i><br /><br />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.<br /><br /><i>The year that the United States will become the world's largest producer of oil: <b>2017</b></i><br /><br />"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.<br /><br />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 <a href="" target="_blank">energy efficiency</a>.<br /><i><br /></i><i>2012's rank in the list of the warmest years ever recorded in the continental United States: <b>No. 1</b></i><br /><br />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.<br /><br />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 "<a href="" target="_blank">Frankenstorms</a>" of the past year have made more people than yours truly wonder whether "once in a lifetime" weather is the new normal.<br /><br /><i>The average miles per gallon of new cars sold in the first half of 2012 in the U.S.: <b>23.8 MPG</b></i><br /><br />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.<br /><br /><i>The proportion of U.S. households that have a smart meter installed: <b>1 in 3</b></i><br /><br />The number of <a href="" target="_blank">smart meters </a>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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br /><i>The number of new nuclear reactors in the U.S. that were granted licenses in 2012: <b>2</b></i><br /><br />These were, of course, the first new licenses granted to any <a href="" target="_blank">nuclear reactor</a> 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.<br /><br /><i>The number of nuclear reactors that Japan has announced it will close by 2040: <b>50</b></i><br /><br />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.<br /><br /><i>The percentage of energy that is wasted in the U.S. every year: <b>56.2 percent</b></i><br /><br />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.<br /><br />Thanks again to OPower for helping gather these, smart grid helped New York weather Sandynoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerThe 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 <a href="" target="_blank">Hurricane Sandy</a> (2012's so-called "Frankenstorm"), there were buildings that did not darken the night the storm made landfall.<br /><br /><a href="" target="_blank">General Electric</a> 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.<br /><br />Because of the deployment of<a href="" target="_blank"> smart grid</a> technology on site, GE's home base in New York City, the famous Rockefeller Center never lost power.<br /><br />To keep the lights on at 30 Rock, power operators used technology similar to that used to channel continuous, uninterrupted power to data centers.<br /><br />"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."<br /><br /><div class="separator" style="clear: both; text-align: center;"><a href="" imageanchor="1" style="margin-left: 1em; margin-right: 1em;"><img border="0" height="320" src="" width="262" /></a></div><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />"Utilities like PPL had made recent investments in some key technologies. They had smart meters with two-way communications," he said.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />"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."<br /><br />GE also worked to increase production of new transformers that the company realized would be needed as part of the grid repair effort.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />"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.<br /><br />The distribution management system has an application called fault detection isolation restoration (<a href="" target="_blank">FDIR</a>). Once it isolates the disturbance, it enables all "healthy" parts of the grid to keep using power, he said.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />"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.<br /><br />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, trends for the power industrynoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerEven if the Mayans are wrong about the world ending, there isn't much left of 2012. So before we all rush off to relatives' houses or office holiday parties, let's take some time to consider the year ahead and what it might hold for the electric utility industry.<br /><br />I had the opportunity recently to ask a few quick questions to Andre Begosso, managing director of Accenture's Utilities North America strategy practice. Thanks to Andre's expertise, we can flesh out what might happen in the coming weeks and months.<br /><br />Trend No. 1: The "Dash for Gas" will continue, but don't count coal out<br /><br />This year, hydraulic fracking and other developments in fossil fuel extraction have tipped the scales in favor of <a href="">natural gas</a>, thus leading power companies to exploit the record low prices of natural gas-fired generation. Andre said he expects this trend to continue into 2013.<br /><br />"The price of gas will continue to fluctuate and there is a reason for that," he said. "Price is driven by marginal demand, which in turn is driven mostly by the <a href="">power generation</a> sector."<br /><br />Along with the Dash for Gas, another phrase that gained notoriety was the "War on Coal." Energy lobbyists and politicians from coal-producing countries have been among those who claim that the president, the <a href="">EPA</a> and Congress have it in for coal and are putting the industry at risk deliberately. For his part though, Andre said he doesn't buy this hype.<br /><br />"The price of gas is the single biggest pressure on the coal sector," he said. "Worse than any regulation or legislation from the government."<br /><br />Regardless of why coal is feeling the pinch, though, there will always be a need for the baseload power it provides, he said.<br /><br />"Even in the best case scenarios, we don't have enough gas to completely replace coal," he said. "Not only that, but we have some upcoming technologies currently under development that will allow us to use less coal. Coal will never go away."<br /><br />Trend No. 2: Utilities get back to their bread and butter<br /><br />With the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding spent and Congress not in a spending mood, I wondered where smart grid pilot programs and <a href="">smart meter </a>rollouts were going to get their funding. "The ratepayers," predicts Andre.<br /><br />"In terms of the smart grid, there was a wave of construction, and now people are getting better at applying the technology. We will continue to learn more about how to apply it and how to keep the technology viable," he said.<br /><br />Some of the more exotic technologies, such as energy storage, that have yet to be firmly proven in the field, utilities will take a rain check on &mdash; waiting to see how the technologies evolve over time.<br /><br />"Utilities will continue to invest in their bread and butter technologies, like AMI. There is no reason for them not to invest in those," he said.<br /><br />Trend No. 3: Has <a href="">renewable energy</a> deployment hit a peak?<br /><br />FERC announced what I thought were <a href="">some surprising numbers</a> about renewable generation. Biomass, geothermal, solar, wind and hydropower, taken together, accounted for more than 41 percent of new generation put online in the U.S. in 2012.<br /><br />This is thanks to a variety of factors, Andre said. Government support, in the form of the production tax credit, is one factor, as are state-level renewable portfolio standards.<br /><br />"A lot of states have a looming 2015 deadline to meet their portfolio standards. Michigan is one of them. So they needed to meet those standards," he said.<br /><br />In the absence of some major advance in energy storage, Andre said, he expects that renewable energy installation will probably start to slow as its shortcomings become more apparent to utilities and power companies.<br /><br />"I would not expect these trends to continue because of the tremendous limitation that renewable technologies have. You cannot break the laws of physics or the laws of chemistry. The wind doesn't blow all the time and it never will, and the sun doesn't always shine and it never will," he said.<br /><br />Trend No. 4: Energy back on the agenda<br /><br />In my <a href="">last blog post</a>, I speculated about what it might take to get energy policy back on the agenda. When I asked about this, Andre said energy already is back on the agenda.<br /><br />"Over the next 3 years, over $220 billion in new infrastructure will be built. But the problem with infrastructure is Rome wasn't built in a day. It takes time," he said.<br /><br />This new wave of infrastructure upgrades will require a level of patience and understanding on the part of ratepayers that Andre wonders whether the average person is capable of. During Hurricane Sandy, for example, Con Edison had one of the most sophisticated electric grids available &mdash; yet it still failed, and people wonder why.<br /><br />"As much as people hate outages, I don't think they understand them," he said. "If we had to build everything to withstand every possible disaster that could happen, it would never be built. It would be too expensive."<br /><br />As far as utilities are concerned in this, Andre compares adopting new infrastructure improvements to how consumers usually approach the release of flashy new electronic gizmos.<br /><br />"Remember when BluRay players were $400? Some people did pay for them, but the average Joe looked at it and said, 'Well, I can still watch movies on my old DVD player.' The infrastructure problem isn't much different from that."<br /><br />Trend No 5: Growth opportunities will come from new start-ups<br /><br />Maybe one of the biggest long-term changes the utility industry has ever seen is the reversal of the status quo of energy use. Energy companies are realizing they have a vested interest in getting customers to use less of their product, and this trend in turn is leading to a market for all kinds of consumer gadgets that will help people use less energy.<br /><br />"The regulatory model of the U.S. was built around capital. The underlying assumption was we'd always have growth and we'd always consume more energy," he said. "What we may see in the future is that assumption might not be true... If you have a good understanding of the way the market works, you will be successful."<br /><br />Small start-up companies that have a good idea and a way to market it might make a bigger splash in the energy sector with it comes to growth than the older, more established players.<br /><br />"I just got a new smart thermostat called the <a href="" target="_blank">Nest</a>, and it's one of the coolest things I've ever bought," he said. "I installed it myself and I'm not a very handy person."<br /><br />My thanks to Andre Begosso for his help with this post. Andre is a managing director in the Accenture management consulting practice and is focused on the resources operating group. He has more than seventeen years of experience in the utility and energy industries and advises clients in the alternative energy, power generation and oil and gas sectors. Andre has a B.S. in industrial engineering from the university of Sao Paulo, Brazil and an MBA from the Ross School of Business at the University of, will it take to get energy on the agenda?noemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerThe elections are over, the White House successfully defended by the incumbent and neither the House nor the Senate changed hands. Now reporters on the Hill and in the White House Press Corps are asking their questions about what will be on the agenda for the next four years.<br /><br />Those of us in the utility and energy sector are wondering &mdash; and I hope we're not the only ones &mdash; whether energy policy will have any space at all on that agenda.<br /><br />If you want to know what will be on the agenda, look at what the winner ran on. President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney's campaign was mostly about taxes, the economy and the role of government &mdash; although there were frequent detours into the realms of foreign policy, education and immigration reform.<br /><br />Energy, when it was mentioned at all, was colored in extremely broad strokes. National politicians&nbsp; seldom get much more specific than the standard lines about energy independence, and the latest buzz phrase appears to be advocating for an "all of the above" energy strategy. <br /><br />Talking in broad strokes, though, never seems to produce a broad-based, holistic energy strategy that addresses how we generate, deliver and consume electricity. If we want to address the problems we face in this area, we have to get specific.<br /><br />A complete energy policy would need to take a stand on what our generation mix would be. Where would we get our power from, beginning with what we have work with in the first place? It would need to address the fact that we still use an energy delivery system that Thomas Edison would recognize, were he alive today. How can we improve on that? Finally, our energy policy would need to make investments in the future &mdash; not in a way that attempts to pick winners or losers, but instead makes educated guesses at where we could get the most bang for our buck from promising new research areas.<br /><br />Those of us in the energy arena already know what we need to do, but our friends (if any) in the political arena would tell us it's a matter of political will and ability. As I said before, if you want to know what will be on the agenda, look at who won, consider how much they won by and remember what they talked about before they won.<br /><br />In this case, Obama won. Again, and by more than 120 electoral votes and all but one or two of the swing states. And he won without talking about energy frequently or specifically. Apparently he (and voters) felt he didn't need to address that subject in any great depth. When his opponent, Gov. Romney, mentioned energy, it was to express his fondness for coal and nuclear energy, or else to name-check Solyndra. There isn't much sign from exit polls that people who didn't vote for Obama made that choice because he wasn't talking about energy issues.<br /><br />In all likelihood, this means budget battles and possibly immigration reform will probably take the front seat for the next couple of years as Congress handles the fiscal cliff and Republicans and Democrats attempt to find a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants that everyone can live with. Or maybe I'm being too optimistic. One thing I'm less optimistic of is politicians spending much time on energy.<br /><br />So what would it take? I'm trying to envision a scenario in which energy becomes the No. 1 issue in American politics and coming up short. We just had a major blackout scenario with Superstorm Sandy and that didn't do it. Neither did the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Nothing seems to get people talking about energy, even though this is such an exciting time to be talking about it.<br /><br />As I was working on this blog, I saw a report that White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters, "We would never propose a carbon tax." It wasn't too long ago that a cap-and-trade bill was working its way through Congress &mdash; it passed the House before languishing and dying in the Senate. Cap and trade, itself a Republican idea originally, lost its luster in the highly partisan, budget-preoccupied atmosphere of Obama's first term.<br /><br />Are there still some brief flickers of hope for a dialogue on energy? Well, I thought it was telling that in his election night address in Chicago, President Obama made a pretty direct reference to climate change &mdash; no doubt still thinking about the previous week's storm recovery effort along the East Coast. Although few are willing to point to a single storm and say, "This is climate change," it's hard to watch a storm of Sandy's sheer scale unfold without wondering if this kind of weather is here to stay.<br /><br />In the end, I'm not sure what it will take to get energy back on the agenda. There are plenty of worthy approaches and plenty of policies Congress, the EPA and others could look into, but it feels like the will just isn't there, or else it's gone anemic in the past few, new website smellnoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerWelcome to the new Electric Light &amp; Power and POWERGRID International online! Our new look is backed up by an all-new content management system behind the scenes that will allow us to bring you news and analysis in new and improved ways.<br /><br />When I say the site is new, I don't mean we just changed the colors &mdash; although we did that too. From top to bottom, our website is redesigned to be a richer source of information with even more specialized topic coverage &mdash; whether you're looking for smart grid information, a stories about renewable energy projects or a feature on smart meter rollouts, our website has been retooled to make it easier for you to find what you need.<br /><br />Allow me to take you on a little tour of what's new and improved.<br /><br />Our topic centers are redesigned and offer more news and information uniquely tailored to what you're looking for. These centers include our new <a href="" target="_blank">Executive Insight</a> topic center, plus centers that cover <a href="" target="_blank">power generation</a>, transmission and distribution, <a href="" target="_blank">metering</a>, renewable energy, energy efficiency, customer service and the <a href="" target="_blank">smart grid</a>.<br /><br />We have a new <a href=";bctid1942338141001" target="_blank">video center </a>designed to help you sort through our newscasts (plus the player itself is larger than the one we have on the homepage, which is nice).<br /><br />Our <a href="" target="_blank">social media center </a>not only makes it easy to get in touch with us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, but it also provides a live feed of what we're talking about and what people are talking to us about.<br /><br />At the very top of the home page, our revamped content rotator will show you more of what our site has to offer, including digital issues of our <a href="" target="_blank">magazines</a>.<br /><br />Also, I think it's important to note that we're not done yet. We will continue to improve our site and apply good ideas when and where we come up with them. If there is anything you'd like to see more of (or less of), or if you have your own idea of how we can do better, please let us know with a comment at this blog, or via email.<br /><br />Thanks, and we hope you enjoy exploring and getting to know our new, was everything they said she would benoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerThis morning while watching news footage of Hurricane Sandy's aftermath, for some reason I thought of "Jurassic Park."<br /><br />On CNN, I could see just about every prediction meteorologists made the day before come true, one by one. It made me think of the chaos theory-obsessed mathematician Ian Malcolm who predicted Jurassic Park's dinosaurs would be impossible to contain.<br /><br />Later on, with a full-grown tyrannosaurus broken loose and stomping around, Malcolm says regretfully, "Boy, do I hate being right all the time."<br /><br />The day the storm made landfall, I called into a webinar hosted by Earth Networks, a weather forecasting firm that makes the WeatherBug iPhone app that I use myself just about every morning.<br /><br />The company's meteorologist, Mark Hoekzema, predicted storm surges around Long Island, flooding in New York, heavy rains in Maryland and Virginia, wind gusts throughout New England and blizzards in Appalachia.<br /><br />If you want to see how accurate those predictions turned out to be, I recommend reading <a href="" target="_blank">the story I wrote yesterday</a> and comparing them with <a href="" target="_blank">today's headlines</a>.<br /><br />All we have to go on in times of severe weather are the predictions of scientists and the mass media's transcription of those predictions. Sometimes predictions fall short of coming true &mdash; call it chaos theory. Sometimes this leads to people getting a little blase about how severe the storm could be &mdash; even if they live in or near its predicted path.<br /><br />Sometimes the media over-hypes what the scientists are trying to say. Many people felt the warnings about Hurricane Irene in 2011 were exaggerated, even though the storm was the fifth costliest storm in U.S. history.<br /><br />One group who can never assume that the worst won't happen, however, is electric utilities. It's a scary thing to lose power in the middle of a disaster &mdash; especially with frightening news stories coming in and people tweeting some pretty awful pictures of storm damage. And if utilities aren't completely on point with their recovery efforts &mdash; or even if the public merely doesn't think the lights are coming back on fast enough &mdash; they have to face an angry public.<br /><br />This particular storm was everything they said it would be. Some 7.5 million people were left without electricity, multiple billions will have to be spent on repairs, thousands are likely homeless, hundreds of thousands are cut off from transportation and almost 40 Americans are now dead. And that's just what we know about now. There will certainly be stories in the coming days and weeks of other kinds of damage. Whether you're in a utility, working for the media or just some a bystander hunkering down and hoping for the best, pays to be careful.<br /><br />NOTE: The Red Cross is seeking donations, preferably money, blood or volunteer time. <a href="" target="_blank">Click here</a> for more information.,'Frankenstorm' threatens East Coastnoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerWhen did storms start getting such creative names? The East Coast's blizzard of 2010 was dubbed "Snowmageddon." Runners-up for that storm's name were "Snowzilla" or even "SnOMG."<br /><br />This most recent storm at least tells you what makes it so dangerous. According to the experts, the "Frankenstorm" could be a hybrid weather monster resulting from the collision of Hurricane Sandy sweeping in from east to west, and a wintry storm coming from west to east. Worse, a cold front is coming down from Canada.<br /><br />At the time that I write this, they're not exactly certain where these storms could collide, if indeed they do, but forecasters are predicting the worst storm in 100 years for the American Northeast.<br /><br />At the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, forecasters are saying there may be no precedent for the kind of storm activity their models are suggesting.<br /><br />NASA even has a video uplink showing what the storm looks like from space. Pretty scary. <br /><br /><script src=";cc_default_off=1&amp;player_name=uvp&amp;width=512&amp;height=332&amp;player_id=1aa0b90d7d31305a75d7fa03bc403f5a&amp;t=V0yyKgbYmLkdZpiVOByS8nCxDza_S556aE" type="text/javascript"></script> <br /><br />Sandy has weakened somewhat since moving away from the Bahamas, and is now a Category 1 hurricane. It is predicted to run parallel to the coastline, near the outer banks of North Carolina. It could run aground anywhere between the Maryland-Delaware-Virginia peninsula to Southern New England. As with any hurricane track, however, this prediction could change.<br /><br />I'm sure there will be plenty of people snarking at the media for overhyping Frankenstorm if it turns out to be milder than predicted, but with damage predictions ranging from at least $1 billion to as much as $5 billion, utilities will be glad not to have to clean up such a mess.<br /><br />Like utilities do, however, companies large and small are preparing. The usual press releases about staying away from downed power lines are going out, severe weather centers are activating, call centers are bringing in their staffs and mutual assistance crews are organizing.<br /><br />Pepco has held back some 400 contractors in their service area to address storm damage. Exelon's Baltimore Gas &amp; Electric has warned its customers of power outages and flooding. Duke Energy is monitoring the storm and activating the initial phases of its storm plan. FirstEnergy utilities (which include Penelec, Potomac Edison, Jersey Central Power &amp; Light, West Penn Power and Potomac Edison are mobilizing internal crews and support personnel to assist with the restoration,, Romney talk about energy, with energynoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerPresident Barack Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney faced off at New York State's Hofstra University October 17 with polls tightening and each man eager to make their appeals to the country's remaining undecided voters still available in the 2012 election's last few weeks.<br /><br />While the first presidential debate saw little mention of energy as an issue &mdash; with Romney briefly mentioning government subsidies to green energy firms, like the bankrupt Solyndra &mdash; this debate had the candidates talking energy both frequently and early on in the proceedings.<br /><br />Last night, a member of the town hall audience broached the topic of energy costs with a question about gas prices and plans to lower them. He said Obama's secretary of Energy, Stephen Chu, has said it is not the policy of the DOE to help lower gas prices, and asked Obama directly if he agreed. Obama responded to this question by talking about the production of oil, coal and natural gas.<br /><br />The president said that while production of fossil fuels is up, the country must also invest in wind power, solar power and biofuels, as well as make vehicles that burn less gas.<br /><br />On natural gas, Obama said, "We've got potentially 600,000 jobs and 100 years worth of energy right beneath our feet with natural gas. And we can do it in an environmentally friendly way, but we have got to continue to figure out how we can get efficient energy because that is how we can reduce demand and that is what's going to keep gas prices lower."<br /><br />Both candidates tried to claim the mantle of an "all of the above" energy policy, which has become a bit of a catchphrase for both parties of late. Obama said Romney's plan is not all-of-the-above because he would let "oil companies write the energy policies."<br /><br />"So he's got the oil and gas part, but not the clean energy part," Obama said. "China and Germany are making these clean energy investments, and I'm not going to cede those jobs of the future to those countries. I expect those new energy sources to be built right here in the United States."<br /><br />"I want to make sure we use our oil, our coal, our gas, our nuclear, our renewables. I believe very much in our renewable capabilities. Ethanol, wind, solar will all be an important part of our energy mix," Romney said. "But what we don't need is to have the president keeping us from taking advantage of oil, coal and gas."<br /><br />Building a coal-fired power plant in specific, Romney said, is nearly impossible to do under current regulations &mdash; hinting that this is by the design of Obama's EPA.<br /><br />Obama countered this charge by saying that as governor of Massachusetts, Romney "took great pride" in shutting down a coal plant.<br /><br />"You stood in front of a coal plant and pointed at it and said, 'This plant kills,'" Obama said.<br /><br />According to the Tampa Bay Times' PolitiFact, the plant Obama referred to was the Salem Harbor Power Station, which was then owned by Pacific Gas &amp; Electric. The four-unit coal-burning plant had been ranked as one of the "Filthy Five" plants by an environmental group and as the newly elected governor, Romney decided not to support a plan to grant the plant an extension to comply with emissions rules. At a videotaped press conference, Romney said, "I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people, and that plant &mdash; that plant kills people."<br /><br />Obama went on to say that his administration invested in "clean coal" technology.<br /><br />CNN reporter Candy Crowley, who served as moderator, asked whether the price of gas be meaningfully addressed by an American president at all, or are per-gallon prices hovering around $4 the "new normal," Crowley wanted to know.<br /><br />The subject went back to oil production, where Romney said production on public land had dropped by 14 percent this year, which sparked a testy exchange and back-and-forth denials. <br /><br />Apparently both men decided that the sure-fire winner was talking about gas prices &mdash; with Obama defending his record and talking about production, and Romney in turn saying the strategy hasn't worked because of the price you pay at the pump.<br /><br />While there was occasional name-checking of wind or solar, this debate's energy talk was almost limited to fossil fuels, though. The energy we feed into the grid by burning fossil fuels wasn't talked about much by either candidate, and nobody said a word about energy infrastructure, grid cybersecurity or the smart grid.<br /><br />It wasn't too much to hope for either. I have heard this president say the words "smart grid" before, even though many voters might not yet know what it means. Romney, I'm sure, is aware of these technologies too, having helped manage the finances of high-tech companies in his private asset management days.<br /><br />I wish "energy" in the context of a political debate could occasionally mean something more than "gas prices" though.<br /><br />It was a town hall style debate, and time was limited however. According to at least one report, Crowley had a question on climate change in her pocket that she never got around to asking. That could have potentially yielded some thought-provoking statements. Maybe if there had been a bit less crosstalk on the floor, she could have gotten to it.<br /><br />There is still one more debate, but it will primarily concern foreign policy. This debate, then, was probably the last time energy policy could conceivably have been brought up in any great detail &mdash; at least with both the president and the governor in the same room.<br /><br />If you want to know where these candidates stand on energy issues, it looks like you're going to have to do a little digging.<br /><br />For more on Romney and Obama's respective energy plans, see <a href="" target="_blank">Jennifer Van Burkleo's story</a> from the September-October issue of <i>Electric Light &amp; Power</i> magazine.<br /><br />And please, don't forget to vote &mdash; Nov. 6, or earlier if your state allows it., of the rising sun runs increasingly on solar powernoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power<b>UPDATE</b>: <i>Shortly after this blog was written, Reuters reported that Japan will shortly introduce a plan to wean itself off of nuclear energy entirely by as soon as 2030. This development will doubtless result in an entirely new energy policy and eventually an entirely new generation mix for the country.</i><br /><br />In many spots around the globe, power producers and utilities are looking to deconcentrate their grids away from large, centralized power generators and steer them more toward distributed generation. There are cons to this approach, but the benefits are attractive, at least in theory.<br /><br />While some countries have the luxury of carefully weighing these pros and cons, there is one country that's being forced by current events to decentralize, and rapidly, just to keep the lights on.<br /><br />New research indicates that post-Fukushima Japan is now the world's third-largest solar energy markets, with nearly 5 GW of installed solar capacity. Germany and Italy, respectively, are the first and second. In some ways, though, this is a return to form for Japan rather than a new development.<br /><br />In the 1990s and the early 2000s, Japan was the world leader in solar. Due to the cancelation of programs that backed solar (as a result of the government response to the "Lost Decade" depression in that country) and an accompanying shift toward nuclear power, Japan took its eye off the ball when it came to solar energy.<br /><br />Then, of course, came the earthquake, the tsunami and the Fukushima disaster.<br /><br /><div class="separator" style="clear: both; text-align: center;"><a href="" imageanchor="1" style="margin-left: 1em; margin-right: 1em;"><img border="0" height="212" src="" width="320" /></a></div>(Photo credit: <a href="" target="_blank">Shutterstock</a>)<br /><br />Since then, Japan's government has taken a second look at solar, and added more than 1 GW of solar capacity last year. The majority of this new generation is grid-connected, with all the benefits and drawbacks that adds.<br /><br />With the adoption of new solar-friendly regulations and generous tariffs, companies across Japan's economic spectrum have announced plans to set up solar parks and install rooftop solar arrays on their properties. To boot, Japan is also one of the world leaders in manufacturing solar cells, modules and other key materials that support the solar energy supply chain.<br /><br />Can a country replace a highly productive nuclear fleet with solar energy? That question raises further questions, but it's certainly a daring strategy and it will be interesting to watch, helping utilitiesnoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerFollowing Hurricane Isaac life is getting back to normal for most residents all along the Gulf Coast. As with other major storm recovery efforts of years past, power utilities are looking out for each other through <a href="" target="_blank">mutual assistance</a> practices.<br /><br />Isaac, which came aground in the U.S. as a Category 2 hurricane, arrived in time for the 7-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the worst hurricane in American history in terms of dollars spent on damage recovery.<br /><br />Some of these crew members worked 16-hour days to help families without power. To do that, they had to take open-ended commitments of their time and leave their hometowns for days or weeks at a time.<br /><br />Eric Silagy, president of Florida Power &amp; Light company told NBC's Today Show that these storm recovery crews are like an army on the move. Looking at some of the video, it's easy to see the truth in that comparison.<br /><br /><script src=";;playerWidth=300;playerHeight=240;isShowIcon=true;clipId=7673753;flvUri=;partnerclipid=;adTag=News;advertisingZone=;enableAds=true;landingPage=;islandingPageoverride=false;playerType=STANDARD_EMBEDDEDscript;controlsType=fixed" type="text/javascript"></script><a href="" title=" - The News for South Mississippi"> - The News for South Mississippi</a><br /><br />Cleco Corp. managed a 2,400-member storm team to restore power to 95,000 customers. The utility secured workers from Oklahoma, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky, Texas, Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia, Virginia and Maryland.<br /><br />Alabama Power sent crews into Mississippi to help with recover efforts there. See video of that deployment <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>. <br /><br />AEP's Southwestern Electric Power Co. served in Shreveport, Louisiana, booking hotel rooms for crews to sleep in, organized fleet vehicle fuel stops and planned out other logistics. The utility received help from AEP operating companies from Ohio, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky and Virginia, as well as outside contractors.<br /><br />Dominion Virginia Power sent 130 workers and contractors, plus bucket trucks. Dominion workers were returning a favor in a way, as crews from Louisiana came to Dominion's Virginia service area to assist with the June 2012 derecho.<br /><br />Oklahoma Gas &amp; Electric sent 71 employees to southern Louisiana. OG&amp;E, a member of the Southeast Electric Exchange, served in the same area following Hurricane Gustav.<br /><br />TECO Energy and Progress Energy Florida sent teams from Florida to help storm victims &mdash; about 290 workers total. Progress Energy's parent company, Duke Energy, sent 1,000 contractors total to help restore power. <br /><br />These are just a few examples and this blog post is not meant to be comprehensive. Utilities maintain extensive networks of work crews, and some are participants of multiple assistance programs. <br /><br />Mutual assistance is pretty cool to watch at work. When there's a big job to do, it's hard to imagine storm recovery going as smoothly any other way. It's especially cool when you hear about a utility returning the favor by assisting crews that once helped, bites dog: Utility reports record dog attacksnoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerBy Jeff Postelwait<br />Online Editor<br /><br />My background is in newspapers, and reporters have a lot of colorful jargon &mdash; not all of which can be used in polite society. One phrase we use that the public at large might know about is "man bites dog." It refers to a story that has novelty. It's the opposite of what you normally hear about.<br /><br />I immediately thought of that old phrase when I saw Consumers Energy post a release about a record number of dog attacks on their meter readers. Of course, I have a comfortable distance from this problem as my job doesn't require me to wander into strangers' backyards. If I did, I wouldn't be snickering.<br /><br />In just the last two weeks, according to Consumers, meter readers reported six dog attacks and a record 14 dog bite incidents have happened since the year began. This is compared to six total in 2011. Five of these incidents resulted in injuries, including one that needed hospitalization and stitches to the face and neck.<br /><br />So what do utility workers do about uncontrolled dogs in the areas they have to service? First of all, utilities are asking their customers to keep their dogs confined to houses or other enclosures. But in some cases, the customers were setting their dogs loose on purpose as the meter reader approached. In an extreme circumstance like that, the utility and its lawyers will be getting involved.<br /><br />In more routine situations, the meter readers use "dog wands" to distract and divert trouble canines. One version of this tool looks like a tennis ball on a stick. As both a dog owner and someone who has raised a kid successfully through his terrible twos, I understand the value of distracting away from bad behavior.<br /><br /><div class="separator" style="clear: both; text-align: center;"><a href="" imageanchor="1" style="margin-left: 1em; margin-right: 1em;"><img border="0" height="212" src="" width="320" /></a></div><i>(Photo credit: <a href="" target="_blank">Shutterstock</a>)</i><br /><br />Employees are instructed not to enter a yard that appears to have an unrestrained dog. In cases like that, the customer's energy use is estimated. The dog doesn't have to appear particularly threatening either &mdash; just unrestrained.<br /><br />"Even the most gentle, well-mannered dog can become protective and aggressive around people it doesn't know," said Michele Kirkland, vice president of energy operations at Consumers.<br /><br />That is true especially when the owner isn't around to calm the animal down, I would add. Dogs are pack animals, so they look to you for guidance. If you don't have a problem with someone, then neither will the dog in most situations.<br /><br />Also, people should know when meter readers are coming around. I admit I don't, but many utilities will let you know that using their websites. Consumers is one such utility.<br /><br />It's in the customer's interest to make sure their dog or dogs aren't running free in the yard because these estimated bills that could result might be higher than the amount of electricity they actually used. So keeping the dog away from the meter reader is good for the bank account as well as the meter reader's stress level.<br /><br />A solution that takes the dogs, the backyards, and the meter readers out of the equation entirely is smart meters with automated meter reading capability. People might have their qualms about smart meters, but one thing you can't argue with is it would take some of these utility employees out of harm's way.,, elections, government and grading the stimulusnoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerWith about 80 days left to go, the 2012 presidential election is shaping up to be a question of how much the government can or should get involved with the economy, with business and in people's individual lives. Both President Barack Obama and his challenger Gov. Mitt Romney have their own ideas about the role of government, but in the utility industry people demand results.<br /><br />One of the biggest things the government did for the power industry since the 2008 election is the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. While not always popular with voters, the so-called "<a href="" target="_blank">stimulus act</a>" allotted a fair chunk of change to the industry, and it's fair to say there are many infrastructure projects that might not have gotten off the ground without that money.<br /><br />If the utility industry were to give the Recovery Act a three-year report card, it might look something like the points shared with me by Ron Chebra, who is vice president of management and operations consulting with <a href="" target="_blank">DNV KEMA</a>.<br /><br />Looking back over the past three years, Chebra said, it's helpful to remember what the point of it all was. The Recovery Act was intended to stabilize state and local government budgets, invest in technological advances, assist those impacted by the recession, boost infrastructure and &mdash; most importantly &mdash; create jobs and promote recovery.<br /><br /><div class="separator" style="clear: both; text-align: center;"><a href="" imageanchor="1" style="margin-left: 1em; margin-right: 1em;"><img border="0" height="320" src="" width="222" /></a></div><br />The Recovery Act included the<a href="" target="_blank"> Smart Grid </a>Investment Grants (SGIG), which were supposed to "accelerate the modernization of the nation's electric transmission and distribution systems and promote investments in smart grid technologies, tools and techniques that increase flexibility, functionality, interoperability, cyber-security, situational awareness and operational efficiency."<br /><br />In Chebra's analysis, "It is my belief that many energy jobs were created as a result of the stimulus. The greatest areas of positive impact have been in the manufacturing and installation sectors where the rush to build and install millions of smart meters formed a great need for these resources."<br /><br />But the question that only time can answer is how long will these jobs last? Will they plateaued along with the end of their subsidy, or will they get the ball rolling on something lasting?<br /><br />"Certainly, with the step change that stimulus created, there seems to be some sluggishness in new U.S. smart meter orders," he writes.<br /><br />When it comes to helping those affected by the recession and the worldwide credit crunch, the stimulus "definitely" helped spur growth in domestic manufacturing, which had been brought to a near standstill and was at risk of being out-competed by businesses in Europe and China, among others.<br /><br />Technology innovation, another goal of the act, were accelerated by the flow of money that went into research and development, he said.<br /><br />"For some time, some of the investments made in the electric infrastructure were directed toward meeting the increasing need for supply; through the initiatives funded by these grants, many of the investments focused on the delivery and demand side," he said.<br /><br />How to get customers involved and educated when it comes to smart meters has always been a key aspect of smart grid rollouts, and "As we await the tally of realized net benefits of these investments, the trends now show that many of these programs have resulted in greater customer awareness and participation in demand management efforts that will result in sustainable long-term economic benefits."<br /><br />Some of the bad news that might result from the Department of Energy-funded projects include stumbles in customer engagement. Because of the smart meter rollouts made possible in places like California, there are now grassroots citizens groups advocating against the use of smart meters and their efforts have led to opt-outs. <br /><br />There's also the problem of utility "haves" and "have-nots." So in the wake of the stimulus, there's now a gap between those whose projects got government funding and those who didn't.<br /><br />Another problem is the creation of "islands" of automation in the rush to be shovel-ready. These islands now need to be integrated to achieve the benefits anticipated in the business cases, he, the world's biggest blackoutnoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerAbout 10 percent of the world's population lost power recently as a blackout swept across northern India. As many as 700 million people, or twice the population of the U.S., were affected. Fortunately there have been no reports of deaths connected to the blackout, but the loss of power did result in traffic snarls, stranded train passengers and a group of trapped coal miners.<br /><br />So what can the world's biggest democracy do to help stave off such wide-sweeping outages in the future? To find out, I spoke with Jason Black, a research leader in grid systems with Battelle's Energy, Environment and Material Sciences Global Business.<br /><br />Black characterized India's power grid as reasonably good on the transmission side, but a bit dodgy on the distribution side. Furthermore, the country has struggled with power shortages as its current generation mix often can't meet the demands of the population.<br /><br />"In many sections of the country, they use rolling blackouts regularly," Black said. "But I don't think it's as simple as an excessive load. There are protection schemes in place to deal with that."<br /><br />In recent years, India has worked to encourage investment in new power generation of just about every type, including distributed renewable generation like solar energy, of which India now has about 1 GW. <br /><br />"Traditionally they have used coal, and they have some hydro as well. They have made some legislation that was meant to increase their renewable capacity &mdash; just as a way to try to correct some of their power shortages," he said.<br /><br />In addition to bringing more generation online, India's grid operators have attempted to interconnect their grid more thoroughly &mdash; an approach not without its dangers.<br /><br />"[Interconnection is] good from one perspective, because the redundancies can address an interruption in one area. But from another perspective, it can increase the risk of cascading power outages, which it appears this one is."<br /><br />Though its transmission grid is reasonably well developed, India's rapid development and population growth have left it with a distribution system that often falls short of the task of delivering power to those that need it.<br /><br />"They have had some ongoing problems with electricity theft, which has become a local political problem and leads to losses, making the pull on the system unpredictable. Cleaning up the distribution system would help them a lot," he said.<br /><br />For one thing, India's grid could implement underfrequency load shedding as is done in the U.S.<br /><br />"In the U.S., we operate our system at 60 Hertz. This keeps the power flowing in sync, so generators don't trip offline. Imbalances in demand and supply are what cause these kinds of outages &mdash; when the generators can't handle the imbalances. That's one way to get these cascading power outages," he said.<br /><br />To prevent further outages during the restoration process, India's grid operators need to be careful how they manage the grid in the coming days.<br /><br />"If you're a steam plant and the system has tripped off to protect itself, your steam cools off. It can take many hours to return to service. Depending on how many of their generators have black start capability, that process can take a while," he said.<br /><br />As generators start spinning again, grid operators have important choices to make.<br /><br />"There's a trade off. Do I bring on all my generators, or do I bring on a certain subset of customers that I can get to faster?" he said. "If there isn't enough slack in the system when you start up these plants, it can bring the system offline again."<br /><br />Furthermore, there might be physical damage to the grid that needs fixing &mdash; delaying restoration even more.<br /><br />"There could be parts of the grid that broke... Some transformers that exploded or some circuit breakers that opened. They have to deal with those things before bringing the grid back online," he said.<br /><br />Black said this blackout is likely one of the worst in history, in terms of the number of people affected. While Indian officials are still investigating the causes, it bears all the telltale signs of a cascading power outage, like the Northeast blackout of 2003, which began in Ohio, ran through New York and into Canada. But even in a blackout so widespread in North America, only 55 million people were affected. It's almost unthinkable to most of us to imagine 700 million people without power.<br /><br />But that's pretty much how it always goes with power outages, as people in the utility industry know. People don't think about it at all until the lights go out. Then the next day (hopefully) when they come back on, the finger-wagging, out the Duke Energy CEO shufflenoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerSomething about the reports coming out of Charlotte are making the Duke Energy merger feel more like a break-up than the start of a new relationship. The merger with Progress Energy was supposed to create one of the biggest utilities in the world, with some 7.1 million customers. Instead, the only thing it seems to be creating so far is a lot of bad press for the newly merged company.<br /><br />For those who are still catching up, Progress Energy CEO Bill Johnson was supposed to take charge of the newly merged Duke Energy. Instead, shortly after the merger was finalized, reports came out that Jim Rogers would be the top man at Duke instead of Johnson, as was previously agreed upon.<br /><br />In effect, Rogers was swapped out for Johnson with Johnson having "served" as CEO for less than a day. Duke called this a "mutual agreement," but that phrasing has sounded fishier as time has gone by and people have talked to the press.<br /><br />Jim Rogers himself laid out Duke's side of the story, telling the North Carolina Utilities Commission, which is looking into the CEO shuffle that followed the merger, that the board simply lost confidence in Johnson as the merger process advanced.<br /><br />Rogers' people were concerned about Johnson's management methods, Rogers said, adding that the Duke people were afraid Johnson and his people would try to impose Progress Energy's culture onto the merged company.<br /><br />Rogers said Johnson's management style was "autocratic" and tended to crowd out other points of view. These concerns were held by the Duke people for quite a while, but apparently weren't bad enough to stop the merger in its tracks. It seems they decided that Johnson was the issue, even as they agreed to make him CEO of the combined company.<br /><br />Duke Energy officials have said, somewhat defensively, that they had a contractual obligation to make Johnson the CEO, and they did &mdash; albeit for less than a day.<br /><br />Meanwhile, the mainstream press is full of stories about Johnson's "$44 million payday," with "nice work if you can get it" being the go-to punchline. <br /><br />What we're not hearing much of yet, though, is Johnson's side of the story. Right now it's looking like less of a merger of equals and more that Duke Energy simply swallowed Progress Energy whole. Keeping Johnson as CEO was supposed to ensure that Progress Energy's interests were well-represented in the early days of the new Duke Energy's operations, but now that won't be happening.<br /><br />One thing's for sure: People will be talking, and soon. The latest development in this story is the departure of many Johnson loyalists from Duke. The vice president of regulated utilities, the executive vice president and chief administrative officer and the chief integration and innovation officer have each just handed in their resignations. We'll be keeping an eye on this story, so stay, a disaster made in Japannoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerThe Japanese government's official report on the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear disaster hit the internet earlier this morning and now everyone is picking apart what it means.<br /><br />The parliamentary report purports to assign some level of responsibility for the accident, and the part that is making headlines so far is the finding that it was "man made," which must be opposed to a natural disaster &mdash; even though it was a natural disaster that touched the meltdowns off in the first place. The report, by the way, took half a year to put together, and the commission who authored it had the authority to compel government agencies to surrender pertinent information whether they wanted to or not.<br /><br />Man-made failures that occurred both before and after last year's earthquake and tsunami were chiefly to blame for the <a href="" target="_blank">Fukushima</a> disaster, the report holds. This is probably the strongest-worded rebuke that plant operator TEPCO has received through official channels to date.<br /><br />The commission's chairman wrote that the triple meltdown cannot be regarded as a natural disaster, but went on to say that it could have been prevented with a more effective human response. <br /><br />In a twist that might be hard for Westerners to understand, the report places blame on Japanese culture itself.<br /><br />"Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: Our reflexive obedience, our reluctance to question authority, our devotion to sticking with the program, our groupism and our insularity," according to the preface of the report. "Had other Japanese been in the shoes of those who bear responsibility for this accident, the result might well have been the same."<br /><br />It's sharply worded indeed, but it also comes right on the heels of the <a href="" target="_blank">1 trillion yen</a> (or about $12.5 billion) bailout from the Japanese government that will both save the company and put the government in charge of it. At least temporarily, if all goes as planned.<br /><br /><br />It's interesting to note that this report, unlike some others, did not specifically say that the magnitude-9 earthquake did not damage equipment or structures at the Fukushima plant. Most other reports held that the plant withstood the earthquake only to succumb to tsunami damage.<br /><br />These findings could challenge some of the design assumptions the Japanese nuclear industry and the Japanese government (which are, even now, regarded as especially cozy) have stood by over the past few decades.<br /><br />The report devoted a good deal of attention to the relationship between industry and government in Japan, implying that TEPCO lobbied the government to slacken regulations. To build this case, the commission requested information from Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.<br /><br />Government mismanagement of the situation as it evolved, the report also said, didn't help matters. The report's writers made it explicit that TEPCO can't and shouldn't try to pin blame on the government, however.<br /><br />When Japan's government gave the nod to <a href="" target="_blank">restart</a> the first reactors to complete their required stress tests, those restarts were met with public protests. The public, perhaps understandably, thinks nuclear energy is too dangerous. A suite of new safety requirements &mdash; maybe passed in the wake of reports like this one &mdash; could create a new argument for protesters: That nuclear power is too, incredible shrinking solar plantnoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerBy Jeff Postelwait<br />Online Editor <br /><br />In the U.S. solar power market, developers are looking for access to the cash they need to build large, utility-scale solar projects, but that money is proving hard to find. If this keeps up, makers of solar farms in excess of 20 MW could be eclipsed by firms who put solar panels on rooftops.<br /><br />In the first quarter of 2012, there were 506 MW of new solar projects that went online &mdash; accounting for some $1.9 billion in spending. This is a drop from the last quarter of 2011, which saw $3.1 billion worth of investment.<br /><br />One factor? Shrinking and disappearing subsidies. Government funding is fading fast, and it's hard to say when Washington might feel like investing in solar power again &mdash; particularly with elections looming. It goes without saying that any whiff of uncertainty isn't good for upstart solar companies and their projects.<br /><br />However, where the industry has recently favored big solar projects like the 290 MW Agua Caliente Solar Project being built by <a href="" target="_blank">First Solar</a> and NRG Solar in Yuma County, Arizona, we could soon see an uptick in small and medium solar power projects.<br /><br />A huge undertaking like Agua Caliente was once thought to represent an industry sea change toward big <a href="" target="_blank">solar power</a>, but even proponents of solar power as a generation source can't deny that Agua Caliente would still be a patch of bare sand out in the desert without the Department of Energy loan guarantee that made it possible.<br /><br /><div style="text-align: center;"><object class="BLOGGER-youtube-video" classid="clsid:D27CDB6E-AE6D-11cf-96B8-444553540000" codebase=",0,40,0" data-thumbnail-src="" height="266" width="320"><param name="movie" value="" /> <param name="bgcolor" value="#FFFFFF" /> <param name="allowFullScreen" value="true" /> <embed width="320" height="266" src="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object> </div><br />It's much easier at this point for solar developers to pursue smaller projects, like say teaming up with a big-box electronics store and installing some solar panels on the rooftops of a few stores. The chain gets good press, the solar manufacturers sell equipment, the projects are easier to approve, nobody has to worry about harming the desert tortoise's habitat, and generally everyone goes home happy.<br /><br />But is this the way for the solar industry to finally get off what I've heard energy analysts describe as "the crack cocaine of public subsidies" once and for all and stand by themselves as their own industry? It's hard to say yet because there are still too many factors to consider.<br /><br />Cheap natural gas is still a fierce competitor to just about any other generation technology, whether it's coal-fired plants or a solar farm. On the other hand, many state governments still have renewable portfolio standards to think about. On the other, other hand, there's the problem of incorporating too much solar energy onto the grid too soon without infrastructure upgrades. On the other-other-other hand, solar still has the advantage of being "sexy," meaning companies who want to look hip or forward thinking are still going to want to invest a little in solar &mdash; like Google, Inc. for one example.<br /><br />Whether solar as an industry is ready to take off the training wheels and pedal without extensive tax breaks and subsidies is too large a question for me to answer. But from the way things are looking now, I expect to see fewer mega-sized solar projects going up in the, your email address says about your energy usenoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerBy Jeff Postelwait<br />Online Editor<br /><br />Do you Yahoo? Maybe you prefer Gmail. But did you know what email address you're registered with could reveal something about how much energy you use at home?<br /><br />According to energy efficiency technology firm Opower, Yahoo Mail users could be paying $110 more annually on their energy bills than people who use Google's Gmail.<br /><br />It's not that the act of sending emails eats up less energy if you use Gmail. This analysis has more to do with demographics. Opower looked at the overall household energy use of 2.8 million households across the country. Of those, roughly 1.15 million of them used either Gmail or Yahoo.<br /><br />The average Yahoo Mail household used 11 percent more electricity than a Gmail household. The Yahoo users are eating up nearly a whole megawatt-hour more ever year than Gmail users.<br /><br />Why is that? Well, Opower thinks the people who prefer Yahoo are more likely to live in larger households and use more energy per square foot. Gmail users typically are city dwellers who live in more compact, energy-efficient housing. Gmail users are also more likely to take an interest in their home energy usage by signing up for an energy audit or similar program.<br /><br />So if you are interested in using less energy in your house, it's not as simple as registering for a new email account. It's more that people who care a little more than average about cutting their energy use tend to prefer Gmail over Yahoo. No matter what email you use, though, there are still plenty of things you can do to use less, Congress, security and generation at EEInoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerBy Jennifer Van Burkleo,<br />Associate Editor<br /><br />At the EEI Annual Convention this week, I caught up with former EEI Chairman Tom Farrell and Lew Hay, the new EEI chairman and CEO of NextEra Energy, to talk about what conventioneers were talking about in Orlando this year. I was glad to be inside, given how hot and rainy it was most of the time.<br /><br />At the convention, held at the Marriott, my editor in chief Teresa Hansen and I were able to meet with both the incoming and outgoing chairmen. Hay said that although he is the incoming chairman, he will work closely with Farrell on industry priorities like cyber security, distributed generation, workforce issues and the direction of <a href="" target="_blank">EEI</a>.<br /><br />Utilities compete in many ways, but they also pull together and work together for mutual advantage, Hay said. He also credited Farrell for helping build a consensus among EEI's member utilities.<br /><br />As we sat down, the two men tackled the topic of cyber security. Hay and Farrell agreed that EEI would support a legislative solution in Congress to help private industry and the government share information on cyber threats. Such a bill is making its way through Congress, having earned approval in the House of Representatives in April and now awaiting a vote in the Senate.<br /><br />The bill was introduced by Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, who heads the House Intelligence Committee. The Obama administration threatened to veto the bill, claiming that the country's critical infrastructure would not be adequately protected by the legislation. The administration also expressed doubts about the level of protection the bill offered for consumer privacy.<br /><br />"I think my company's system gets attacked more than a million times a day, but most aren't robust and we detect them," said Hay as he ate a giant cookie, provided at the meeting.<br /><br />Hay and Farrell agreed that the government and Congress should let utilities share information to better protect their customers.<br /><br />"The government clearly has information (about threats) that they aren't sharing with us," Hay said. "It will take an act of Congress to work these issues out."<br /><br />When we asked about the future of distributed generation, Farrell stated that it will grow in a variety of forms, many that are still unknown. Utilities should be sure that they have in place a fair way to distribute the cost of upgrading the distribution grid to accommodate distributed generation now rather than when it might be too late in the future, Farrell said.<br /><br />EEI's outgoing president Thomas Kuhn, who stepped into our meeting later on, used Germany's current cost problem as an example of why the U.S. should prepare for the future now. Because Germany waited too long to deal with the issue of electric costs, utility prices are now double those seen in the U.S.<br /><br />According to Hay, utilities need to communicate the value of electricity to their customers. They need to find a way to communicate what is driving utility bills.<br /><br />As technology changes, so do employees and their skills. Companies need to update their training materials by including more detail to what the position is, Hay said. Utilities shouldn't assume that potential employees know what the position description is.<br /><br />Hay also suggested that companies look toward military personnel and veterans to fill their open positions, adding that troops are much better trained than they were 20 years ago.<br /><br />Farrell has been chairman, president and CEO of Dominion since 2007. Hay is CEO and chairman of NextEra Energy. Hay's last day as CEO will be July 1, 2012, where he will then take over as executive chairman of NextEra through 2013.<br /><br /><br />,'s (trade) war between the U.S. and Chinanoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerBy Jeff Postelwait<br />Online Editor <br /><br />Things are heating up again between the U.S. and China, and this time the trouble has to do with international trade and the equipment used to capture solar energy. For several years now, U.S. energy companies have complained they can't compete with the "flood" of cheap solar energy gear that's coming from China and flooding the U.S. and world markets. Companies facing financial troubles or bankruptcy, like Solyndra for one, are looking for a scapegoat, and many of them are pointing at China.<br /><br />In response, the U.S. Department of Commerce is launching an investigation into these practices. This "<a href="" target="_blank">anti-dumping</a>" investigation led Commerce to explore the option of levying duty fees, or tariffs, against the Chinese-made solar goods. Just last year, China sold more than $3.1 billion worth of solar cells and panels in the U.S., so it's easy to see why it's referred to as a "dump." While nothing is final yet, Chinese firms are <a href="" target="_blank">hopping mad</a>, some American firms are pointedly silent, and trade groups with interests worldwide <a href="" target="_blank">just want everyone to get along</a>.<br /><br />This isn't the first time Commerce has threatened to impose such tariffs, or indeed carried them out. There were tariffs taken out against Chinese electric blankets, of all things, not too long ago. But protectionism is always controversial, and in today's global economy it's not always easy to know if one country's tariffs might not also harm companies within that same country's borders. Some American energy companies that use Chinese-made solar parts might stand to lose profits if they have to buy them at higher margins, for example.<br /><br />If the tariffs go through, Chinese companies will be left to either raise their prices in hopes of turning a (now lowered) profit, or else move their manufacturing centers outside of China to dodge the tariffs. Some companies that might be subject to future tariffs could be poised to do so. <a href="" target="_blank">Suntech Power Holdings</a>, for example, which could face tariffs as high as 31.2 percent, has regional headquarters in Switzerland and the U.S. as well as China, and could conceivably shift operations to those or other countries. Mexico and Taiwan are two spots that Suntech, and other companies like it, might consider.<br /><br />Suntech, perhaps predictably, says it opposes any barriers to trade at any point along the solar power supply chain. But what are American companies saying? As I write this, they're mostly pretty quiet, and I'd assume happy. But there are signs I might be assuming wrong.<br /><br />Whether an energy company in America is smiling or frowning about these potential tariffs depends greatly upon where they sit on the solar supply chain. The guys who shape steel and silicon into panels might be happy, but the folks who actually slap the finished panels onto rooftops, for example, might be less so.<br /><br />We should also not forget that there are other firms in other countries who'd like to do business making solar farms in the U.S. Companies based in Germany, Spain and elsewhere are feeling the squeeze as China has tightened its grip on the U.S. market these past few years. They might also stand to benefit from tariffs, perhaps. Assuming they are pointed squarely at Chinese firms, that is.<br /><br />The U.S., for its part, claims that all it wants to do is level the playing field. But can it really be level at this point? By now everyone understands the problems that China, also known as "The World's Factory," can cause the rest of the world with their massive workforce and low labor costs. They have the power and willingness to produce goods and ship them to market at costs few other countries can match.<br /><br />Still, there is the little matter of international trade laws. While I am by no means an expert on those, I assume the U.S. Commerce Department is. So I will be watching what comes out of their offices in the coming weeks, as I'm sure the Chinese will as well. It should be interesting. Stay tuned for,, Obama is not paying your utility billsnoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerBy Jeff Postelwait<br />Online Editor<br /><br />Presidents promise a lot, particularly in an election year, but President Barack Obama is apparently getting credit for delivering on a promise he never made &mdash; namely, paying people's utility bills.<br /><br />Major utilities like PG&amp;E, Westar Energy and SDG&amp;E have <a href="" target="_blank">posted</a> some announcements in recent days to alert customers of a "nationwide scam." It seems imposter utility workers are going door to door with promises that the president has started a program by which customers can obtain credits to pay for their utility bills. The scammers, as usual, are sniffing around for people's personal information, like Social Security numbers and the like, in the furtherance of other scams.<br /><br />Obviously, utilities don't want their good names tarnished by some phishing fiasco, so several of them are doing what they can to spread the word that there is no such government program, and that you should always confirm that someone claiming to be a utility worker is legitimate before handing over any personal information.<br /><br /><div class="separator" style="clear: both; text-align: center;"><a href="" imageanchor="1" style="margin-left: 1em; margin-right: 1em;"><img border="0" height="204" src="" width="320" /></a></div><br />Also par for the course when it comes to con artists, the main targets appear to be elderly people. The scammers, according to reports, make their contacts door to door, by phone or online and ask for the customer's information. After they get that, they give the customer a fake bank routing number (not unlike the notorious "Nigerian prince" identity theft scams) where the customer can make payments. They are promised credit on that account, but the payment makes its way to the scammer's pockets, and not to any utility company.<br /><br />So... basically be on your guard, and beware of phony utility workers bearing gifts. It's not a bad idea in an election year to take everything with a larger than usual grain of, is coal in a slump â�?�? really?noemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerBy Jeff Postelwait<br />Online Editor <br /><br />Everyone knows that with enough time and pressure, coal can turn into diamonds. What will become of the coal industry with all the pressure it is currently under, nobody can say.<br /><br />The Wall Street Journal took a look at two of the top three coal producers, Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources, both of which are experiencing lower demand and falling profits. Peabody Energy, another top coal miner, predicted that demand for coal could drop by as much as 10 percent this year. But why?<br /><br />Given the fact that everyone has their own politics concerning using coal to make power, it's tempting to point the finger at either EPA regulations or some draconian piece of legislation that came from Congress, but I think blaming any one culprit for this trend is short sighted.<br /><br />One factor the Journal neglects to get into, for example, is the other fossil fuel we use for energy. Natural gas recently hit a 10-year low in demand, some estimates have it. We're sitting on massive new reserves of the stuff because of new extraction techniques, and so many utilities would much rather build a natural-gas fired unit than a coal unit right now.<br /><br /><div class="separator" style="clear: both; text-align: center;"><a href="" imageanchor="1" style="margin-left: 1em; margin-right: 1em;"><img border="0" height="214" src="" width="320" /></a></div><br />You could well argue that natural gas, being a finite resource, is also subject to price swings back and forth, but based on all the generation news I handle every day, I'm definitely seeing a big trend toward natural gas to the detriment of other forms of generation.<br /><br />To explore another possible explanation for this problem, just open a window. It's beautiful out, and it has been for several financial quarters. The almost freakishly warm winter that the U.S. experienced had people eating up less energy &mdash; from coal or from any other source. While the EPA has been flexing its regulatory muscles in the direction of coal power lately, you can hardly blame the weather on government bureaucrats.<br /><br />To be fair, we are seeing quite a few new and proposed regulations that appear to have the coal industry in their sights, whether you'd call it intentional or not. There's the proposed Clean Air Act standard for carbon dioxide pollution for new power plants. There's the <span id="ContentBody">Mercury and Air Toxics Standards</span> rule issued in February, which could require coal plants to retrofit and reduce emissions of arsenic, acid gases, nickel, cyanide and other toxins. And finally there's the <span id="ContentBody">Cross-State Air Pollution Rule from earlier in 2012.</span><br /><span id="ContentBody"><br /></span><br /><span id="ContentBody">When the new carbon standards were proposed, more than a few were saying that this was regulation meant to kill coal for good. But at that time, the Energy Information Administration listed only a single coal-fired unit in the pipeline to be built. So if there is a piece of regulation out there threatening to kill coal, this one wasn't it.&nbsp;</span><br /><span id="ContentBody"><br /></span><br /><span id="ContentBody">If coal is dying off &mdash; still an alarmist thing to say for this multi-billion dollar a year industry &mdash; there isn't a single factor you can point to if you're looking for something to blame. The entire energy industry is changing, just as surely as the customers it serves are changing their minds and thinking more about how energy is produced. So while these may be challenging times, there is still time to make changes. </span><br /><span id="ContentBody"><br /></span><br /><span id="ContentBody">If these trends prove irreversible and it becomes impossible to sell coal in the same country where it is mined, then </span>the U.S. coal industry needs to develop new markets. I can think of nowhere better to look than at China and India, the former of which is about to become the world's most coal-hungry nation. China generates nearly 70 percent of its energy from coal, but only has about 13 percent of the world's reserves. That's just one country that has "potential customer" written all over, drones could deploy in the fight against outagesnoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerBy Jeff Postelwait<br />Online Editor<br /><br />Maybe this is just the viewpoint of an American who grew up on "Terminator" movies, but I still find it incredibly weird and interesting that we live in a world where robots patrol the skies. Apparently the Electric Power Research Institute still thinks robots are cool too because they're researching ways for the technology to help out the electric power industry.<br /><br />Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drones, of the same category of the Hellfire-carrying Predator, deployed around the world by the United States Armed Forces, could potentially be used by utilities to check on the status of distribution systems, according to an <a href="">EPRI</a> study. Instead of sporting Hellfire missiles, though, these units could carry cameras, sensors and global positioning capability.<br /><br /><a onblur="try {parent.deselectBloggerImageGracefully();} catch(e) {}" href=""><img style="float: left; margin: 0pt 10px 10px 0pt; cursor: pointer; width: 400px; height: 277px;" src="" alt="" id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5732119274278237762" border="0" /></a><br /><br />It's easy to see why an all-seeing eye that can fly to a remote area and report data back to its operators might be of good use to an industry that frequently deals with icy roads, downed trees and other hazards at the very same time when the need for good communications has never been higher.<br /><br />EPRI decided to take that idea and run with it with a series of tests of different types of UAVs at the New Mexico State University Flight Test Center, which is just a short distance away from the <a href="">White Sands Missile Range</a> in south-central New Mexico. These aircraft carried high-resolution video cameras and transmitted images of power lines from a useful distance of 7,000 feet in the air.<br /><br />Footage shot like this could provide timely information to grid operators and their field crews, allowing them to better prioritize their outage restoration efforts and get accurate information sent off to affected customers.<br /><br />"The tests indicated that unmanned airborne technologies equipped with sensors, cameras and GPS could be deployed quickly, allowing utilities to evaluate large areas more quickly than ground-based crews, then develop a repair strategy and mobilize repair crews more quickly and effectively," according to EPRI.<br /><br />EPRI is also taking a look at the capabilities of drones for the inspection and assessment of overhead <a href="">transmission</a> lines. To make sure these findings are more practical for the utilities, EPRI is gathering data on UAV functional requirements, costs, inspection technologies, as well as testing several different types of UAVs.<br /><br />Other sectors have taken a look at UAVs before, including the oil and gas industry, firefighting departments, meteorologists, forestry services and others. Still, I think that for utilities that have the resources to put these drones in the sky, it could dramatically boost response time &mdash; and utilities know that when customers are in the dark, every second, energy game changers for the Third Worldnoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerBy Jeff Postelwait<br />Online Editor<br /><br />It's a safe bet that most people who are reading this are used to living no fewer than a few footsteps away from a lightswitch or electric socket. For almost all of us, the most frequent blackout we have to deal with is a when our smart phones go dark after a long session of Angry Birds. In fact, there are some people who dream of living off the grid &mdash; whether that means camping out in a national park or investing in distributed generation equipment for the home.<br /><br />But as many as a quarter of the world's population live without easy access to grid-connected electricity, according to Scientific American. To address problems such as unemployment, poverty, education and malnutrition, that remaining 25 percent of humanity without power needs innovative solutions that address off-grid life.<br /><br />I spoke recently with Dr. Al Malouf of NineSigma, which styles itself as an "open innovation services provider." The organization works with companies like Kraft Foods, Unilever, Philips, L'Oreal and others to develop these innovations.<br /><br />One such partnership is the LAUNCH program, a consortium that includes the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), NASA, Nike and others. The LAUNCH effort aims to develop ten "game-changing" solutions for those who live without adequate access to electricity, heating and cooling, water and other basic needs.<br /><br />LAUNCH recently identified ten entrepreneurs with ten good ideas in the hopes that their technologies could be developed and deployed to those who need them.<br /><br />"There was a focus on third world or developing world, as well as the developed world. A lot of our partners had techs that would benefit places in rural Africa that might not even be connected to the grid," Malouf said. "About 80 percent of the people in Africa own cell phones, but fewer than that are connected to the grid. So a big challenge for them is where to charge their cell phone that doesn't involve walking ten miles."<br /><br />When choosing which energy entrepreneurs to approach for submissions, Malouf said his organization had to stick with technologies that work on the distributed energy level or smaller, as utility-scale, grid-connected technologies. <br /><br />One example of a highly distributed power source now approved by LAUNCH is the Hydrovolts hydrokinetic mini-turbine. The unit is small enough to take advantage of the potential energy of flowing water just about anywhere it can be found.<br /><br /><a onblur="try {parent.deselectBloggerImageGracefully();} catch(e) {}" href=""><img style="float:left; margin:0 10px 10px 0;cursor:pointer; cursor:hand;width: 400px; height: 248px;" src="" border="0" alt=""id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5730629400285771458" /></a><br /><br />"You can just throw these things into the canals. They can work in shallow water, they right themselves automatically and they can power pumps and drive gates within the canal system," he said. "It's a nice way of capturing the kinetic energy of the water to do work in the area."<br /><br />The technology is scalable too, in that you can fasten three or four of the units together to produce a greater amount of power, if needed.<br /><br />The Solanterns Initiative aims to replace a million dirty, inefficient kerosene lanterns in Kenya with solar powered LED lights.<br /><br /><a onblur="try {parent.deselectBloggerImageGracefully();} catch(e) {}" href=""><img style="float:left; margin:0 10px 10px 0;cursor:pointer; cursor:hand;width: 400px; height: 274px;" src="" border="0" alt=""id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5730630048798776978" /></a><br /><br />"Using kerosene lamps, the problem is the quality of light is poor and they generate indoor pollution, which can lead to lung diseases &mdash; especially in young children," he said. "With better quality light, businesses can stay open longer after dark and students can learn better in school."<br /><br />The devices, when charged up by the sun, can also provide enough juice to charge up a cell phone &mdash; eliminating the need to travel to a town center for a working electricity source.<br /><br />NanoTune Technologies, also chosen by LAUNCH, developed a new ultracapacitor that they claim offers five to seven times greater energy storage technology than conventional capacitors.<br /><br />"They can't divulge exactly what the technology is, but they think the tech might be able to replace conventional batteries," he said, adding that the ultracapacitors charge quickly, and might one day become a good storage device for wind or solar power &mdash; eliminating the need for a bulkier battery bank.<br /><br />Gram Power's innovation is a microgrid technology that offers pre-paid, intelligently metered power with both AC and DC voltage outputs as well as battery backup at the household level. <br /><br />"This is a smart DC grid &mdash; a way to power a house with a very small power supply," he said, adding that the innovation includes a business model for delivering this pre-paid power source to rural people and their dwellings.<br /><br />"They will plug these battery packs into this smart grid system that is installed in the house. It works on a prepaid, weekly basis. An affordable and realistic way for rural people to have high quality lighting and places to charge their cell phones," he said.<br /><br />Point Source Power came up with a fuel cell technology that could allow people living off the grid to charge a cell phone as they cook their dinner &mdash; with the same heat they use to cook that dinner.<br /><br />"This uses biomass to create electricity. It's a small fuel cell, driven by heat. Most of these villagers use a fire pit to cook their food, so they developed a fuel cell that is totally sealed. The heat from the cookstove will generate a small amount of electricity when the cell is thrown into the burning fuel &mdash; enough power to charge a cell phone," he said.<br /><br />You can read more about these and other technologies backed by LAUNCH at their <a href="">website</a>, early to use the phrase 'nuclear renaissance' again?noemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerBack around late 2008 when I worked for <span style="font-style:italic;">Power Engineering</span>, one of our sister publications in the electric power trade media people were using the phrase "nuclear renaissance" quite a bit. <br /><br />Is it too early to talk about a nuclear renaissance again? The short answer is: "Probably." The only other answer I can think of right now is, "Time will tell."<br /><br />With both 2008 presidential candidates supporting a new fleet of nuclear plants and nearly 40 planned nuclear reactors ready to be constructed around the world, my senior editors told me a "sea change" was happening. Those were their exact words. The industry hadn't been buzzing about <a href="">nuclear energy</a> this much since the days before the Three Mile Island accident, they said.<br /><br />This was, of course, before the world economy hit rock bottom and an earthquake-spawned tsunami swamped the <a href="">Fukushima Daiichi</a> nuclear plant in Japan, touching off the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. That was before Japan's nuclear industry was shattered, Germany pulled out of nuclear energy entirely and few countries seemed eager to pursue anything resembling a renaissance.<br /><br />For an industry that has for so long been defined by the terrible accidents associated with it, and not for the carbon-free energy that it produces as baseload electricity for some 30 countries, good news has often been scarce.<br /><br />Even when people don't think about nuclear disasters, they tend to think of nuclear energy as being more expensive than it appears. While it is true you can fuel cities on just a few small pieces of fissionable material, the sheer amount of cash it takes to get those fuel rods humming in a fully constructed plant makes nuclear energy seem more promising on paper than it is in the real world.<br /><br />So maybe it's <span style="font-style:italic;">because</span> this industry hasn't gotten much good news over the past decade that people who advocate for nuclear energy are willing to latch on to any bit of progress. That progress may be arriving with the approval of the Nuclear Regulatory Agency's first Combined Constriction and Operating Licenses ever.<br /><br />At Southern Co.'s <a href="">Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant</a> and South Carolina Electric & Gas Co.'s <a href="">Virgil C. Summer Nuclear Generating Station</a>, the idea of the nuclear renaissance is being tested yet again. The approvals of the licenses are a big step — a historic step, even. But there is still a lot standing in the way of a true renaissance.<br /><br />The first time Americans started talking about a nuclear renaissance was around the turn of the century. Perhaps key here was that natural gas and coal prices had spiked. Today, natural gas is dirt cheap, and there's a rush to build more gas-fired turbines. One might justifiably ask now why we shouldn't just build a fleet of gas-fired units instead of a large, expensive nuclear plant.<br /><br />While there is still some dispute over cost-per-megawatt figure building a nuclear plant represents, no one will call that figure low. Even as large as modern power utilities are, some doubt whether there's a single utility with a balance sheet large enough to float a loan to build one — thus requiring the advent of nuclear consortiums, perhaps even international ones.<br /><br />Then there's the problem of getting plans for a plant past the local public utility commissions, who must approve these expenditures. In today's economy, they might want to know why the utility doesn't want to choose a cheaper generation technology. Plant Vogtle's builders said they wanted to diversify into nuclear energy because they don't want to be held hostage to a future spike in natural gas prices. This seems logical, but bureaucrats can be less than logical.<br /><br />Finally, you've got to sell the idea to a post-Fukushima public that is <a href="">more skeptical</a> of nuclear than ever. Even if you manage to find a receptive audience and the locals do want a nuclear plant, anti-nuclear and other hostile environmental organizations will be more emboldened than they were a decade ago when the talk of a nuclear renaissance first started.<br /><br />There are still 18 expansion projects comprising 28 nuclear units that have applied for COLs, including Vogtle and Summer, according to the NRC. I'm thinking that potential nuclear power plant builders are thanking heaven for small favors that they are able to apply for and occasionally get a COL approved. Licensing might actually be one of the easier things about building a nuclear plant.<br /><br />Then again, editors have long memories and we can be a cynical bunch. Just because we've heard this stuff before doesn't mean big things aren't about to, college student as smart meter guinea pignoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerPublic Service Co. of Oklahoma is teaming up with a local private university, the University of Tulsa, to install about 1,000 smart meters in and around the school's campus in the hopes of helping students learn how to make smarter energy choices.<br /><br />Installation kick-off happened in mid-March, and university officials say they're glad to be working with PSO. The installations were completed this week, just in time for students returning from spring break.<br /><br />PSO last showed an interest in smart meters with a spring 2011 deployment of about 14,000 advanced meters in the Tulsa suburb town of Owasso.<br /><br />"As we strive to identify new technologies that can help our students conserve resources and control energy costs, we welcome the installation of PSO's smart meters on TU's student apartments," said TU president Steadman Upham.<br /><br />Using these advanced meters, the utility can connect or disconnect electric service remotely. This capability offers a special advantage on a college campus: With students moving in and out of campus housing for the fall and spring semesters, PSO can turn service on or off easily and without the need to send out a utility worker to the site to service the order.<br /><br />The meters will connect with a specially designed Web portal, allowing participating customers to check out their electric usage and other information that will let them see how much energy they are using and how they can use less.<br /><br />The utility is hoping that this pilot program will help them learn about the energy habits of college students, and how interested they are in cutting their energy use.<br /><br />"The installation of smart meters on student apartment housing is a perfect opportunity to see how young, technology-savvy young people take advantage of information they will have available to help manage their energy usage and costs," said Derek Lewellen, PSO gridSMART project manager. "The number of meters we'll install, plus the fact that TU is a leader in the field of energy technology makes this partnership a natural fit."<br /><br />It's not just dorms, suites and on-campus housing that will get a smart meter. PSO will also install smart meters at residences and commercial buildings along the northern edge of the campus.<br /><br />The TU campus is just a few miles away from where I type this, here at PennWell Corp. headquarters in Tulsa. Locally, TU is considered to be a really prestigious (and expensive) school to go to, and I'm not saying that because I went there — I didn't.<br /><br />University campuses and college towns have long been targeted as test beds for smart grid technologies, and for good reason. They often operate as self-contained grids with their own physical plants and occasionally their own on-site power sources. <br /><br />So they definitely hold promise for companies and investors who want to try their hand at, say, a smart grid program, an energy storage pilot or a smart meter installation. Plus, as an investor, you get access to a group of young, educated people who might be a little more receptive to new energy ideas than the average local resident.<br /><br />When I was in college, I spent most of my time living in off-campus apartments where the utilities were pre-paid by the landlord. That was generally something you looked for as a student on a fixed income. So I didn't think much about my energy use at all. <br /><br />If I had had the ability to keep an eye on my electricity use though, I might have been interested in doing it. College is where a lot of people live on their own for the first time, and you pick up a lot of domestic skills during that time as you think about things you never had to think about before — like supplying groceries to a whole dwelling, how much water you use in a month, or where to get enough quarters to do your laundry.<br /><br />Testing this kind of program out on student, then, seems like a good choice. If today's utilities are interested in helping foster a generation of people who think about their energy use, getting into colleges and starting programs like these is a great first step. Once you pick up that habit, it's likely you'll continue it as you enter what your elders call "the real world."<br /><br />By Jeff Postelwait<br />Online, utility pole tree?noemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerBy Jeff Postelwait<br />Online Editor<br /><br />On Spring Break weekend, my family, friends and I went on a 7-mile hike in the Winding Stair Mountain National Recreation Area in Electric Light & Power's home state of Oklahoma. The area, which is home to the Ouachita National Forest, extends into Arkansas. It's the oldest national forest in the southern states and was a setting used in the John Wayne classic "True Grit," as well as the 2010 Coen Brothers remake.<br /><br />The striking thing about the land for me, being an Oklahoman, was the very tall, very vertical cedar trees. From my first step out of my car, I could hear the wind rushing through the treetops (and not much else). With as many ice storms, violent winds and tornadoes that come through the area, there aren't many tall trees in this part of the world — although we do have some battle-tested utilities and co-ops that can vouch for the intensity of this kind of severe weather.<br /><br />About a third of the way into the hike, I rounded a corner on the trail that cut near a small creek and saw something worth taking a few pictures of. I'm not the world's most experienced hiker, and I don't know a lot about forests or trees, but I'd never seen a tree quite like this one before.<br /><br /><a onblur="try {parent.deselectBloggerImageGracefully();} catch(e) {}" href=""><img style="float:left; margin:0 10px 10px 0;cursor:pointer; cursor:hand;width: 296px; height: 400px;" src="" border="0" alt=""id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5724305643182736306" /></a><br /><br />To me, this tree's trunk looked for all the world like a utility pole. I thought that someone's "Lost Dog" poster might not look too out of place duct-taped to this tree. <br /><br />The area where the thick, papery bark had fallen away revealed a smooth, shiny surface that was immediately familiar. Yet when I looked skyward, what I saw looked more like the other cedar trees that made up this forest.<br /><br /><a onblur="try {parent.deselectBloggerImageGracefully();} catch(e) {}" href=""><img style="float:left; margin:0 10px 10px 0;cursor:pointer; cursor:hand;width: 297px; height: 400px;" src="" border="0" alt=""id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5724306294762634322" /></a><br /><br />After the hike, I had to do a little bit of Googling just to satisfy my curiosity. Even though I work for a company that deals with the transmission and distribution side of the utility industry, I wasn't exactly certain where all those familiar-looking power poles actually came from. A few sources online have said that cedar wood is used by utility pole manufacturers because the wood is more resilient to moisture, weather, warping and temperature changes — clearly qualities that you'd want if you were making utility poles.<br /><br />So, again, I'm not an expert, but I wanted to share a little scene from my hike that I thought was interesting. Also, there might be someone out there who could comment a little more on where utilities get their poles and what kind of trees are used to make them.<br /><br />Happy trails!,'s the Green Button?noemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerBy Jeff Postelwait,<br />Online Editor<br /><br />The Internet is buzzing this morning as utilities and energy companies gush their support of an industry-led, White House-spurred energy efficiency program called the "<a href="">Green Button</a>."<br /><br />I remember <a href="">posting</a> about the Green Button first when San Diego Gas & Electric shortly before DistribuTECH 2012 came to San Diego. Here's an outside <a href="">link</a> to SDG&E's version of the Green Button on their customer website.<br /><br />But now I'm seeing around a dozen different companies, each with their own announcements either of support of or participation in this program.<br /><br />Itron, Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., PECO, American Electric Power, Reliant Energy, Oracle, Silver Spring Networks, OPower, Efficiency 2.0, Schneider Electric, FirstFuel were just a few I could find as of press time. These are some of the utilities who will make Green Button functionality available to customers, or else provide some kind of logistical support for the effort.<br /><br />Announcements of supporting utilities and companies are still going out. A few other major participants include Centerpoint Energy, Glendale Power & Light, Pepco Holdings, Southern California Edison, Dominion Virginia Power, Austin Energy, Commonwealth Edison and PG&E. <a href="">Click here</a> for a full list of companies that are supporting the Green Button.<br /><br />What these utilities all seem to have in common is they've each had some kind of large <a href="">smart meter</a> deployment in their histories, which makes me wonder if those meters might be a part of some new, thus-unmentioned functionality for the Green Button program at some point in the future. Or maybe it's just that these companies want to be seen as both "smart" and "green."<br /><br />Reports are that this initiative is a response to a White House challenge to American utilities to engage and empower consumers to help them save energy and money while also driving innovation in energy efficiency.<br /><br />In fact, President Barack Obama, currently on a mini-tour of the U.S. to highlight his ideas on energy policy that included a recent stop in Cushing, Oklahoma to talk oil pipelines, will be talking about the Green Button at Ohio State University later today. So clearly this is a program the administration is proud of.<br /><br />All told, nearly 30 million customers may now live in the footprint of the Green Button. But what does the Green Button do and how can customers use it?<br /><br />"By clicking a Green Button, residential and commercial utility customers can download detailed energy usage information in a standardized format to manage consumption and costs," or so say the press releases.<br /><br />For the Department of Energy's part, the federal agency decided to pony up about $8 million in grant funding to spur the development of "apps for energy" that help customers learn more about how much power they use.<br /><br />This initiative may just be step one in the effort to educate consumers about their energy use, however. As the process evolves a bit and becomes more automated, it could become easier for electric customers to learn about their energy habits.<br /><br />Even for a guy like me, who spends most of his waking life online, the process looks a bit involved. It looks like customers will have to start up an account with their utility's website if they don't have one already, then download the data to some kind of third-party application. Maybe a more streamlined process could be in the works.<br /><br />Still, there could be a sign that the initiative could improve in the sheer number of technology types who are crowing about the Green Button. Google, Intel, GE Energy, Verizon and Johnson Controls, have each sent out letters in support of Green Button.<br /><br />Lending credence to this theory is the White House's official blog, which said, "Companies are already developing Web and smartphone applications and services for businesses and homeowners that can use Green Button data."<br /><br />So, assuming this gadget garners any measurable interest from people in these utilities' service territory (and actually use the information to cut demand down a bit), we might hear more about this Green Button thing later on. I'll keep an eye out.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>,'s 2013 budget includes electric distribution fundingnoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power<p class="MsoNormal"><span style="font-family:Calibri;">President Barack Obama on Feb. 13 released his proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 (FY 13). The budget includes $27.2 billion for Department of Energy (DOE) projects. </span></p><span style="font-family:Calibri;"><br /><p class="MsoNormal"><br />Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the budget underscores the president's commitment to an "all-of-the-above" energy strategy. The budget request, Chu said, also represents tough choices aimed at focusing taxpayer resources on areas that will yield the greatest benefits. </p><br /><p class="MsoNormal"><br />Obama in recent months has voiced his support of the nation's energy delivery business, including in his June report "Policy Framework for the 21st Century Grid: Enabling Our Secure Energy Future." </p><br /><p class="MsoNormal"><br />"A smarter, modernized and expanded grid will be pivotal to the United States' world leadership in a clean energy futureâ€&brvbar;" the report states. "A 21st century clean energy economy demands a 21st century grid." </p><br /><p class="MsoNormal"><br />And during January's State of the Union address, the president said, "Building this new energy future should be just one part of a broader agenda to repair America's infrastructureâ€&brvbar; We've got â€&brvbar; a power grid that wastes too much energy." </p><br /><p class="MsoNormal"><br />This DOE table shows the budget request breakdown for research and development related to electricity transmission and distribution and how it compares to previous years' budgets.</span><img style="MARGIN: 0pt 10px 10px 0pt; WIDTH: 400px; FLOAT: left; HEIGHT: 180px; CURSOR: pointer" id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5714189062880509362" border="0" alt="" src="" /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><style>@font-face { font-family: "Cambria Math"; }@font-face { font-family: "Calibri"; }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 10pt; line-height: 115%; font-size: 11pt; font-family: Calibri; }.MsoChpDefault { font-size: 11pt; font-family: Calibri; }.MsoPapDefault { margin-bottom: 10pt; line-height: 115%; }div.WordSection1 { page: WordSection1; }</style><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /></p><br /><p class="MsoNormal">The president said he asked for less money to support work on sodium-ion batteries for grid-scale energy storage because the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) project is on track to show commercial viability. </p><br /><p class="MsoNormal"><br />In addition to the research budget for energy delivery technologies, the FY 13 proposal shows much support for energy-savings technologies and strategies. The budget request includes $310 million to improve commercial and residential building efficiency, supporting the president's Better Buildings Initiative aimed at driving private sector investment in commercial building efficiency. </p><br /><p class="MsoNormal"><br />This brief overview represents only a small portion of the more than $27 billion requested by the DOE, but I thought you might like to see how some of the funding, if approved, will be used to help move along smart grid. </p><div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, to Southern Co. and Georgia Powernoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerIt looks like it&rsquo;s really going to happen. Finally, a new nuclear power plant is going to be built in the U.S. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) granted a combined construction and operating license (COL) for Plant Vogtle units 3 and 4. Receipt of the license signifies that full construction can begin.I applaud Southern Nuclear and Georgia Power, subsidiaries of Southern Co., operators of Plant Vogtle units 1 and 2 and overseers of units 3 and 4 construction. Their perseverance and ability to look beyond the next five to 10 years when making decisions about future capacity should be commended. I&rsquo;ve mentioned before that I began my career in the electricity industry working at a nuclear power plant. I believe nuclear power is a safe, reliable and clean way to generate electricity and I&rsquo;ve sometimes been discouraged because it&rsquo;s taken 30 years for a utility to step up and be the first to take on the task of building a new plant. I hope this is the first of many more to come. I hope the construction goes smoothly and proves to those who want to follow that the road isn&rsquo;t too long or bumpy for them.<br /><br />Southern Nuclear and Georgia Power are stepping up and taking a risk, but they aren&rsquo;t shouldering the risk alone. The federal government, through the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), is taking some of the risk through loan guarantees. Based on the project&rsquo;s projected costs, the DOE&rsquo; loan guarantee will be about $3.4 billion. It will be funded by the Federal Financing Bank. Reports I&rsquo;ve read say the project partners should close on the DOE loan guarantees around the second quarter of 2012.<br /><br />Of course, not everyone is as thrilled as I am about the new nuclear units. Many believe nuclear power is too dangerous or too expensive or both. Certainly, some risks to public health and safety are involved, but these risks are low. Even Japan&rsquo;s Fukushima nuclear power plant accident wasn&rsquo;t nearly as bad as first feared. Japanese authorities recently concluded no local residents or power plant employees were harmed by radiation. And, even though the incident was scary and unnerving, it is the source of many lessons learned that will ultimately lead to improved performance and safety at nuclear plants, both old and new, around the world.<br /><br />Certainly, a new nuclear power plant will not be cheap. When you look at the expected life of a new plant and the relatively low cost of its fuel, however, the price tag doesn&rsquo;t seem so bad, especially when you consider the expenses that many coal-fired generators face because of Environmental Protection Agency regulations. I received a press release that said Vogtle units 3 and 4 are &ldquo;Solyndra on steroids.&rdquo; It was, of course, referring to the load guarantees and the fact that Solyndra defaulted on its loans and the DOE will have to pay up. I strongly disagree with this analogy. Nuclear power has been providing reliable, safe, clean and affordable electricity for nearly a half century. It currently provides about 20 percent of the nation&rsquo;s electricity and has for more than 30 years. It is a mature, proven technology, not a start up generation technology that is still in the research and development stage. In addition, Southern Co. and the other companies involved in the project, are responsible, well-established companies and are not likely to declare bankruptcy. I don&rsquo;t mean to sound like I&rsquo;m dissing solar energy, but it&rsquo;s simply irresponsible for so called experts to compare nuclear energy to solar energy.<br /><br />Details about the approval of Vogtle&rsquo;s COL are available in a recent story on this website titled &ldquo;NRC approves license for Plant Vogtle, first new nuclear units in U.S. since 1978.&rdquo; I invite you to read it, as well as check back for updates on the two new nuclear units. We plan to follow the progress closely.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, the EPRI robotsnoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerA couple of weeks ago, over 8,000 people gathered in San Antonio for the combined DistribuTECH/Utility Products Conference &amp; Exposition. There were many high points in the week, from the well-attended Department of Energy megasession to the supremely well-attended western-themed networking reception. Some of my favorite moments from the show were the demonstrations of the Electric Power Research Institute's (EPRI's) family of robots.<br /><br />EPRI has been kind enough to post the demonstrations on YouTube, if you didn't have the chance to get away to suprisingly rainy San Antonio this January.<br /><br />The overhead demonstration of Ti---he was hanging from a wire about 20 feet into the convention exhibit floor air--- the transmission inspection robot can be seen by <a href="">clicking here</a>.<br /><br />Adorable little rover Scotty, who measures lighting, was running around the exhibit floor as well, albeit with a lot more freedom than Ti; he can be seen by <a href="">clicking here</a>.<br /><br />Finally, EPRI was kind enough to bring their latest and greatest robot, the insulator inspector robot Ike, who can be seen in all his glory by <a href="">clicking here</a>.<br /><br />Those are my personal favorite highlights of the week. If you attended DistribuTECH and Utility Products in San Antonio, feel free to share your favorite moments right here in the comments section.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>,, smart grid invade San Antonionoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and Power<a href=""><img style="MARGIN: 0px 10px 10px 0px; WIDTH: 400px; FLOAT: left; HEIGHT: 352px; CURSOR: hand" id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5699002932090921890" border="0" alt="" src="" /></a><br /><br /><br /><div>If you're in the great state of Texas---or visiting the great state of Texas next week---I want to extend you an invitation to a robot party.<br /><br />Yes, seriously, a robot party. (Scotty, our lighting robot, is already getting down with his bad self in the picture here.)<br /><br />For the Utility Products Conference and Expo 2012 (UPCE), which will be at the Henry Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio Jan. 24-26, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has graciously agreed to bring three of their robots onsite to the exhibit floor. Each robot will be demonstrating its skills multiple times during the show, and you are welcome to join in. Times for those demonstrations will be listed in the UPCE show guide, which will be available in hard copy at registration when you pick up your conference badge for either UPCE or DistribuTECH. (The robot demonstrations are open to DistribuTECH attendees as well.)<br /><br />Additionally, EPRI will have the world premiere of their newest transmission robot right on the combined UPCE/DistribuTECH show floor. And we would love all of you to be there for that unveiling. The premiere is scheduled during the opening reception on Tues., Jan. 24, 2012 at 5:30 p.m. And all will be revealed on the exhibit floor, right down aisle 4400/4500.<br /><br />UPCE officially kicks off with an opening keynote session on this Tuesday morning, Jan. 24, 2012. After the keynote, the conference itself is open for business with a bevy of learning opportunities.<br /><br />Experts from the Electrical Industry Training Institute (EITI) will present a number of sessions during the conference, including a two-part session on managing electrical operations. Arkansas State University’s Dr. Duane Doyle will speak on developing occupation programs at local community colleges during the conference. UPCE will also present a two-part session on occupational grounding. And the EITI experts will return with a session on understanding switching best practices. The National Utility Industry Training Fund (NUITF)---a part of the IBEW---will discuss crafting training and development for line workers as well. Finally, local utility CPS Energy will discuss adopting lessons from local smart grid work.<br /><br />Additionally, EITI will offer some precourses on qualifying employees to work near high voltage substation equipment and high voltage substation grounding and bonding on Monday, Jan. 23, 2012, before the show begins. More information on those precourses can be found online at<br /><br />UPCE isn’t all business, though. It’s about fun, too. Also onsite: Hooters girls, a buckin’ bullride and a cash giveaway multiple times each day of the show. The cash prize giveaway will be featured on the UPCE exhibit floor all week. Just get your passport stamped by all the UPCE sponsors, and your name may be called to get a few minutes in our money machine. The Hooters girls will escort your trip in and out of the booth. You may go in broke and come out ready to buy the next round.<br /><br />I hope you can join us for the robot premiere, and feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions about the robots or the show itself.<br /><br />More information on the robots can be found online at <a title="" href=""></a><br /><br />Looking forward to seeing all of you in San Antonio at this exciting robot shindig. Block out a few minutes of your time on Tues., Jan. 24 and join us.</div><div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, 2012 perspectives, predictionsnoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerLast week, I made my own annual predictions about what will happen in the power industry in 2012. I summed it up with four items: More smart grid, more cautious consumers having growing pains, more consumer growing pains means fewer EVs on the road, and more government contraction pains means less renewables investment.<br /><br />You can read my predictions <a href="">here</a>.<br /><br />This week, I look to other industry insiders to give 2012 predictions with a little insider perspective.<br /><br />Chris King of eMeter (now owned by Siemens) tells us they’ll be a lot of meter growth in South America, Easter Europe and other emerging markets with Brazil, Poland and Singapore leading the way. King also notes that prepayment will become a major topic and “Smart Grid 2.0 will become a reality,” meaning that some consumers who live where smart meters are already deployed in full will start seeing the whole smart grid package.<br /><br />King also predicts that data analytics apps will be a popular item with leading utilities and, unlike my predictions, that EVs “will reach critical mass.”<br /><br />Steve Ehrlich with Space-Time Insight touched on data volumes just like King, pushing analytics, again, as a big 2012 trend.<br /><br />“Pulling yesterday’s data out of a data warehouse is not the answer,” he tells us. “Utilities not only need access to real-time data but, because getting to the root cause of problems is increasingly complex, they also need more sophisticated software to come up with answers.”<br /><br />From today’s waste of data to tomorrow’s waste of power, King also sees the idling of renewables becoming a “significant problem” with “utilities paying millions to curtail wind power and, for the first time, solar power.” Unfortunately, the solutions of more power lines and time-based pricing are longer-term items, according to King.<br /><br />IDC Energy Insights sees positives in renewables for 2012, however, including it in one of the technology areas they expect to grow this year. In fact, they forecast that solar PV installations in North America will grow by more than 25% just this year.<br /><br />As 2012 advances, we’ll get to see just how smart meters, smart grid, EVs, renewables and data analytics progresses. Keep an eye out.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, to bring more smart grid, less government supportnoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerIt’s that time of year for annual predictions. CNN’s doing it. The New York Times is doing it. So, why not us at POWERGRID International magazine?<br /><br />Keeping the concept to our own power industry, what will be on the horizon in 2012?<br /><br />The obvious choice is: more smart grid. A lot more. That’s a bit of a no-brainer. This ball is rolling, and stopping it will take, as Newton said, a “greater force.” At this time in this industry, there is no force greater than the smart grid momentum. Granted, its growth will be slower now that the government cash tap has been cut down to a trickle, but that growth will continue. Everything about power is going to get smarter, and that’s the way it is.<br /><br />This leads to a second prediction: Everything’s going to get smarter, but customers are still going to gripe. In the end, humans don’t like change too much. It’s scary. We fear it. It’s one of those things we hate most in life. Heck, we don’t even like it when the grocery store moves our favorite can of creamed corn over an aisle or two. We gripe about it. We grumble. So, smart meters---which are a heck of a lot of new---will continue to be a tough sell in 2012 in a number of areas. We’re gonna gripe about it. We’re gonna grumble. Customer communication (and an open-door policy) will help, but only time will make things more accepted---more a part of the norm and less new. So, I don’t see great mobs of average consumers embracing the smart meter/smart grid concept. They haven’t gotten to that level of acceptance yet. They will, but that will take time. So, utilities will have to practice a little patience.<br /><br />Jumping off of the “consumers hate change” concept, here’s a third 2012 prediction that may not follow the typical industry fanfare: Electric vehicles (EVs) will be put on a backburner (yes, again). Why do I think this? Well, first, despite a whole lot of media coverage of electric cars, they aren’t selling very well. EVs are selling so poorly that analysts at investment website 24/7 Wall St. labeled the Chevy Volt one of the worst product flops of 2011. Lots of hype trumpeted the Volt’s entrance, but sales in July were a whopping 125 vehicles.<br /><br />Second, it’s all about consumer acceptance. We can put up charging stations and complete studies on massive EV grid impact, but without the consumer willing to buy that EV, we’re stuck. And EVs are still too “wacky” for the average American. (And too expensive, unpredictable, scary and thought-/time-consuming.) Americans may come around to EVs eventually (as they will with smart meters), but it won’t be in 2012. Will this lag time mean a second death for the electric car? It’s possible, yes, unless the government’s willing to shore up the EVs trade until it becomes capable of standing on its own.<br /><br />This leads to my fourth and final prediction for 2012, which is just basic writing on the federal wall: The government is going to take a step back in research, support and funding for anything outside of the traditional energy norm. It’s already happened with smart grid in 2011, and smart grids aren’t nearly as scary as intermittent renewable energy or cars that steer away from gas guzzling. So, with those scary areas, there’s going to be next to no movement. All actions will be gone over with a fine-tooth comb, especially after Solyndra’s messy collapse. While support from the government to help develop research and processes is a true American tradition and has brought us awesome stuff like relatively cheap air travel and cell phones, sometimes investments go wrong. In the time of a recession, however, wrong is amplified. Solyndra is now a symbol. This will make the feds a bit cautious in any approach to shore up new and unproven forms of energy from solar to EVs. They’ll be terribly skittish, especially with elections bringing in a spotlight on every penny spent. So, obviously, 2012 will be a time of investment contraction, which doesn’t bode especially well for the renewables side of the power equation since they truly need the support. But, they’re scary and new, not a sure thing. Not a definite. These days, the government is hedging bets.<br /><br />So, four things in 2012: More smart grid, more cautious consumers having growing pains, more consumer growing pains means fewer EVs on the road, and more government contraction pains means less renewables investment.<br /><br />What are your predictions for 2012? Send me an email at and let me know. We’ll share more next week.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, the gift of powernoemail@noemail.orgEditors of POWERGRID Int'l / Electric Light and PowerAs Christmas fast approaches, most of us are in panic mode. Weâ�?�?re shopping the mall; weâ�?�?re checking out specialty coffee and chocolate stores in our hometowns that most of us would never set foot in outside of the Christmas rush. But, what was once just too darn expensive now seems like an easy gift idea for Aunt Mabel or your second cousin who randomly shows up on gift-giving holidays without warning.<br /><br />My father does all of his shopping on He solicits lists every year around Thanksgiving and then hops online on Cyber Monday to complete the whole buying process in one fell swoop. Personally, I find that a little sterile. Whatâ�?�?s Christmas without a little hustle and bustle and fighting for the last Frosty cookie jar with some lady in an overwrought sweater in Hobby Lobby one busy Saturday afternoon? <br /><br />Christmas just isnâ�?�?t the same without a little sweat equity, without a little mixed martial arts and the throwing of elbows.<br /><br />But, if you are like my father and want to keep things sterile, I have the perfect gift for your friends with new and shiny electric vehicles (EVs): a vehicle charger.<br /><br />And, you know what? You can order it from Amazon. <br /><br />Yes, you can.<br /><br />This week, GE Energy told the world that will sell GEâ�?�?s wall-mounted EV charger the WattStation. No worries anymore about finding a charger or having to buy it at the dealership or through your utility. Now, you can pop online and pick one up on<br /><br />Noting that this is â�?�?just in time for the holidaysâ�?�?---which may be clever marketing or simply an odd accident---GE will gift EV users in both the U.S. and Canada with those WattStations just as soon as you click on the â�?�?add to cartâ�?�? link on Amazon (and pay, of course). <br /><br /> â�?�?As demand and interest in the GE WattStation continues to grow, weâ�?�?re excited to give our customers an easy way to purchase the charger,â�?�? said Sergio Corbo, chief marketing officer for GE Energyâ�?�?s Industrial Solutions business in a release about the Amazon deal. â�?�?We believe the product is well-suited to an online purchasing experience.â�?�?<br /><br />Well, OK. Iâ�?�?m not really sure about that one. Buying a DVD online? Sure. Easy-breezy. Buying some headphones, a new nose ring, some paperbacks and maybe a scarf? A-OK. But, a car charger?<br /><br />Buying a car charger online seems---odd. Sometimes I breeze through the sporting goods equipment on Amazon and think, â�?�?Who buys a treadmill online?â�?�?<br /><br />I had a similar reaction to the car charger announcement: â�?�?Who buys a car charger online?â�?�?<br /><br />A $10 purchase online? Sure. A $1,000 purchase online? Really? And do you just slap that on your VISA and call it good?<br /><br />Amazon lists the product features as:<br />â�?&cent; Easy-to-install mounting brackets, <br />â�?&cent; a power button allowing zero energy consumption when off, and<br />â�?&cent; peace of mind (in the form of ground fault protection).<br /><br />And the description labels the WattStation â�?�?the EV charger you've been looking for!â�?�?<br /><br />So far, thereâ�?�?s only one review on the GE WattStation on Amazonâ�?�?s site. By AaronLephart---who has done no other reviews I can find on the site about anything other than the WattStation---the response is glowing:<br /><br /><em>I purchased this charger at a retail store long before Amazon carried it. The internals are made with overbuilt componants and are top quality. This same charger would have cost you $3000.00 a year ago, amazing how fast progress is being made. I recommend installing the charger on a dedicated 40amp circuit breaker. The J1772 connector is solid and does'nt feel cheap at all. The electrical wiring they use for the cord is VERY flexible and long. I cant stop looking at the lights on the charger at night. When not in use the charger has a button to take all power from the unit. No vampire power usage here! </em><br /><br />Three out of four people found Aaronâ�?�?s review very useful. Me, Iâ�?�?m still in awe over buying a $1,000 car charger online. I really need to get with the times, I guess.<br /><br />Just for a rush, I added it to my cart for a second. Then, I opened the cart and immediately deleted before the thought of a grand on my VISA made me faint dead away.<br /><br />So, I didnâ�?�?t finish my WattStation charger purchase, though I gave it a whirl. Since I donâ�?�?t have an EV, it would be a frivolous holiday purchase---much more frivolous than that peppermint bark from Williams Sonoma Iâ�?�?ve been eyeing. For someone with an EV, it could be a luxury holiday surprise, for sure.<br /><br />One thing that does make my cheap soul happy about a WattStation purchase from Amazon: At least it qualifies for free shipping. (But, not if you want it by Christmas to gift to Aunt Mabel.)<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, contribute backbone and Benjamins to the economynoemail@noemail.orgKathleen Davis, Senior EditorWe talk a lot about utilities being the backbone of our economy, since electricity is the maker of the modern world. (You can't go through a single business transaction these days that doesn’t rely on electricity in some way, from powering lights and computers at the local bank to massive Wall Street stock transfers.) But, utilities are also a very profitable business by themselves, contributing to the economy in both backbone and Benjamins. Run correctly, utlities bring in cash and rising share prices for stakeholders.<br /><br />(In case you're not up on the urban slang: Benjamins started as a slang term for $100 bills, since Ben Franklin is on the $100 bill. It's now grown into a general slang term for all large amounts of dollars and cents.)<br /><br />So, let’s take a look at some of the dollar-and-cents power news this week.<br /><br />Barrons is so happy with Southern Company that they’ve downgraded the utility’s shares. No, really. Not kidding. It seems that the cash gurus always thought Southern was an A-number one investment in this sector, but now the prices of Southern shares have popped up to reflect their goodness. So, it’s not a steal anymore. That being said, Barrons shifted their rating for Southern to Above Average from Buy.<br /><br />In other cash and power hot spots on the web, Motley Fool is labeling National Grid a “cash king.” (They define their “cash king margin” as cash flow divided by sales, with that number topping 10 percent.) According to Motley Fool’s calculations, National Grid is at 13.2 percent (up a couple of percentage points from last year and up 10 from three years ago). American Electric Power (AEP) took second in their overview at 7.8 percent. Like National Grid, AEP showed “significant growth” from last year.<br /><br />The other two utilities reviewed for potential “cash king” status by Motley Fool didn’t do quite as well as AEP and National Grid. Exelon came in at 0.8 percent, down over 10 percentage points from last year, and Duke Energy was in negative numbers, even more negative that last year’s but less negative than five years ago.<br /><br />Investment website Seeking Alpha labeled utilities “boring,” but noted that they are a good buy since utilities represent a stable foundation for any investment portfolio. (In bad economic times, even investors look for less risk and less crazy. It may mean slower returns, but it’s not a rollercoaster ride that could end in one long drop.)<br /><br />Seeking Alpha wasn’t looking for Motley Fool’s “cash king.” Instead, they examined the net profit margin. For those of us not watching our investments like hawks, a net profit margin is a formula figuring a company’s profit per dollar generated.<br /><br />Looking at a net profit margin above that coveted 10 percent---like Motley Fool’s “cash king”---Seeking Alpha suggested ten good utility purchases that they labeled “cheap” but with “strong profitability.” These included DPL Incorporated, which sells electricity in West Central Ohio; Wisconsin Energy; CPFL Energy in Brazil; El Paso Electric; and Duke Energy, among others. (Editor’s note: If you’re interested in the power markets and T&amp;D options in Brazil like CPFL Energy, check into the new DistribuTECH Brasil conference <a href="">at this link</a>.)<br /><br />So, Duke didn’t make “cash king,” but it did get the thumbs up on net profit margin.<br /><br />And, speaking of Duke and money, the Duke-Progress Energy merger that could make the combined company a monopoly of sorts in the Carolinas is still jumping regulatory hoops and hearings. The hearings were opened to the public this week with customers fearing high rates to support the combined entities' profits.<br /><br />Duke and Progress, however, believe the merger is necessary to spread higher rates over a wider consumer base, since the companies see a whole lot of generation spending coming.<br /><br />“In order to meet future demand for electricity, both companies will have to invest in new generation that will be more costly than the companies' current embedded costs," said Duke CEO Jim Rogers and Progress CEO Bill Johnson in a prepared statement at the hearing’s opening.<br /><br />Over at the Wall Street Transcript, Ali Agha, managing director in the equity research department of SunTrust Robinson Humphrey gave some tidbits from the recent “Alternative Energy and Utilities Report.”<br /><br />Agha recommends AES and AEP. Agha sees AES accelerating in 2011 through 2012 in the area of earnings growth. He stated that AES may hit $1.70 in earnings by 2015.<br /><br />Agha likes AEP because it’s cheap. Like Barron’s once saw Southern, Agha views AEP as a sweet deal, trading below value.<br /><br />Utilities remain sound business sense for many shell-shocked investors. And, according to the experts, some are still trading on the “cheap and sweet” deal level. As utilities---and the rest of the economy---continue to recover, the bargin prices may disappear, but the value won’t. It's hard to argue with an investment that brings you both comfort and profit.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, out Wal-Marts the Waltons and Solyndra collapsesnoemail@noemail.orgKathleen Davis, Senior EditorLast week, the FBI raided the California offices of thin-film solar maker Solyndra, once a poster child for the new energy movement that was to bring green jobs across the country in a giant wave of momentous change.<br /><br />But, that was 2008. Now it’s 2011, and the momentous green wave didn’t happen here. That wave never reached our shores. Instead, that wave is stuck inside the country outline of China. <br /><br />It fizzled out at the borders.<br /><br />Here’s the deal: The Chinese are sharp. They see the potential in the green market for massive future energy needs. They’re also unified and interconnected in ways we individual Americans are not. So, being a communist country and an industrial powerhouse, they pulled the ultimate Wal-Mart: They stole the market share.<br /><br />How’s that done? Well, for a lot of years Wal-Mart was the king of this philosophy, some would say. (Honestly, though, they aren't the only ones to use a strong arm to rule a market.) Here’s the basic concept: Go into a small market, undercut prices by taking a loss that can be balanced nicely across your wide network, force the mostly small and mostly independent competition out of business when they cannot meet your low, low prices competitively, and then become the sole player in the game---which lets you set prices any way you’d like from that point forward. Now, Wal-Mart may quibble with this characterization, but it’s a view of “market hogging,” if you will, that’s always followed them as they expanded. They have a bad reputation for running smaller companies out of town on a rail with those low, low price guarantees. And, factually, smaller manufacturers, suppliers and retailers can't get the big group deals that Wal-Mart can. They're leveraging their size.<br /><br />Now, think of China as government Wal-Mart, a state-run powerhouse capable of taking a large financial hit up front and more than willing to leverage its size. So, they develop huge state subsidies in order to flip a switch on green manufacturing. Instantly, everyone’s up and running, pushing a product out that’s cheaper because they’re not having to carry the burden of production costs or start-up money at this point. (They’re the runner who jumps the gun with the blessings of the establishment.)<br /><br />Now, American green companies have gotten some help from stimulus cash, but nothing like the funnel of dough the Chinese have contributed. The Chinese help is overwhelming, full and even overreaching. Americans, on the other hand, are putting together guaranteed government loans, some venture capital, some cash from friends and family, their maxed out credit cards---they’re struggling for a product they believe in. But, the emphasis in on struggling here. And it’s a heavy emphasis indeed.<br /><br />So, as the FBI sorts through the lost belongings and paperwork of Solyndra---where the Walton family ranks as venture capital investors, actually---there will be a lot of speculation about whether the government did enough due diligence in choosing Solyndra for that suddenly very unpopular green loan. <br /><br />But, perhaps that’s the wrong question. Perhaps, instead, we should ask if the government really invested enough given how quickly China was able to flip the green game to its favor.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, Ohio case finds settlement amid controversynoemail@noemail.orgKathleen Davis, Senior EditorOn Sept. 7, AEP Ohio called it quits---not in offering power but in a series of cases pending before the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO). In the end, the final settlement gives AEP the OK to merge Columbus Southern Power (CSP) and Ohio Power (OPCo) into a single unit.<br /><br />There are other issues laid to rest as well, including a mandate to transition to a competitive generation market by 2015.<br /><br />AEP Ohio seems pretty happy with the outcome, but not everyone in Ohio is thrilled.<br /><br />On the happy side of things: AEP Ohio, of course.<br /><br />"After a decade of legislative and regulatory changes to Ohio's market for electricity, this agreement allows an appropriate transition to a fully competitive electricity generation environment for AEP in the state," said Nicholas Akins, AEP president, in a written statement. "With the clarity this agreement provides, AEP is adopting a new Ohio business model that transforms the company into two entities---a regulated energy delivery system and a separate generation business. It also advances key state policies while sustaining investment in Ohio."<br /><br />And the agreement was signed by a lot of stakeholders---20 or so organizations that AEP Ohio dubbed as “representing a broad range of customers.”<br /><br />Among the biggest features of the agreement: a timeline for that open market move that has AEP supplying capacity to retail at a discount for three years, a fund to bolster economic efforts and a continuation of the company’s low-income fund, and an option for customers to choose renewable sources.<br /><br />According to AEP, in 2012, typical CSP customer bills will decrease a bit (about $4) while typical Ohio Power bills will increase a bit (about $4). But, right now, it’s not the customers who are doing the complaining about this deal, it’s retail provider FirstEnergy Solutions.<br /><br />They sent out a release in response to the deal that claimed customers would “be forced” to fork over a billion above competitive price values.<br /><br />"The settlement filed today is no better for customers than AEP's initial plan which was overwhelmingly opposed by consumer and business groups," said Donald R. Schneider, President of FirstEnergy Solutions in another written statement. "With this settlement, customers will be denied the benefits of low prices from the competitive market and be illegally burdened with high electric prices for years to come---all to benefit AEP shareholders at the expense of customers. The plan also unfairly favors large industrial customers by providing them with cheaper electric rates at the expense of residential and low-income customers."<br /><br />Details on how that billion breaks down or number supporting the claim that the settlement favors industrial customers at the expense of others were not provided in the release, although it is fairly common for all power companies to cut higher end/heavier use customers, like commercial and industrial users, a break.<br /><br />As with any deal ever made, it seems this one has winners and hecklers. Since this settlement is a compromise, it seems to fit the very definition of it---that nobody is totally happy.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, pushes utilities to show off recovery skillsnoemail@noemail.orgKathleen Davis, Senior EditorHurricane Irene wasn’t as bad as predicted. When it hit most of the East Coast, it was a lower category hurricane, or even a tropical storm, than originally feared would smack into the beach communities aligned along the Atlantic. <br /> <br />But, since we still have most of our power strung into the sky, category 1 winds still do a ton of damage to the power infrastructure. <br /> <br />Eastern utilities have been working nonstop since Irene blew threw to get power back on to millions of Americans. <br /> <br />Dominion had a goal of restoring service to 75 percent of their customers today, Aug. 31st. As of 11 a.m., they’d flipped the switch for 77 percent (or more than 920,000 customers) in Virginia and North Carolina. <br /> <br />That took a lot of work at about 8,500 locations---and that’s just for Dominion. <br /> <br />FirstEnergy has turned the lights back on for 770,000 customers so far in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland. About 150,000 customers are still in the dark: 130,000 with JCP&amp;L in Jersey, 21,000 with Met-Ed and 2,000 with Penelec. (They have a great image gallery of hurricane work available for viewing at their website: <br /> <br />But, while winds blew lines aloft and snapped poles, problems weren't reserved to just the delivery side of the power equation. Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Plant suffered damage from the hurricane, though repairs are nearly complete, according to Constellation Energy. <br /> <br />What often complicated the repair process is road damage in many places, especially flood-ravaged Vermont. But, the Associated Press is reporting that some roads have been opened to previously isolated communities, allowing emergency vehicles, like a convoy of power trucks, to move into the area. (The convoy is headed to Rochester right now.) <br /> <br />Given that we started this week with a bold CNN headline about millions without power, I am amazed at how quickly well trained crews and good response teams can move a disaster impacting millions to one impacting thousands in just a few days. Their work in the aftermath of the storm should be commended. That’s efficiency in action. <br /> <br /> <br /><div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, on the horizonnoemail@noemail.orgKathleen Davis, Senior EditorIt’s that time of year again---the time of year when we give friendly names to large storms with terribly deadly gusts of wind. It’s hurricane season in the Atlantic. Now, honestly, it’s been hurricane season for awhile now---since June 1. But things normally get up and running full speed about now, as Hurricane Irene, which is expected to reach category 4 status any day, can attest to. <br /> <br />Now, Irene isn’t forecast to hit Florida, which I like to call Land of the Hurricanes (though they refuse to put that on their tourist brochures for some reason). But, the 2011 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) updated forecast estimates 14 to 19 named storms this season and 7 to 10 hurricanes. The last hurricane to make landfall---which basically means the eye of the storm hits land, not its edges---in the U.S. was Ike in 2008, and, while last year saw a lot of activity in the Atlantic, nothing actually hit us. Still, as those boy scouts tell us, it’s always good to be prepared. <br /> <br />Whatever the final number, the locals with Kissimmee Utility Authority (KUA) are bound to be ready for the first one to wander across Florida this season or next. Founded in 1901, KUA is Florida's sixth largest community-owned utility providing electric and telecommunication services to 64,000 customers in Osceola County. Each year, that local electric company prepares a hurricane handbook. This year’s comes in full color and even in Spanish. <br /> <br />The comprehensive guide gives a nice list of local utility, cable, gas, weather, transport and emergency numbers along with its practical preparation advice. (I’d love for my local AEP affiliate to have a similar tornado guide, actually. That would be quite handy.) <br /> <br />After all, how many of us really have items prepared for emergencies? We talk about it, but we rarely get around to doing it. That's back burner stuff. We have more pressing problems. Granted, after the ice storm of 2007 here in Tulsa knocked out my power for nine days, I do now have things like lots of candles and a stack of canned goods in my cabinets. But, KUA challenges you to be über prepared. <br /> <br />1.) Have an inventory of your property (with pictures, if possible). <br />2.) Have an indoor safety plan so you remember which areas of your house could be dangerous during a storm. (Here's the advice of a farm girl who has seen a lot of tornadoes: Stay away from window.) <br />3.) Have an outdoor safety plan (to keep those potted plants from becoming flying weapons). <br />4.) Have a financial plan in case you need to stay in a hotel for awhile or need to be able to access cash for repairs quickly. <br />5.) Have that traditional disaster kit (that’s where my candles and canned goods come in). <br />6.) Have a plan to secure your house (and the supplies stored somewhere on your property). <br />7.) Have an evacuation plan. <br /> <br />The guide even has advice for rescuing and securing pets and cleaning up after the storm, including the proper use of a generator, along with a layman’s guide on how the utility restores power. <br /> <br />You can download a copy of the guide from their website: <br /> <br />With the exception of the local emergency numbers that would only apply to Florida, the guide could be handy for anyone weathering a storm. And, these days, it seems like more and more of us are experiencing extreme weather---whether those storms are named or anonymous. <br /> <br /><div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, about boxes, robots and endless possibilitiesnoemail@noemail.orgKathleen Davis, Senior EditorWe all know that old saying about thinking outside the box. We're supposed to do it. We're supposed to be the only people doing it. People tell us to do it, but do they really mean it? Now, I tend to joke that even the people who use that phrase don't actually want "outside the box" thinking. Not really. Not truly. Instead, they simply want you to paint the same old box a different, shiny color. That's what they mean by all those boxy thoughts.<div> <br /></div><div>This week, I spent some time in a very hot and very humid San Antonio preparing for our upcoming Utility Products Conference and Exposition and doing some thinking that's all about a box---well, a box-shaped robot, anyway. I made a special trip to South Texas to discuss details about hanging the Electric Power Research Institute's (EPRI's) transmission robot, Ti, at the show. (More info on Ti can be found by <a href="">clicking here</a>.) </div><div> <br /></div><div>Ti really is a bit of compact dramatic irony. It's outside-the-box thinking shaped into a very boxy package---a very boxy and very heavy package. It's new cutting edge transmission research wrapped in what we've always traditionally label as an old-fashioned, out-dated concept---that dreaded box. In this case, the box is neither old-fashioned nor out-dated. Instead, it truly represents the newest options for technology in our field. And we are delighted to get to show it off to all of you at the upcoming show.</div><div> <br /></div><div>This week, with the great help of Tom from EPRI's partner Southwest Research, we had some unique thinking about how to properly display and show off that cutting edge box. (Southwest Research helped bring Ti to life, and they're local to the San Antonio area. So, it's great to have them in the mix for logistics.)</div><div> <br /></div><div>Ti will be moving and grooving across the ceiling of the combined DistribuTECH and Utility Products Conf. and Expo exhibit floor Jan. 24, 25 and 26, 2012. Zipping along nearly 90 feet of cable above the heads of show attendees, Ti is poised to be a center attraction at the event, and, with each step closer to the January show, I grow more excited about these robots. (Yep, there will be more than just Ti.)</div><div> <br /></div><div>I hope you guys are equally excited. For more information on the robots and other Utility Products Conf. and Expo attractions, <a href="">click here.</a> </div><div> <br /></div><div>Speaking of outside-the-box thinking, Davy Crocket is quoted all over the San Antonio area for famously saying "You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas" to his Tennessee political opponents (and then President Andrew Jackson, whose policies he truly hated) before giving his life in a showdown at the Alamo. Perhaps Texas wasn't the best choice for Davy, but it is a great choice for you this coming January. With Ti in the mix, we'll bring outside-the-box thinking directly to the town that lured Crockett.</div><div> <br /></div><div>And, unlike Davy, you can visit the Alamo without planning for a military onslaught this January---though I might suggest prepping for an onslaught of information, data and friendly little robots.</div><div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, the best project in the whole wide world? Tell us all about it.noemail@noemail.orgKathleen Davis, Senior EditorAbout three inches below this blurb on the website is a shiny brass icon that says “Projects of the Year.” When you get the time, you should scroll down there and give it a hit. <br /> <br />Once again, it’s time for the editors of <em>POWERGRID International</em> magazine and PennWell Corp. to select the best and brightest grid projects for our annual awards program. <br /> <br />The winners will be selected for four specific categories: Smart Grid Project of the Year, Smart Metering Project of the Year, Demand Response/Energy Efficiency Project of the Year and Renewable Grid Integration Project of the Year. <br /> <br />The awards will be given out during the keynote presentation at the DistribuTECH 2012 conference in San Antonio, Texas, Jan. 24, 2012. <br /> <br />Each year, the judges select winners based on five specific criteria: <br />* Ingenuity <br />* Scope <br />* Practicality <br />* Vision <br />* Follow-through <br /> <br />Any interested party may submit an entry for consideration by Oct. 28, 2011. One award winning utility company will be named in each category. All companies involved in transmission and/or distribution of electric power are eligible, including investor-owned utilities, federal power agencies, municipal utilities and rural electric cooperatives. Also eligible are RTOs, ISOs, independent transmission companies and other T and D-owning/operating entities. <br /> <br />Project/implementation (or significant phases of a phased rollout) must have been completed between Dec. 1, 2010, and Dec. 1, 2011. <br /> <br />Submit an entry form along with a description of the project/implementation (1,000 words maximum). Project description must include history of the project, project details, major participants (customer, vendor, consultants, etc.), and reasons the project/implementation should be considered for Project of the Year. Include significant dates (contract signing, project start, project completion/go-live date) in the project description. <br /> <br />Award winners will be recognized in an exclusive feature article in <em>POWERGRID International</em> magazine (formerly <em>Utility Automation &amp; Engineering T and D</em> magazine) and Jan. 24-26, 2012 during the DistribuTECH 2012 Conference &amp; Exhibition in San Antonio. <br /> <br />Winning entries will work with a <em>POWERGRID International</em> editor---yeah, OK, it's going to be me; you caught me---to develop the article and award video between the closing Oct. 28, 2011, and the official award ceremony Jan. 24, 2012. High-resolution photos/graphics/artwork (up to 10) and additional details on the project will be required. <br /> <br />For questions, you can contact me directly at <a href=""></a>. <br /> <br />So, tell me all about those groundbreaking projects, that fabulous smart grid work and how you program benefited the consumer. I’m all ears. <br /><div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>,, Constellation still feel the urge to mergenoemail@noemail.orgKathleen Davis, Senior EditorThis past April, Exelon, one of the big-dog power utilities in the U.S., and Constellation Energy announced the desire to join forces. This week, the Public Utility Commission of Texas said they could---at least as far as Texas is concerned. So, one more hurdle jumped in the race to a 2012 merger completion. Despite both of them having generation located in the Lone Star State, it appears the Commission isn’t too concerned that a merger will give them a significant market advantage.<br /><br />“We are pleased that the PUCT has approved our application,” said Exelon President and COO Christopher M. Crane. “This is a key step toward completing the merger, and we remain on track to do so in the first quarter of 2012.”<br /><br />“Because Exelon and Constellation both operate in Texas, securing the PUCT’s approval was an important step in completing our merger,” said Constellation Chairman and CEO Mayo A. Shattuck III. “We will remain focused on obtaining the remaining federal and state regulatory approvals and seeing the merger through to completion.”<br /><br />And Shattuck and Co. will have many more approvals to jump, including A-OKs from the Federal Regulatory Commission, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Maryland Public Service Commission and the New York Public Service Commission. Plus, they’ve got to get a pat on the back from the shareholders, which they hope to do by the end of this year.<br /><br />Exelon and Constellation are so dedicated to this merger prospect, that they’ve even created a singular go-to website to the subject:<br /><br />On that website, you can learn all about the “strategic fit” of the combined companies and the key benefits the merger will achieve. Among the highlights are: increased scale and financial strength (or a “bigger is better” philosophy), a use of “complementary businesses” to grow (once again that “bigger is better” philosophy), more spots across the U.S. (even more of that “bigger is better” philosophy that will have their fingers in 38 states, D.C. and a little bitty bit o’ Canada). “Bigger is better” also spills over into the “enhanced utility platform” discussion (where being the second largest regulated distributor of electric and gas” is super good for customers) and the “clean power” discussion (where those customers also benefit from all that bigness with lots of renewable options).<br /><br />So, basically, what we’ve learned is: Bigger is better. Gotcha. (Anyone else having AT and T flashbacks?)<br /><br />And, you know what? That philosophy may indeed be true for Constellation, which is having a bit of a bad time this year. They’ve already lowered their 2011 earnings forecast by a nickel a share because of nuclear issues. And they adjusted their April-June profit down by a dime a share to 76 cents. Shattuck noted that the merger would help them diversify, making the risk of gray areas like nuclear a little less, well, risky. So, perhaps hooking themselves onto the Exelon star can help.<br /><br />Exelon, unlike Constellation, seems to be having a heck of a good 2011. They raised their range for adjusted operating earnings to $4.05 to $4.25 a share from the $3.90 to $4.25 range. They also revved up the second quarter generation income from last year by about $60 million, are working on their Texas acquisition of natural-gas fired Wolf Hollow and they’ve filed with FERC for the RITE line along the Indiana/Ohio border.<br /><br />So, the Exelon/Constellation merger keeps chugging along and, so far, it appears that Exelon will remain on top and perhaps pull Constellation up with it. Perhaps bigger really is better.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>,, it’s hot outsidenoemail@noemail.orgKathleen Davis, Senior EditorWhen I was small, I used to march around our farmhouse in the winter singing a version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” that old popular jazz tune that was revived multiple times by more artists than I can personally count. I still admit to humming that tune on occasion. Okay, yes, sometimes I still sing it, too, but this summer I’ve done my own adaptation of the chorus to “baby, it’s hot outside.”<br /><br />As summer temperatures cook not just the relatively small percentage of sweaty people here in Oklahoma, who are rather used to summer heat, but also folks in places as far north as Minneapolis and Boston, concerns about whether our power infrastructure can keep up with the demand are inevitable. And, with a few minor exceptions, this major heat anomaly hasn’t really caused too much trouble for utilities. But, then again, utilities are planners. It’s the job of planners---you might even say their calling---to be prepared for anomalies.<br /><br />And some of that planning includes demand response (DR) programs. This week, Con Edison's New York customers used a terawatt hour, or 1 trillion watt hours of electricity, according to the utility. (I love the wording of the press release on this heat wave response. They wrote: "That's a lot of juice. In fact, it's about the amount of electricity Vermont uses in two months.")<br /><br />Con Edison gave credit to their DR program for curbing what could have been an even more record-breaking response. They assured people that, while a terawatt is a whole lot of power, things could have been worse if they didn’t have customers willing to respond to “calls for conservation,” as the company labeled them.<br /><br />EnerNOC, Inc., a provider of demand response applications and services, announced that its DemandSMART network was dispatched at record levels this July as well in response to the heat wave---or “heat dome,” as the weather guys have been labeling it.<br /><br />EnerNOC's network responded to a series of dispatches from grid operators and utility partners, providing about 1,230 MW of DR overall. One of the grid operators that EnerNOC works with, PJM Interconnection, set a new record for peak power use in July at 158,450 MW.<br /><br />Demand response has been so helpful, it even got press in The New York Times this month. The paper discussed demand response options with North American Electric Reliability Corp.’s (NERC’s) John Moura, manager of reliability assessments. Moura labeled the DR available around the country as “imperative” in weathering the heat.<br /><br />The Christian Science Monitor also did a piece on the wonders of energy efficiency and demand response in this oppressive heat, and they also quoted NERC, though they chose Mark Lauby, vice president of reliability assessment. (And, along with DR, they cited a weak economy as a factor. The concept is: We didn’t being this race at the starting line, but, instead, a few feet behind the starting line. So, the recession dip has helped demand not get too darn crazy, even with the heat. What they’re basically saying is that things would be a lot worse if the recession hadn’t already cut back on that power demand.)<br /><br />So, worries about whether we have enough power seem unfounded, even as temperatures continue to break regional glass ceilings and power use sets national records. There are small issues in isolated pockets: Oncor is currently struggling to return power to a Dallas neighborhood for an outage cause by trees and not heat, though heat is exacerbating the problem. Baltimore Gas and Electric is getting complaints about their demand response program from people who think their air conditioning was turned off for too long during the blistering heat. And here in Tulsa, the local news is reporting record setting power use for the city and surrounding area.<br /><br />Overall, though, we have to all admit that this old, cobbled together, partially updated, partially archaic power system that we have is doing very, very well for the stress we’re putting her under this summer. She keeps working, chugging along despite the desire we all have to sing “baby, it’s hot outside” and turn up the thermostat a couple of degrees.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, show: Texas linemen conquer in Seguinnoemail@noemail.orgKathleen Davis, Senior Editor<a href=""><img id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5631524138346539650" style="DISPLAY: block; MARGIN: 0px auto 10px; WIDTH: 300px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 400px; TEXT-ALIGN: center" alt="" src="" border="0" /></a><br /><br /><div>The 2011 Texas Lineman's Rodeo in Seguin, Texas was quite the event last weekend. </div><br /><div></div><br /><div>That humid Saturday in late July, the gray of potential rain gave way to the type of fluffy white clouds normally wallpapered onto a child's bedroom wall.</div><br /><div></div><br /><div>But, clouds weren't the only items in the sky that day. There were also a lot of linemen hanging from poles, posted inside buckets at the long-line end of work trucks' mobile arms or crawling up to T-poles with clouds nipping at both toes and hard hats. </div><br /><div></div><br /><div>There was no keeping those boys from the bright Texas sky.</div><br /><div></div><br /><div>Working from 7 a.m. into the afternoon, the competition was fierce. Winners this year include individuals, cooperatives, munis and IOUs. The first place overall journeyman award went to Ryan Voges, Justin Green and Darin Koehler of New Braunfels Utilities with the division winner for cooperatives going to John Hernanez, Brad Downum and Mark Jebbia with Bandera Electric Cooperative.</div><br /><div></div><br /><div>Gergory Chelette, Richard Schwartz and John F. Kent brought in the overall journeyman team for investor-owned utilities, while that Voges-Green-Koehler team grabbed the municipal top spot. In the overall journeyman team, senior division, the winners were David McDowell, Danny Moss and Larry Terry with Farmers Electric Cooperative.</div><br /><div></div><br /><div>All the 2011 rodeo winners are listed on the Texas Lineman's Rodeo website at <a href=""></a>. </div><br /><div></div><br /><div>Additionally, keep an eye out for the September issue of <em>POWERGRID International</em> magazine which will feature more photos from the rodeo in living color, as they used to say.</div><br /><div><br /><br /><br /><br /></div><br /><div><br /></div><br /><div><br /><br /><br /><br /></div><br /><div></div><br /><div><br /><br /><br /><br /></div><br /><div><br /><br /></div><br /><div><br /><br /><br /><br /></div><br /><div><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /></div><br /><div><br /><br /><br /><br /></div><br /><div><br /><br /></div><br /><div><br /><br /><br /><br /></div><br /><div><a href=""></a><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><div><a href=""></a><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><div><a href=""></a><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><div><a href=""></a><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><div></div></div></div></div></div><div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, tough out a blistering rodeonoemail@noemail.orgKathleen Davis, Senior EditorAs you read this, I’ll be in Seguin Texas for the 15th Annual Texas Lineman’s Rodeo. Seguin is a small town about thirty minutes outside of San Antonio along I-10, and I fully expect it will be a hot spot this coming weekend, in both competition and summer temperatures.<br /><br />The Texas Lineman’s Rodeo is sponsored by the Texas Lineman's Rodeo Association, Inc. (TLRA), which is “a non-profit organization created to offer line workers in the great State of Texas a way to showcase their pride in the profession of high voltage line work.” Comprised mostly of volunteers who offer their time, efforts and organizational skills for free, the TLRA works hard to put on this rodeo every summer. Having been personally corresponding with volunteer Gloria Christmas for about a month now, I have to say that the TLRA is both highly organized and highly friendly. She’s been a real sweetheart in getting information out. (And, in case you’re interested in coming down to Seguin this weekend, she let me know yesterday that some hotel rooms have opened up at the Days Inn in Seguin.)<br /><br />2010’s rodeo winners included folks from Farmers Electric Cooperative, Hilco Electric Cooperative, Guadalupe Valley Electric Cooperative, CenterPoint Energy, Austin Energy, New Braunfels Utilities, Hamilton Country Electric Cooperative, Mid-South Synergy, Sam Houston Electric Cooperative, Trinity Valley Electric Cooperative, Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative, Bryan Texas Utilities, Perdernales Electric Cooperative, Garland Power &amp; Light, Midwest Electric and Navasota Valley Electric Cooperative. Those winners stretched across a number of categories: journeyman awards, division winners (including a 45-and-older senior division), event awards (like changing a single phase capacitor, doing an amp switch change or a pole climb) and rescue events.<br /><br />If you’re thinking of joining us in the wild Texas heat for the 15th Texas Lineman’s Rodeo, the activities start Friday night on Nolte Island in Seguin with a t-shirt trade and a fish fry, but all the rodeo action happens on Saturday. That’s when you’ll see those linemen skills put to the test and rewarded for their efforts---with rewards in both awards and barbeque form.<br /><br />More information on the rodeo can be found on the TLRA website: <a href=""></a><div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, gets smarter and smarter, and we get left behindnoemail@noemail.orgKathleen Davis, Senior EditorIf you’re an American reader of this blog, chances are good that you don’t live in a smart city. I certainly don’t. Not that Tulsa is peopled by the ignorant, no. This isn’t about individual intelligence or grading our education system. It’s just that our power isn’t exactly the cutting edge smart grid stuff of legend. We’ve been talking about the smart grid since 2007---how it can save us all from a bleak energy future with smarter meters, smarter switchgear, smarter energy delivery, even interconnected and informed (and therefore smarter) consumers.<br /><br />But, few of us here in the U.S. have seen any real smart grid progress. A small percentage in some well-funded pilot hot spots has seen smart meters being installed. Some have tried out a few pushes in energy management concepts---although both Google and Microsoft’s energy management goals have fallen decidedly short. Both companies have called a halt to their consumer-oriented smart grid visions. But, no real vision of smart cites and collaboration is popping up in these parts. We seem to take one step forward and two steps back with smart grid on U.S. soil.<br /><br />Still, there are cities in this world that are pushing forward and showing significant progress in the smart grid concept, even moving ahead to incorporate other options and other utilities in an overarching concept of a “smart city.” One of those is Amsterdam.<br /><br />Last year, I took a personal guided tour of “Climate Street” in Amsterdam. A long row of traditional looking shops along a narrow street, these businesses were all invested in the idea of energy management and smarter consumption. From bars to record stores to chocolate shops, they partnered with the city and the local grid operator Liander to put in smarter equipment and keep an eye on the energy bottom line. And all that collaboration and progress didn’t seem to impact the end product one bit. The beer was still tasty, the bitterballen still toasty and the chocolate still melt-in-the-mouth delicious.<br /><br />Even though I don’t cover Europe much anymore, I still keep up with Amsterdam’s Smart City initiatives, including Climate Street. Perhaps I’m just fascinated that a culture, a group of business people, a city, residents, and the local grid company, along with a research group, can all get along so well. As an American who still sees our sense of rugged individualism in myself and pretty much everyone else in this country, including utilities and businesses, it’s positively amazing to witness such smooth and steady cooperation.<br /><br />This week, Amsterdam’s Smart City announced a new partner, KPN. (I admit to being on their e-mail list. As I said, I’m fascinated.) KPN is a fiber optics connection. So, Amsterdam has a new partner that can bring all sorts of smart grid consumer options to the equation, as well as positioning the city for a very collaborative, very interactive, very digitally high tech fiber future. And the announcement must have mentioned the word “cooperation” eight times in four paragraphs.<br /><br />Perhaps investing in the smart grid, at its core, doesn’t start with the technology or even with cash on the table. Perhaps there’s a real lesson in Amsterdam’s Smart City progress that we can mull over in the U.S.: Can we get further ahead if we set aside “who’s paying” and “who’s benefiting right now” and “how does this make my personal life better immediately” and start thinking a bit more collectively?<br /><br />Is cooperation the first step to a smarter grid and smarter cities?<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, focus and public fearnoemail@noemail.orgKathleen Davis, Senior EditorAfter Fukushima, power plants and vertical utilities---especially nuclear ones---can’t catch a break.<br /><br />Despite fervent planning and detailed execution, the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant is still caught in the “we’re not them” excuse cycle this week. They get to bail out public perception while they bail out river water.<br /><br />Disaster planning has long been a staple of utility emergency procedures, but a string of storms, flooding, tornadoes and other bits of weather nastiness have the American public wondering if the industry is doing enough to prevent injuries, deaths and outages. But, can a utility really do more than plan for established scenarios? Should they be expected to anticipate every possible bad decision and each hearty gust of wind?<br /><br />Returning to Nebraska and Fort Calhoun, the employees there tried diligently to ward off Japanese comparisons by opening their flooded power plant to journalists. CNN reported this week that they were allowed inside access. Plus, the CEO of Fort Calhoun pointed out, through a lengthy quote in the CNN article, that no flood water had breached the reactor, that the reactor itself was covered with borated water as it should be.<br /><br />Now, the close time-proximity to Fukushima’s disaster, of course, played a large part in how quickly and how carefully Fort Calhoun had to react to public fears. But Calhoun isn’t the only utility under pressure to show their disaster planning hand to the American public today. There was also a series of small town newspaper reports this week on the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and its recovery from the April storms that knocked out power in the South.<br /><br />Apparently, this series of stories was sparked by one Republican representative from the state of Maryland making a remark that the blackouts from those April storms showed the power grid as vulnerable. In fact, he’s quoted repeatedly in those stories as saying the grid is “very much on edge.”<br /><br />This prompted a quick response from TVA. The bottom line of all responses was this: You can’t accurately predict or prevent weather damage completely, and no power grid can be made immune to weather. Having poles in the sky makes one at the mercy of the wind. That’s pretty much a fact of our grid structure. But, the key isn’t shoring up beforehand, it’s following up quickly.<br /><br />In fact, most disaster planning---like TVA’s stellar storm clean-up work---is about response rather than prevention. Perhaps that representative thought that the days some people went without power in the region was an excessive outcome of the storms. But, weather predictions will have to get much more accurate, and we’d have to spend a lot more money on undergrounding miles and miles of line, in order to even begin a prevention program. And, if fear wasn’t the background of that vulnerability statement, the expense of this request would, normally, curb a political response in these times of recession. After all, a prevention program to ward off Mother Nature that would cost the taxpayers billions goes against the anti-spending rallying cry.<br /><br />Still, even with events that are unpredictable or unthinkable, the American public expects utilities to have not just prevention options but detailed contingency plans. Take the recent lawsuit against Xcel Energy over the unfortunate accidental deaths of five contract workers at their plant in 2007. A fire killed men brought in from a coating company in California to paint a penstock. The fire blocked the only escape route, and, despite attempts at dropping rescue equipment and plans to pull the workers out from above, the men perished.<br /><br />Xcel said that the responsibility lied with the contractor and the men involved. (Apparently, there was a mistake made onsite with chemical mixing that ignited the fire.) But, federal prosecutors blamed Xcel and took them to court for violating safety regulations.<br /><br />Xcel was found innocent this week, but a legal ruling doesn’t often change public perception. And the question of whether those men could have been saved by a better disaster plan on the part of Xcel will likely haunt the company and the families of those men---just as the disaster unraveling Fukushima will continue to plague every nuclear plant around the world with as much as a minor case of the hiccups and the idea of stronger infrastructure will follow every storm-related power outage.<br /><br />Utilities will always be planning for disasters, but the American public will always expect improvements in that planning---adjustments, changes, investments, upgrades. And the two will likely never meet in a central, agreed upon spot. Utilities are thinking from both a community and a business perspective; the public is thinking from an individual protection perspective. And, unfortunately, the end result will likely never make either camp completely happy. But, we keep striving for a balance. That’s about all we can do, really, besides hoping that the weather quiet down a bit and that no one ever makes a mistake again.<br /><br />But, the planning is all we have any actual control over. Human nature and Mother Nature cannot be adjusted to suit our desires, unfortunately.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>,'s a robot invasion comingnoemail@noemail.orgKathleen Davis, Senior Editor<a href=""><img id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5621071136269327538" style="DISPLAY: block; MARGIN: 0px auto 10px; WIDTH: 320px; CURSOR: hand; HEIGHT: 107px; TEXT-ALIGN: center" alt="" src="" border="0" /></a><br /><br />I am excited to announce that the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) will be bringing two of their industry research robots, Ti and Scotty, to the Utility Products Conf. and Expo (UPCE) in San Antonio next January. (UPCE runs in conjunction with the largest smart grid conference in the U.S., DistribuTECH.)<br /><br />EPRI's transmission line inspection robot is the one nicknamed “Ti" (see artist's sketch of Ti above). Ti can be permanently installed and cover about 80 miles of line a couple of times each year as it “crawls” along the line identifying numerous issues from grass and trees too close to the right-of-way to just how components along the line are weathering the wilds. He moves along on a shield wire and dodges obstacles like marker balls by using bypasses installed along the line. Ti can automatically unhook itself from the shield wire, transfer to the bypass, navigate around the marker and then return itself to the shield wire.<br /><br />The prototype of Ti is being tested and refined at the Lenox, Mass. EPRI lab. Right now, he’s equipped with high definition and infrared cameras and can even be rigged up with light detection and ranging (LiDAR) sensors. Ti’s job is to pass along information to the utility about what’s going on along the line, along with specific location information that comes from his handy global positioning system.<br /><br />Ti will also reach out—electronically, at least—to UPCE attendees and give a visual presentation at the show, complete with data transferred back to EPRI's booth inside the co-located DistribuTECH show floor. Ti will, in fact, be hanging from the ceiling of the combined show floor. So, when you visit the floor, make sure to take a good look up.<br /><br />American Electric Power will partner with EPRI on a first field implementation of Ti. The utility’s engineers are planning to include Ti and his systems in a 765kV line to be built in 2014.<br /><br />EPRI's second robot to visit UPCE, Scotty, measures street lighting. Today, high-intensity discharge (HID) lighting, such as high-pressure sodium and metal-halide lamps, prevails when it comes to illuminating streets, parking lots and walkways. But high-power light-emitting diodes (LEDs) promise a brighter future in outdoor illumination. Their capacity to send a more pleasing light in one direction makes them an ideal candidate to replace conventional outdoor lighting. Since 2009, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has been conducting an LED Energy Efficiency Demonstration. The goal of the project is to discover a better light bulb, one that not only meets the outdoor lighting requirements of consumers but also uses less electricity in doing so. There are a number of reasons for exploring new LED technology for this application, including costs and the low efficiency of HID fixtures.<br /><br />EPRI is conducting assessments of LED-based street and area lights at over 20 sites within the United States. The assessments require accurate, repeatable and timely measurements of light levels. Existing test methods require hand-held meters and are time-consuming, of limited accuracy and require manual recording of data. EPRI developed a solution for this measurement challenge. That solution is a remote controlled and highly instrumented roving light measurement vehicle known as “Scotty.”<br /><br />Scotty will demonstrate his lighting measurement skills in a roving display at the outdoor UPCE demonstration area during UPCE 2012 in San Antonio.<br /><br />To learn more about the combined UPCE/DistribuTECH conference in San Antonio, visit: <a href=""></a> or <a href=""></a>.<br /><br />And keep an eye out for more information---including demonstration times for Ti and Scotty---that will come along as we get closer to the show.<br /><br /><br />I hope you plan to come join us in witnessing this very positive robot invasion.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, the president’s millionsnoemail@noemail.orgKathleen Davis, Senior EditorThis week, the Obama Administration unveiled new plans for the 21st century grid they envision, along with some millions in potential funding.<br /><br />Ok, yes, the big news is that we’re not talking billions here. A couple of years ago, those pennies to support grid development stacked to the ceiling and toppled over into the big “B” money pool. But, it is a new, less-spending environment in D.C. these days.<br /><br />"America cannot build a 21st century economy with a 20th century electricity system. By working with states, industry leaders and the private sector, we can build a clean, smart, national electricity system that will create jobs, reduce energy use and expand renewable energy production," said U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu at this smart grid plan unveiling.<br /><br />Sweet. So, we’re going to build a whole new system that helps us be energy efficient and get in those solar panels and wind turbines. Awesome. So, what’s our budget? Trillions? Billions? We're talkin' a whole new set of off-the-beaten-path grid tires here, so to speak.<br /><br />Nope. We get $250 million in loans for smart-grid technology deployment as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utility Service. They want to upgrade rural America. Well, that’s nice, but the grid does range outside of rural America. It goes urban. It goes through the desert. It hits tundra and sneaks around landmarks. And, 80% of the American population live outside those rural areas. Most of us live in urban areas. What about us?<br /><br />Now, we still have those old billions in stimulus funds granted a few years ago, but this new push for the smart grid from the Administration doesn’t really bring any new cash to the table besides those loans to help establish smarter tech in areas on the outskirts. Now, that’s understandable. Most utilities will be working in urban areas to start the smart grid transformation process. So, yes, the rural areas will likely get the short end of the smart grid stick.<br /><br />Still, it is a rather sad sign of the times that all this talk about the smart grid isn’t bringing much cash with it, just lots of discussions about “public-private partnerships,” which is often code for “someone else needs to fund this.”<br /><br />According to the White House, these new efforts are building “upon the historic $4.5 billion in grid modernization investments provided for in the Recovery Act—matched by contributions of more than $5.5 billion from the private sector—to modernize America’s aging energy infrastructure and provide cleaner and more reliable power.”<br /><br />The new efforts include a lot of consumer issues and paperwork.<br /><br />First, there’s the mention of the Gridwise Alliance’s new spin-off, Grid 21, which is all about getting the consumer into the talks about smart grid---helping quell fears, educating them about tools and savings. Second, the president promises that the Department of Energy promises to look at how to get those consumers better data and info. He might even have crossed his heart on this one.<br /><br />Basically, the plan is this: They want to tell the kiddies all about energy savings through student programs and have them bring that information home so you can be lectured by your children about power consumption the same way you’re currently lectured about how to properly use the DVR and your iPhone. I have to hand it to them, though, kids are the perfect combinations of know-it-alls and annoying to get this job done. Those parents will assimilate, eventually, if just to make the mini lectures stop.<br /><br />Also on the agenda: Everyone gets to talk about smart grid stuff at There will be sharing---and maybe even some caring. It will be like an industry twelve-step program, but without gulping down cold coffee in a room filled with chain smokers. Everyone will learn stuff about themselves and others and programs and consumers. And, if it weren’t all online, it might end in hugs.<br /><br />My favorite idea here might the “ Renewable Energy Rapid Response Team.” I had in my head this bevy of Black Hawk helicopters swooping into a site, dropping ropes down into a field where commandos would sneak in with solar panels strapped to their burly backs and a solar farm would be set up in seconds. Then, they’d be out like the wind, leaving the community to wonder what happened as they sipped their morning coffee and enjoyed their new partial freedom from fossil fuels. But, alas, this is not true. The team is basically a group of peeps to speed up paperwork---the geek squad, of sorts. They promise to ensure that the feds all talk to each other and review stuff promptly. I like the vision of my response team much better.<br /><br />Those ideas, and a report, are pretty much what happened between speeches during this White House smart grid shindig.<br /><br />“A 21st century grid is essential to America’s ability to lead the world in clean energy and win the future,” said John P. Holdren, President Obama’s science and technology advisor and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy during this week’s hubbub. “By unlocking the potential of innovation in the electric grid, we are allowing consumers and businesses to use energy more efficiently even as we help utilities provide cleaner energy and more reliable service.”<br /><br />While I understand the limitations that the Administration is under these days from all sides of the political fence, rural loans for the greener pastures of America and red tape clipping alone will not unlock the potential of that 21st century grid we all want. What the grid really needs is another outlay of cold, hard cash.<br /><br />But, the government purse is now zipped tight, with a hand over the clasp to ward off prying fingers. But, at least we can all still talk about things and share. We’ve got that going for us.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, could lead to blackout in the Southwestnoemail@noemail.orgKathleen Davis, Senior EditorWhile driving through New Mexico and Arizona just last month, I saw six or seven different wildfires, all being tended by firemen who were usually standing alongside a tar-black highway engulfed in tar-black smoke with a single hose and a small truck. Once in awhile, the traffic would grind to a halt on that tar-black highway as the tar-black smoke blocked all visibility.<br /><br />When I drove back along the same road a week later, all that was left of those fires were tar-black stains on what is otherwise a golden bit of desert brush.<br /><br />But, in the Southwestern desert, without rain in plain sight, fire is the top tier of summer weather, and flames have broken out once again---this time into one of the largest blazes in Arizona history, known as the Wallow fire. Wallow has already burned 389,000 acres, mostly of national forest land.<br /><br />The firemen in this scenario have moved past the single hose to fight the flames and are using fire retardant dropped from the air and entire brigades of fireman from as far away as New York. And, while the fighters are making progress, the fire is getting dangerously close to power transmission lines in the area and may cause blackouts.<br /><br />"There are concerns about power transmission lines and obviously the fire is still moving and active,” said Karen Takai, a spokesman for the fire incident command to ABC News on Thursday. On Wednesday night, ABC News reported that it covered over 600 square miles.<br /><br />El Paso Electric Co. is reporting that the fire is about 15 miles from their Springerville-Luna transmission line, though whether that line will be under fire---or above it, as the case may be---is entirely a matter of wind.<br /><br />Now, wildfires in the Southwest aren’t often the towering, raging visuals we’ve seen in movies. The brush and burn areas are small and short. Flames rarely get taller than a few inches unless they encounter a bigger burnable obstacle like a house or the rare tree. With most transmission lines high, high in the air on big steel supports, transmission lines are unlikely to be drastically impacted by such a low-burning fire. But, given the right wind, the right environmental force, the unlikely can still happen. <br /><br />So, El Paso Electric is taking no chances. They’ve warned their customers that the fire could hurt their ability to bring in power from Palo Verde, which could lead to rolling blackouts (in a worst case scenario). But, they do have equipment on hand to roll in and fix things as soon as the area is safe.<br /><br />El Paso Electric owns one 345 kV transmission line and co-owns another 345 kV line that carry power from the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Arizona to the utility’s Southern New Mexico/West Texas service territory. Combined, the lines carry 633 MW, which is almost 40 percent of the company’s available generation. This fire could impact nearly 372,000 customers.<br /><br />In the end, no line may be impacted by the fire. We’ll all cross our fingers for that one. There is reason to hope with low winds and superior firefighter power this Thursday morning. <br /><br />But, El Paso Electric should be commended not just for being prepared with men, equipment and trucks---one expects that with a well-run utility today---but also for being proactive in communication and transparent with its customers and the press. That’s key to keeping panic to a minimum in any dangerous situation.<br /><br /> With these open lines of information, people feel they can trust El Paso Electric to keep an eye on the flames. And building trust is important in any relationship, even in business---perhaps especially in business. Despite the potential detrimental impact to customers in the form of power loss, El Paso Electric will be seen by their customers as a partner ready and able to help if the worst happens. <br /><br />But, let’s hope the worst doesn’t happen---no tar-black stains on the desert floor under those transmission lines please.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, former utility bigwig Bryson too green for commerce?noemail@noemail.orgKathleen Davis, Senior EditorIn what has been branded by conservatives as a move to push alternative energy over traditional resources, President Obama has named former Edison International CEO John Bryson to run the Commerce Department (replacing Gary Locke, who may be moving to an ambassadorship in China).<br /><br />Obama touted Bryson as “a business leader who understands what it takes to innovate, to create jobs, and to persevere through tough times” and “a fierce proponent of alternative energy.”<br /><br />While Bryson did work for solar company BrightSource Energy these last few months, that’s not the scope of his power resume. He’s no lightweight when it comes to the hard-hitting, gritty, rather conservative power business. He helmed Edison during the serious California energy crisis that claimed utilities with lesser navigation skills like Pacific Gas and Electric, which was forced into bankruptcy trying to weather the same crisis.<br /><br />Business groups and California officials applauded the Bryson nomination, but some congressmen, including Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, have threatened to stall the nomination until they can get a look at trade agreements the White House is negotiating. Additionally, some of the seriously conservative sects of Congress are a little concerned that Bryson is too green (in values, not in experience). Bryson has been an advocate of solar energy and plug-in vehicles and recently advised a task force on climate change for the state of California.<br /><br />Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma has announced that he will fight the nomination because Bryson helped found the Natural Resources Defense Council, which he labeled a “radical environmental organization.” (Bryson was among a group of young lawyers who helped establish the organization in the early 1970s.) Inhofe is not a proponent of climate change theory, believing it to be a hoax, and has a pattern of opposing environmental groups, causes and promotions. So, that particular opposition was to be expected.<br /><br />Is Bryson green? Absolutely. Is that a bad thing? No, I don’t think so. The man did help create a large environmental movement. He does push initiatives that he believes in, and that does include a lot of alternative energy. But, the bottom line is this: Bryson knows power. And, you don’t bump up exports and increase those commerce numbers without knowing how to make, ship, control and tackle the energy side of the equation.<br /><br />Sure, Bryson graduated from Yale and founded the Natural Resources Defense Council. He also joined Edison International in 1984 and took over the company in 1990, just a couple of years before industry headlines trumpeted deregulation woes and financial drama for most California utilities. He retired from the position in 2008 having helped that company regain footing in a business environment that was financially toxic.<br /><br />It seems a smart combination for Obama’s alternative energy agenda: Bryson’s both the man who knows the industry and the man who believes in the cause. He has the passion and knows the path to get there. It’s a very solid call for the Administration’s goals to make us, as a country, leaner and greener.<br /><br />The fact that not everyone agrees with those goals is just another day in D.C., really.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>,’s protecting the Kentucky energy consumer?noemail@noemail.orgKathleen Davis, Senior EditorThis week, Louisville Gas and Electric Company and Kentucky Utilities Company told the world they needed money. They trumpeted the fact that environmental regs on coal are going to cost them a mint or two, to the tune of $2.5 billion. In fact, they plan to increase rates for power consumers by nearly 19 percent to cover those costs. (The fine print tells you that will occur slowly over the next five years, not be implemented the moment of approval.)<br /><br />And cleaning up coal can be expensive: Scrubbers and baghouse systems don’t come cheap. ($1.4 billion for scrubbers and over a million for baghouse systems.)<br /><br />Paul W. Thompson, senior vice president of energy services for the two utilities stated, "While costs continue to increase as a result of the federal EPA regulations, we are committed to providing our customers a secure energy supply in the least-cost manner. We have carefully studied the options to meet the stricter regulations and have developed a compliance plan that will least impact our customers and the Commonwealth.”<br /><br />Thompson went on to hedge that statement, however, by explaining that a number of utilities will be hit with these regs at the same time, leading to high demand for materials, which could increase costs higher than their original estimates.<br /><br />The rate announcement led to a small angry explosion by Kentucky governor Steve Beshear, who released an answering statement of his own in which he lamented “that too many Kentucky families are still struggling in this tough economy” so he’s just darn “disappointed that the federal government’s war on coal, which I am fighting against every single day, is now threatening to cause drastic utility rate increases.”<br /><br />In fact, he called the regulations “mandates” and labeled them “unfair” and “unfunded,” along with “devastating” to the state’s coal industry.<br /><br />The utilities say they cannot help but pass on these costs from these regulations, but they are keeping the costs as low as possible for consumers. The government says that these regulations are necessary to fight air pollution and global warming and allow those consumers a better quality of life, along with helping health, allergy and asthma issues. The governor says that he’s protecting the consumer by fighting those air pollution mandates---a fight no one believes he’s going to win. Can the consumer be equally protected by all?<br /><br />And even the Kentucky Coal Association has been in this tussle over customer interest.<br /><br />See, this fight isn’t new. Those regulations have been on the books, with the due date coming, for quite awhile. And coal-heavy utilities have been weighing just what to do with their newly expensive (formerly cheap) generation sources that rely on those chunky black squares. But, no one really saves for this sort of thing; that’s what rate increases are for.<br /><br />In fact, just last month the same two utilities discussed here hinted that they might switch some of their older coal plants over to natural gas to save money for that consumer, a move that brought another angry response, this time from Kentucky Coal Association president Bill Bissett who stated a firm belief that it’s still much cheaper to retrofit coal than to switch to gas and that he believes coal power will be around for “generations to come.”<br /><br />The current release on the expected rate increase doesn’t include the direct statement that natural gas may take over the plants they want to close, but it does reinforce the concept that closing three plants is more than possible, it’s highly probably.<br />In the end, the regulations will not be removed, despite the governor’s protest. And, the utilities will likely get a percentage (or all) of what they are requesting for a rate increase. (For 2012, that’s about 2 bucks a month per bill.)<br /><br />I’m curious, though, about where the Kentucky power consumer falls in this equation. Does he feel protected by the utilities, the feds, the governor or the association? And, does he want to fork over an extra 2 bucks a month for cleaner air to breathe, or does he think the costs should be born by stakeholders and not him?<br /><br />One local TV channel’s website covered the rate news and quoted the company spokesman heavily as pointing a finger at the government and literally saying they were “forced” to do this and “we don’t have a choice.” But, I’m not sure their consumers believe that.<br /><br />One comment on the article noted that “upgrades” to his own house and car came out of his own pocket. So, he didn’t understand why those costs were being passed along to him. Also in the comments section: pleas for better customer service if the rates go up, for executives of the utilities to take a pay cut rather than upping the rates on struggling consumers, and confusion about why these costs don’t come out of the utility’s profits<br /><br />So far, it seems, the utilities will bear the brunt of consumer anger about being so thoroughly protected, not the government, a position I’m sure the utilities were hoping desperately to avoid.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, NERC CIP evolutionnoemail@noemail.orgKathleen Davis, Senior EditorThe North American Reliability Corp.’s critical infrastructure protection rules (NERC-CIP) continue to impact power utilities. That is about to change, but not lessen. It’s only bound to get more detailed and restrictive as NERC CIP grows and adapts to the industry and the smart grid.<br /><br />“Security and compliance are spelled differently in the English language because they actually mean different things,” said Tim Roxey, director of risk assessment and technology division for the North American Reliability Corp. at a session during the UTC Telecom Conf. in Long Beach May 10-13, 2011.<br /><br />“We have a culture of compliance when we should really have a culture of security,” he added, noting the continuing discussion about whether adhering to the CIP rules really makes a utility more secure. But, Roxey said, the industry needs to work with what it’s got at the moment, which is compliance and that’s where NERC CIP comes into the related security equation.<br /><br />They’re starting with compliance and hoping to evolve into real security protection as versions change to meet smart grid needs. That process can be painful, complex and problematic. But, there has been progress.<br /><br />“Do I really gotta? Yeah I really gotta,” Roxey joked, rolling through a short history of the CIPs.<br /><br />“When I started in this industry, the communications infrastructure was a guy named Joe who basically lived in the substation and had a phone,” he said. “Now it’s this incredibly complex system.”<br /><br />“It’s almost impossible for a company to remain compliant, let alone secure, because of the complexity,” Roxey said, noting that the complexity moves past just communications and that guy named Joe to all other areas covered by CIP.<br /><br />Details and differences are the history of NERC CIP, noted the panelist that followed Roxey. And those differences and details created the complexity issue, which is connected to the compliance versus security argument.<br /><br />“NERC CIP is all about compliance and not about security,” said Jerome Farquharson, practice manager at Burns and McDonnell. “Eighty to 90 percent of what a utility is doing with NERC CIP is paperwork.”<br /><br />“Compliance doesn’t necessarily make you secure,” Farquharson added. “But, as we grow and change, we are trying to put more emphasis on security.”<br /><br />Farquharson noted clarity about critical assets---what they are and where they start and stop in the utility structure---is a huge dream of the industry, though the standards haven’t quite gotten to that point of clarity yet. But, both Farquharson and Roxey do see that clarity coming.<br /><br />So, NERC CIP is growing, and perhaps having a few pains with that cultural evolution. But, what a utility needs to focus on is what’s in front of them right now.<br /><br />“At the end of the day, it is what it is,” Farquharson said, stressing that compliance is required, despite some issues with clarity. “We may not like the system. That’s fine, but we need to do it.”<br /><br />Farquharson does see NERC CIP becoming the “de facto” standard in this area. So, a utility shouldn’t expect the standards to just go the way of the dodo.<br /><br />Perhaps someone should call Joe down at the substation and make sure he has a pencil.<br /><br /><em>This is an excerpt from a longer article scheduled for the August issue of POWERGRID International magazine.<br /><br /></em><em></em><div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, FROM UTC TELECOM: Let's look at data centersnoemail@noemail.orgKathleen Davis, Senior Editor<!--StartFragment--> <p class="MsoNormal">Before a utility can discuss data security with a customer, it has to have and hold the data itself.<span style="mso-spacerun:yes"> </span>Data was the centerpoint of all the sessions at UTC Telecom 2011 in Long Beach May 10-13. From use to security, it was all about those small little slices of very important information. <o:p></o:p></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><o:p> </o:p></p> <p class="MsoNormal">During the case study on data centers on Wed., May 11, experts questioned whether current data centers have the capacity to support the data that’s about to hit with the smart grid, specifically smart metering and demand response pilots and programs---all that information that impacts a consumer.<o:p></o:p></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><o:p> </o:p></p> <p class="MsoNormal">“We’re adapting our infrastructure for a very bright smart grid future,” said Bud Voss, chief technology officer at Comverge during the session. “Our data center needs and our back office needs are ever-changing.” <o:p></o:p></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><o:p> </o:p></p> <p class="MsoNormal">Comverge works with more than 500 utilities and with data needs for communications and the smart grid. Comverge currently operates a data center in Pennsylvania for their demand response program, though they are now building a main location in Atlanta, leaving the Pennsylvania operations as a back-up.<o:p></o:p></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><o:p> </o:p></p> <p class="MsoNormal">With the smart grid, there is a shift in data collection from one-way to two-way with info coming in and going out every 15 minutes. Voss noted that this creates a massive change, and, now, Comverge needs to analyze business data in real time, which requires expansion. <span style="mso-spacerun:yes"> </span><o:p></o:p></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><o:p> </o:p></p> <p class="MsoNormal">Comverge suggests adopting an architectural approach to improve security and scalability with the bigger and better data center the smart grid may require.<span style="mso-spacerun:yes"> </span>This new and shiny process is all about creating a solid grid design capable not just of data use and sorting but takes into account potential disaster issues and even federal requirements like NERC CIP. <o:p></o:p></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><o:p> </o:p></p> <p class="MsoNormal">“You have to allow for access points and higher levels of traffic with the smart grid,” said Sanket Amberkar, senior manager of smart grid with Cisco Systems, which worked with Comverge on the data center update. Amberkar also stressed a need for robustness in this type of system and making sure they are scaled even with field deployments.<o:p></o:p></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><o:p> </o:p></p> <p class="MsoNormal">So, the first step to securing that customer data starts with making sure your data center is up to snuff.<o:p></o:p></p> <!--EndFragment--><div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, merger creates a few concernsnoemail@noemail.orgKathleen Davis, Senior EditorLast week, the boards of Exelon Corp. and Constellation Energy trumpeted their potential merger. Technically, since Exelon gets to keep their name and their headquarters and be the big boy, it’s a bit more like Constellation’s being swallowed up or virtually erased---although both companies claim they will retain the Constellation brand and keep it in Baltimore. (But, with the Exelon crowd getting the lion’s share of the stake in the combined company, it’s really Exelon’s game.)<br /><br />The new company will control more than 34 GW of big, bad power with a generation mix of about 55 percent nuclear, 24 percent natural gas and about 8 percent renewable. Constellation currently controls about 12,000 MW of generation capacity, and the company delivers electricity through the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., its regulated utility in Central Maryland.<br /><br />Before this merger can reach the proposed 2012 finish line, a lot of companies, regulators and people in general will need to be placated. First, the blending must be approved by the stockholders of both Exelon and Constellation, and will the Constellation people be happy with a final stake around 30%? (Analysts have noted, however, that they consider this a better deal for Constellation’s shareholders than Exelon’s. So, perhaps they are thrilled with their 30%.)<br /><br />Then, the merger has to get a stamp of approval from a bevy of government regulators, including the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the Maryland Public Service Commission, the New York Public Service Commission, the Public Utility Commission of Texas, and a handful of other players.<br /><br />Both groups have tried to head off potential issues at the pass. First, they’re dumping some coal-fired plants in Maryland to ward off possible calls of old-school monopoly (mostly because Exelon has some generation stuff in the PJM area, too). And, the companies have said that the individual utilities will feel little adverse effects with the merger.<br /><br />BGE, ComEd and PECO will remain headquartered in Baltimore, Chicago and Philadelphia, respectively. And the companies claim that the merger will “benefit customers as all three utilities work together to share best practices to continually improve performance.”<br /><br />But, no matter how hard they worked to mitigate the response, not everyone is a happy camper. According to the local Baltimore press, there’s a union-backed coalition already protesting the potential deal. While it has been widely reported that this combination would effectively eliminate the last Fortune 500 company in the city, what the coalition seems most concerned with isn’t the large overarching umbrella of Constellation and its Fortune status, but the local utility BGE.<br /><br />In a press release, the coalition noted that BGE customers would get a single $100 credit with the merger but would not get protections against “already high bills” that they fear could be raised after the deal is finalized.<br /><br />The mayor of Baltimore has said she’s all for the deal, believing it will bring in more jobs. But, the governor isn’t so sure.<br /><br />While the state of Maryland isn’t actively protesting the merger like the union coalition in Baltimore, Governor Martin O’Malley made it pretty clear that he’d be keeping an eye on the proceedings, watching how it would impact his state’s ratepayers.<br /><br />Given the concerns over outcome, the sheer number of regulators to please and the bad track record Constellation has for trying to market itself, things could get very messy. After all, it has tried this before, unsuccessfully with both Florida Power and Light and MidAmerican Energy and partially successfully (on the nuclear side) with EDF.<br /><br />Will this merger idea with Exelon be the charm?<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, weddings: The Crown Estate, renewables and British efficiencynoemail@noemail.orgKathleen Davis, Senior EditorIt’s almost here, according to every major news outlet and cable channel in America. The U.S. is all atwitter about one thing: the British royal wedding of Prince William set for this week. It’s almost like the last 200 years of separation from the motherland never actually happened.<br /><br />Let’s face it: most of the Colonies have royals fever, just like the Brits. We’ve been flooded with royal souvenirs and wedding watch parties and tours of Princess Diana’s personal items as if we’re right next door rather than a large ocean and nearly a half hemisphere away.<br /><br />So, let’s join in the gusto. Let’s go with the flow. Let’s follow the fray. Let’s talk about the royal family---energy style.<br /><br />I’ll bet you didn’t know that the royals love renewables, especially offshore wind. Why so specific, you wonder? Well, because they get a good kickback---of course, not a kickback in the mob sense of things. But, it pays to own the seabed, let’s say.<br /><br />And they do. Literally. A lot of the royal family expenses are, in fact, pulled from public funds at the moment, but that’s about to change. And, the sizeable land portfolio of the monarchy is tied up in what’s known as the Crown Estate. Now, way back when---many, many generations ago---King George III made a trade. He offered the cash made from the Crown Estate to the people and country of England in return for his household expenses being covered by government. Traditionally, this has been a pretty awesome deal for the Brits. (In 2007, England netted about 160 million pounds with this system. The Crown Estate brought in 200 million, but the family cost about 40 million. All in all, an excellent return.)<br /><br />Well, everyone’s feeling the recession these days, and now the royal household has been told to freeze expenses and even asked to make some cuts. Long story short: It’s said that, in 2012, the household costs will be reconnected to that Crown Estate.<br /><br />Once reconnected to the cash made from the Crown Estate, you might hear the Queen herself chanting, “Build, baby, build” as offshore wind grows by leaps in bounds. After all, circling back to the top of this long tangent, the Crown Estate owns almost all the seabed (up to 12 miles offshore) off the English coast. So, leasing that to marine/offshore energy companies could make the Crown Estate a pretty penny, since all the rights to lease that area were granted to the Estate by the Energy Act of 2004.<br /><br />So, with the new royal household set to be connected directly back to the Crown Estate, leasing seabeds to offshore wind facilities may be one way for the new princess to pay those high electric bills at Buckingham Palace.<br /><br />But, not the only way. Renewables aren’t the only new-fangled energy concept the royals are adopting. They’re also big on negawatts---yep, energy efficiency.<br /><br />Apparently, Ron Harper, the deputy property manager at Buckingham Palace, sits down every five years and checks on the efficiency of the household, going so far as to looking at heat resonance imaging and energy ratings.<br /><br />A computerized building management system controls heating and power at the palace for optimum balance. It even controls the use of fans in the palace kitchen. Harper also touts the benefits of Buckingham Palace’s combined heat and power units for energy and the LED technology they are installing to control the lighting more effectively.<br /><br />Overall, while the wedding this week may be an old tradition in grand old fashion, the British monarchy has shown that it’s actually very cutting edge when it comes to the latest in power sources and efficiency.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>,’s Earth Day: Do you know how green your power is?noemail@noemail.orgKathleen Davis, Senior EditorThere’s going to be a lot of celebratin’ going on this Friday. April 22 may be Good Friday to you, but it’s also Earth Day to many, at least to many greenies here in the U.S. Started in 1970 by a U.S. senator concerned after a large oil spill---my how things haven’t changed---Earth Day is supposed to bring communities together to celebrate the sustainable, the healthy and the environmentally positive.<br /><br />Almost 40 years later, Earth Day is still around, but it’s moved beyond that sustainable celebration to become a massive marketing tool for American culture. This week, even the SyFy Channel turned its logo green in celebration. Of course, watching the SyFy Channel requires using power, which requires, in many cases, the burning of fossil fuels---which those greenies don’t care for. But, really, it’s the thought that counts, right?<br /><br />Among utilities, there is an equal push to show the “green” side of all sorts of power, even the non-renewables kind.<br /><br />NextEra Energy's headquarters in Juno Beach, Florida---home to Florida Power and Light Company, NextEra Energy Resources and other NextEra Energy subsidiaries---grabbed Gold-level Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. They’re pushing energy efficiency and energy savings this week. (NextEra is the green arm of things, although that green portfolio does include some bones of contention, including eight nuclear units and some natural gas-fired plants. On the definitely green side, though, they do have 7,540 MW of wind capacity scattered across the U.S. and Canada. No arguments about that.)<br /><br />A company down in the Lone Star State is opting to purchase RECs to show their commitment---but just for Earth Day. Renewable energy credits (RECs) are a bit of a gray area for greenies, too. The buying of RECs---which are produced by renewable power companies when they make green power but aren’t always sold with the power itself---is basically a company saying, “OK. So, we don’t personally have enough renewable sources of our own to make this requirement. So, we’ll buy some.” It’s not really planting the tree yourself, but more like buying the dirty t-shirt off the guy who planted the tree---and some of his good karma, too, let’s say. While positive in the fiscal support of green power, it doesn’t actually physically offset the carbon-produced power product used. RECs are created by the government to give renewables more market muscle, but it doesn’t mean that the power said company will give Texas that day is actually from a green source.<br /><br />Tampa Electric is offering $1.5 million in rebates each year for five years to help customers install renewable technologies like photovoltaic (PV) solar systems and solar water heating. They actually announced that last week, but they added it to a press release touting some Earth Day events their employees are participating in this week. This could help interest the local greenie in PVs, but it doesn’t, again, do much to impact fossil fuel use on a larger scale, which would make for a super excited greenie on Earth Day.<br /><br />Of the three Earth Day announcements listed here---and, believe me, they are only three of many---Tampa Electric’s is probably the most in tune with the original thinking of Earth Day: getting the community involved in sustainability---in Tampa Electric’s case, getting them hands-on involved. Actual steps in sustainability may still be of the “baby” variety here, but, behind all the marketing chatter for Earth Day, there remains a core truth to believe in.<br /><br />After all, these concepts wouldn’t sell so well if there wasn’t a market for them. While the real legacy of Earth Day may reside heavily in the realm of whitewashed PR at the moment, the very fact that Earth Day still garners such attention---right down to the greening of the SyFy logo---gives all greenies hope that, in the future, there may be real, massive renewable power behind the annual celebration.<br /><br />We’re not there yet, but we may be able to hitch an EV-powered ride to that future soon.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, your utility really care about security?noemail@noemail.orgKathleen Davis, Senior EditorSecurity, of both the physical and cyber varieties, has been on the lips of power insiders for decades now. Discussions about the physical side of the issue usually peak after accidents like the one slowly evolving at Fukushima Daiichi over the last month or attacks like the ones on the World Trade Center in New York a decade ago. The discussion comes and goes with a social ebb and flow that mimics human behavior patterns: It’s high when humans have something to fear in the recent memory; it’s low when that recent memory begins to fade from the synapses. <br /><br />The cyber ones, on the other hand, don’t really ebb much. They have been steadily growing in strength and decibel level as the smart grid gets more of a foothold and creates more potential security endpoints to cover. Concerns in that area rarely grow less numerous, and a recent study by the Ponemon Institute may kick up a few new arguments as well. <br /><br />Unfortunately, the study shows that pesky patterns of human behavior are apparent with the cybersecurity elements of power as well---namely that workers don’t think management understands the value of their work, that compliance is something everyone has to do but few think is valuable, and that the “terrorist” you really need to worry about may already be inside your cyber walls, so to speak. <br /><br />The study, “State of IT Security: Study of Utilities and Energy Companies,” was published this week by Ponemon Institute and sponsored by Q1 Labs. They surveyed 291 IT and IT security people in the energy industry for the results, picking people specifically involved in securing assets, systems and infrastructure. <br /><br />My favorite finding is one gripe that you could find with any gig, anywhere, in any office in the U.S.: The boss totally doesn’t get what I do or how important it is. 71 percent of the survey respondents said “the management team does not understand or appreciate the value of IT security,” according to the survey’s specific wording. Now, keeping in mind that the people doing the talking here are likely not a part of the management team, this seems quite standard for corporate America: The boss doesn’t get it. Unfortunately, however, we’re not talking businesses that make bingo cards or bracelets or BB guns. This is the power structure we’re chatting about---the backbone of health, security, luxury and industry. <br /><br />If the boss really doesn’t get it, we’re all in a lot of trouble here---not just the corporate employees, but all of us in this power hungry society. Adding to the issue, those employees in the survey don’t see what they’re working with as state of the art technology, nor do many of them think their companies are very proactive in keeping risk at bay in this area. So, the bosses don’t get it, aren’t forking over cash for it (likely because they don’t get it) and really don’t want to think about it or plan ahead for it. <br /><br />Again, we can all hope this is just a problematic human perception and not the actual truth, but it’s still a bit scary to think about. Still, even if the boss doesn’t get it, they have to comply with NERC standards and regulatory objectives that force the utility into security compliance, right? <br /><br />Well, yes and no. There are, indeed, standards for this sort of thing, but the respondents in this survey overwhelming said that compliance isn’t a major push with their company and that, besides, it’s super difficult to comply anyway. Plus, in the end, the regulations in place don’t really help with security. They’re just not very effective. <br /><br />Just in case you want to keep score, here’s the bottom line so far: The boss doesn’t get how important security is, isn’t paying for it, isn’t bringing in the right technology and, in the end, what we’re all forced to do by those pesky regulations doesn’t help a whit anyway. <br /><br />Scared yet? <br /><br />Finally, in the area of just how much they will cost and who exactly is causing those security issues, you might get to breathe a small sigh of relief. It’s not nearly as frightening as you think. No multi-million dollar price tags are popping up today, and no terrorists are rearing dangerous heads. While those survey respondents admit that an “exploit” on their company network could occur in the next year, the average breach would clock in at a modest cost of $156,000. (OK, that’s not modest to me, but it is modest to a large corporation, let’s say.) <br /><br />Additionally, we don’t need to fret so much about outsiders and scary terrorists. Most of those breaches will be caused by people who already work at these organizations. While leadership issues (like who the heck is really responsible for security) are contributing to the problem, there isn’t an overwhelming need to shore up systems against angry outsiders---just a need to get a good look at potentially angry insiders. <br /><br />This small survey may note, inadvertently, the biggest hurdles to cybersecurity that power systems face: ourselves. Someone needs to be in charge of security and take responsibility for it. Someone needs to think it’s important, invest money in it and really figure out how regulations can help, rather than hinder, the issue. <br /><br />The problem remains though: Who will be that mysterious “someone” for your utility?<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, year later: Remembering the Upper Big Branch mine disasternoemail@noemail.orgKathleen Davis, Senior EditorOne year ago today, 29 men died in the Upper Big Branch mine, the worst coal mining disaster in the U.S. in 40 years. The incident prompted multiple investigations, including one by the Mine Safety and Health Administration and a criminal look into the mine's chief of security. No final answers are available as of yet. Those answers may still be months away. And, if we're honest with ourselves, final answers may never come---at least not answers that make the families feel any better. <br /><br />After the disaster, there was a national call for new safety regulations, but those have yet to materialize (and many efforts have stalled out in the new Congress and the state legislature). <br /><br />In honor of this solemn anniversary this week, I'm rerunning a commentary I wrote immediately after the accident. Despite various blogs from me over the last year that lament the logistical problems of renewables, I still believe that renewables are the answer to getting us away from mining disasters such as Upper Big Branch. And I hope we find a way to get to that renewable horizon fast enough to save ourselves future mine disasters and future families grieving over the needless deaths of fathers, sons, brothers and friends. <br /><br /><strong>Coal Mine Disaster Brings New Reason to Consider Renewables </strong><br /><em>Originally published April 6, 2010.</em> <br /><br />The rather dramatic irony of this blog entry is that I thought about writing it yesterday after reading about China’s flooded mine and all the men trapped there. At that point, I was thinking about how much safer our own mines are here in the U.S., how that probably wouldn’t happen here after all the OSHA safety requirements and other issues involved. I was going to write about that, slant the article to say we can help China make mining less dangerous. Then, this morning, I read about the coal mine blast in West Virginia that has killed 25 people with four still missing. <br /><br />Coal mining is a dirty, nasty business---even with our OSHA regulations, even with our laws and safety requirements. We’re not so different, at the core, from China, after all. It may, in fact, be impossible to make mining a really safe endeavor. <br /><br />I come from a long line of coal miners. I’ll bet you are surprised by that revelation. My grandfather was a coal miner. And his father. And his father’s father. My family’s dug a lot of black chunks out of the ground. <br /><br />My grandfather used to talk sometimes, quietly about what miners fear most---back then it was a scary term called “blackdamp.” Blackdamp is the removal of oxygen in the air, which is replaced by toxic gases. Pretty much all tight, sealed environments can create blackdamp, but it’s especially nasty in coal mines because the coal itself adds to the problem. Coal, once exposed to air, begins absorbing oxygen and giving off carbon dioxide and water vapor. <br /><br />My grandfather used to talk about blackdamp as if the mine itself was breathing, cutting off air from the miners inside its gullet. You can’t smell blackdamp. You usually only become aware when you get lightheaded and dizzy, uncoordinated like you’ve had way too much to drink. Blackdamp was what miners feared most in my grandfather’s day. But, that wasn’t usually what killed them. It did kill some, of course, but most miners were killed from the force and power of collapses or accidents, not from the creeping blackdamp. <br /><br />Still, the blackdamp scared them most---that slow, crazy spiral to asphyxiation that it represented. My grandfather said the scariest thing was an awareness that death is coming down that mine in bits and parcels, in small steps and strides. And you had to watch. You had to realize what was coming. <br /><br />My grandfather stopped fearing the blackdamp in 1947 because he stopped being a coal miner in 1947. March 26, 1947, to be exact. <br /><br />He was running late for his shift at the Centralia Coal Company’s No. 5 mine on the edge of Centralia, Illinois. He wasn’t usually the type to run late---at least not as I recall. (We always made it to the movies and the circus early enough to get sodas and popcorn when I was a kid.) But, that one day in 1947, he was a bit behind. <br /><br />He told me the reason was something to do with a family birthday celebration that had kept him up way too late the night before. The celebration hadn’t, however, slowed down my great-grandfather. Not a bit. He was bang on time for the mine collapse---the worst coal mine disaster that the country had seen in nearly 20 years. <br /><br />111 men died in that mine disaster, including my great-grandfather Jacob Rethard. My grandfather, Raymond, would talk about digging with shovels and picks and bare and bloody hands---anything to get to his father and those other men trapped, even though they knew just minutes after the shaft fell that hope for the lives of those men was completely futile: If the force didn’t get them, the blackdamp and growing lack of oxygen certainly would. <br /><br />It was a race against time, and they didn’t have the equipment to win. Still, my grandfather kept digging until he recovered the body of his father. His father was no. 110---the 110th body. No. 110 out of the 111 dead men pulled from that mine. And my grandfather walked away from that disaster dirty and bloody and done. <br /><br />He left coal mining behind without a second thought. <br /><br />As human beings, we are incredibly resilient. My grandfather certainly was. He became a security guard, working everywhere from Vegas to Oklahoma City. He raised a family and rarely talked about that coal mine collapse that killed his father. He was funny, a great cook, and he used to build the most amazing blanket-and-kitchen-chair forts in his living room, much to the annoyance of my grandmother. He pressed on. <br /><br />As a society, we often mirror my grandfather’s ability to move forward. Hundreds of men in China die, and it really doesn’t stop us from flicking a light switch. We don’t make that connection much. 25 men in West Virginia died today, and it hasn’t stopped me from using my computer or my television. We have a great capacity to accept and move on. But, maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to adapt. <br /><br />I’ve thought a lot about the place of renewables in this industry in the last few years---most of it focused on the practical. I still think they are expensive and lacking in a certain economy of scale. But, perhaps I should think less about the financial cost of renewables and more about the lives they might save---not just with reducing global warming but direct human lives like those we lose regularly in coal mines around the world. <br /><br />Jacob Rethard was a solid, tough family man who was proud to be a coal miner, but it cost him his life. My grandfather, Raymond Rethard, walked away from that disaster that killed his father a changed man, one who saw coal mining as not worth the risk. <br /><br />In the end, he died at a ripe old age surrounded by family---not by darkness and blackdamp. <br /><br />Perhaps we should pay more attention to the humanity embroiled in the dangers of mining. If renewables become more prevalent, could we save more men in China and in West Virginia and in Illinois from dying in the dark? Years ago I made a definitive choice to never buy diamonds because of the human cost they sometimes require to mine. It was a change in attitude, and I know I’m not alone in that attitude or choice. Perhaps we, as an industry and as a society, also need to consider a change in attitude and adjust our social concepts and technological advances to give the advantage to renewables, even if they are more expensive. <br /><br />We should remember that we sometimes pay a very large, very human price for very cheap power. And, bottom line, that human price may be much, much less if renewables were given a stronger foothold in power production. It would be a nice change if no man had to fear the dark blackdamp in our smart energy future.<div class="blogger-post-footer"><img width='1' height='1' src='' alt='' /></div>, 500

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