GRIDWEEK Descends on D.C.

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By Kathleen Davis, senior editor

Regulators, vendors, utility representatives and the generally smart grid curious took over the lower portion of the Ronald Reagan building in Washington, D.C. Sept. 22-25 to discuss the ins and outs of making our T&D system more communicative and self-healing.

The co-chairs of this year’s event, Kevin Kolevar, the assistant secretary for the DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, and Guido Bartels with IBM, opened the show to a packed amphitheatre. In a joint statement, they noted that “the focus on the grid and energy efficiency is now more important than ever. Both the president and Congress alike have acknowledged the importance of developing and deploying a smart electricity grid.”

Bob Gilligan, vice president of GE Energy T&D, also addressed the audience in that opening keynote, telling them the industry can’t “shirk away from our energy responsibilities” and the legacy they leave.

“We have a great opportunity to make a big difference in energy,” he added. “It’s time to reshape the market. . . . We need to position the infrastructure for tomorrow, rather than building on the ashes of the past.”

One way Gilligan suggested a new “position” for the future: Stop having revenue “dictated” by energy sold and, instead, reward utilities for energy conservation. He also suggested programs that incorporate the consumer into the energy solution and investing in infrastructure that opens the door for renewables.

“The solution is collaboration,” he concluded.

And, collaboration was the name of the game at GRIDWEEK this year, with vendors and utilities convening a number of panels, discussions and lunches about how to achieve smart grid success.

The Tuesday roundtable luncheon on cyber security featured Henry Jones, the CTO of SmartSynch, John McDonald of GE Energy and Jeff Katz, the CTO of IBM Energy and Utilities. Much of the discussion centered around Jones’ use of the term “ecosystem” to describe how cyber security for T&D should be examined globally instead of regionally or micro-regionally. They also noted that the smart grid gets to “build” a little on decades of work in the area of communication security and, luckily, doesn’t have to rethink the better mousetrap from step one.

McDonald envisioned a data gateway to secure the system, a bit of centralized security management to support the use of LAN and standard protocols with both downstream and upstream protection.

Things got a bit less technical on Wednesday when assistant secretary Kolevar addressed the press directly, stating that, first and foremost, “the era of cheap energy is over.” He split no hairs in admitting that the decisions for the smart grid, from technology to infrastructure upgrades to the addition of renewables, was going to mean green (and not just in the form of clean energy).

“We are making decisions today, on all fronts, that will affect the price. There is no alternative. The question is: What do you get for the cost?” He cited positives for the money: security, efficiency, cleaner power, more consumer control. And, he made no distinction between power production and the grid, pairing the two together without room for doubt in which is more worthy of the cost. In Kolevar’s future, they are indivisible.

“If you are for wind and you are for clean coal and you are for solar and you are for nuclear, then—by definition—you are for transmission expansion,” he stated.

Wisconsin Transmission Line Receives Award

The 345 kV Arrowhead-Weston transmission line project, designed by POWER Engineers, has been chosen to receive the 2008 Wisconsin Engineering Achievement Award, presented by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The award was based upon the obvious need for a 345 kV tie to create a reliable power source in Wisconsin, as well as the 220-mile length of the line. The project team overcame challenges including working in conjunction with multiple utilities while simultaneously complying with their various design standards. Many of the 1,564 transmission structures required for this project were custom designed to accommodate for the differing terrain conditions encountered along the line, owned by American Transmission Co.

Arrowhead-Weston crosses the federally protected Namekagon River, an area under jurisdiction of the National Park Service. Special considerations were required for the design of this crossing to preserve aesthetic value. The team also used 27 miles of construction mats to protect wetlands in the area.

The Arrowhead-Weston line project, tying Duluth, Minn. to Wausau, Wis., began in 1998 and was energized by American Transmission Co. in January 2008. The project team included project owner American Transmission Co. and design consultant POWER Engineers. Design team leaders were from Wisconsin Public Service Corp. and Minnesota Power. The contractor was MJ Electric.

EYE ON EUROPE:

Iberdrola examines tech: Iberdrola has been working extensively to define and test a new open, public and non-proprietary PLC (power line communications) telecom architecture to support both smart metering functionality and smart grids evolution. The first milestone was the defining and testing of the physical layer, which was made public in February, based on orthogonal frequency division multiplexing, which offers up to 130 Kbps in the CENELEC-A band, and shows further advantages such as increased robustness, longer distance reach and low cost. Now, Iberdrola has delivered the medium access control and convergence sublayer specifications, after performing several tests with successful results. The utility is testing ahead of a pilot project encompassing 100,000 PLC meters and 635 concentrators to be deployed in 2009 as an early step to fully cover more than 10 million residential customers in Spain.

Poland joins the club: Poland has become a new member country of the International Energy Agency (IEA). The government in Warsaw completed all necessary steps under its national legislation to accede to the IEA founding document, the agreement on an International Energy Program (I.E.P. Agreement). With the membership of Poland, the IEA now has 28 member countries.

A Chat with NREL Director Dan Arvizu

Editor’s note: This is part three of a four-part UAE news series. Senior editor Kathleen Davis talks with NREL director Dr. Dan Arvizu about connecting renewables to the grid. In this third part of the series, Dr. Arvizu addresses the numbers and the intermittent nature of wind.

KD: Research analysts predict that, at the most, renewables could produce only 25 percent of the nation’s power, even if all the grid connection issues disappeared. Do you agree with that number? What could we change/adjust to increase that number?

DA: To my knowledge, no rigorous analysis has determined the maximum percentage of renewables in the North American grid. From my personal perspective, I suspect the maximum percentage can be significantly higher under some conditions. It is true that several studies have examined regional scenarios in the range of 25 percent to 30 percent, and a national study of 20 percent renewable wind contribution was recently released.

To increase the percentage, we will need new transmission from renewable resource areas to load centers, and we will need a power system with the flexibility to deal with variable output. Indications that we could achieve much higher penetrations of renewables are provided by our European colleagues. Ireland has just completed a study illustrating a 40 percent share of electric energy from wind. Denmark has studied a 50 percent share provided by wind.

KD: One of the biggest grid issues with the largest renewable sources—wind and solar—is their unpredictability. What sort of back-ups—technical or regulatory—can we put in place to get the most renewable power onto the grid?

DA: We talk about renewable resources being variable, not intermittent or unpredictable. The key is the ability to forecast, which is improving rapidly. This issue is being aggressively addressed in the technology and regulatory arenas.

On the technology side, accurately forecasting wind and solar production can greatly reduce the uncertainty that output will be there when it is scheduled. As we add more wind and solar to our supply mix, we will want to add more flexibility to the power system to cover the times when forecasts of renewable resources aren’t completely accurate. For example, spinning and supplemental reserves can cover the loss of large generating units. Load-following generation can cover loads that ramp up and ramp down. Some utilities and ISOs also use demand response to provide more flexibility. The flexibility needed for wind and solar will probably mean more of these technologies.

On the regulatory side, things have changed over the past couple of years. Reliability is now regulated under Federal law by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission through the North American Reliability Corp. (NERC), and regional reliability organizations (RROs) are developing standards that will incorporate variable generation such as wind and solar. To start the process, NERC has assigned the Integration of Variable Generation Task Force to develop a white paper that will lead to standards on how to deal with variable generation, particularly in reliability assessments.

KD:In late February, ERCOT was forced to cut power to a number of large suppliers when a sudden drop in wind generation dropped their reserve MW below 1,750. Some naysayers will point to issues like this one as a “sample” of what will happen if we rely on renewables too heavily—an unpredictable, chaotic grid situation. How do you respond to issues like ERCOT’s? Will this type of event occur more frequently if we grow our renewable portfolio?

DA: The February 26, 2008, ERCOT event was caused by a combination of issues. I would stress to the casual observer that it is important to assess the contributing factors before drawing any conclusions about the desirability of including wind in the grid generation mix.

A drop in frequency on the Texas transmission grid led ERCOT to call reserve capacity. This included load curtailment by customers that had voluntarily signed up for a load-acting-as-resource program in which they are paid to curtail.

There were three major contributors to the event. First, wind generation dropped from 2,000 to 360 MW in 3.5 hours. Then, a conventional unit with 370 MW of capacity tripped off line. Finally, the load forecast, based partly on the previous day’s load, was wrong.

The event lasted less than two hours, and no customers involuntarily lost power.

Although ERCOT had contracted with a wind-forecasting service that had accurately predicted the wind power availability, the forecast had not yet been integrated into ERCOT’s system operations.

These wind ramp events (of 500 MW/hour) are not the same as reliability events with instantaneous loss of generation or transmission. Conventional contingencies require dedicated, expensive spinning reserves and immediate response. Multi-hour wind ramps allow the use of less expensive market responses, load responses, supplemental reserves or non-spinning reserves.

It is also important to note that since that event, ERCOT has implemented a wind-forecasting process to provide a better hourly estimate of wind output. That should greatly mitigate any undesirable effect of wind generation in the future.

KD: One way to balance this unpredictability issue is dynamic reactive compensation. A few European countries, Australia and certain parts of Canada require wind farms to provide various amounts of this compensation, but the United States does not. Could adding such a requirement help make the grid operate more smoothly for wind suppliers?

DA: Dynamic reactive compensation is a capability of modern wind generation, and it has been implemented overseas and in several U.S. locations. However, the United States has no countrywide requirement for it. At this time, there does not seem to be a need for a system-wide mandate for dynamic reactive compensation, but we do need flexibility so system operators can require reactive compensation if it is needed.

Parts one and two of this news series are featured in the September and October issues.

TIDBIT:

Itron Inc. will provide DTE Energy with OpenWay advanced metering technology to automate a total of 2.6 million electric meters over the next six years.

Student-engineered Tool Protects Workers

Engineering students at Johns Hopkins have invented a tool that would allow utility workers to disconnect power lines from residential transformers at a safe distance, beyond the range of dangerous electrical arcs.

Their prototype, built at the request of a local utility company, consists of a lightweight aluminum frame that uses rope and a lever-and-pulley system to enable the worker to detach a transformer’s power connector, known as a load-break elbow. This operation sometimes triggers an explosive arc that can cause serious skin burns and eye injuries. Such arcs can travels as far as eight feet from the transformer, but the students’ device would enable workers to disconnect the line from 10 to 12 feet away.


Using rope and a lever-and-pulley system, the students’ device allows utility workers to disconnect a power line from 10 to 12 feet away—beyond the reach of a dangerous electrical arc. Photo by Will Kirk/John Hopkins University.
Click here to enlarge image

“We’re very pleased with the outcome of this project,” said Bruce R. Hirsch, a Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. representative who worked with the students. “What they’ve given us is a good start. It’s a very simple design, and they’ve suggested some further refinements. This device was made to enhance the safety of our people, and that’s BGE’s top priority.”

To acquire the new safety tool, the utility last year turned to Johns Hopkins undergraduates enrolled in the two-semester “Engineering Design Project” course, offered by the Department of Mechanical Engineering. BGE’s project was aimed at protecting technicians who work in the above-ground, pad-mounted transformer boxes commonly found in residential neighborhoods.

The utility’s challenge was assigned to a team consisting of seniors Kyle Azevedo of Bridgewater, Conn.; Julie Blumreiter of Muskego, Wis.; and Doo Hyun Lee of Seoul, Korea. BGE provided an unpowered out-of-service residential transformer box for the team members to use in developing their tool.


This picture show how the lightweight aluminum frame designed by the Johns Hopkins students clamps onto a residential transformer’s power connector, known as a load break elbow. Photo by Will Kirk/John Hopkins University.
Click here to enlarge image

The students initially considered complex designs that would employ hydraulic or pneumatic power. “We finally decided on an all-mechanical design that would require no batteries or motors,” said Azevedo. “One of our primary goals for this tool was simplicity.”

The undergraduates spent about $9,600 to make the prototype but estimated that it could be mass-produced for far less. The prototype has been turned over to BGE, which will conduct further tests and consider refinements in the device before deciding whether to deploy it in the field.

For more on worker safety, see this month’s feature by Dale Gaddis, pg. 40.

Oklahoma Grants Utility Status to Transmission Company

Oklahoma regulators recently granted transmission utility status to ITC Great Plains, an independent electric transmission company, in an effort to improve transmission infrastructure and bring wind power and other renewable energy to the state.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s ruling means the Topeka, Kan.,-based company may construct, own, operate and maintain high-voltage electric transmission lines in the state. ITC Great Plains is a subsidiary of Michigan’s ITC Holdings Corp.

“This decision is good for Oklahoma,” Joseph L. Welch, chairman, president and CEO of ITC Holdings Corp, said in a press release. “It gives us the certainty we need to invest millions of dollars in Oklahoma, and it also supports a growing vision in the state and across the region to build a modern, robust and integrated transmission grid to meet growing demand for the coming decades in Oklahoma and the entire country.”

In 2007, ITC Great Plains won similar transmission utility status in Kansas. As a result, Mid-Kansas Electric Co. and Sunflower Electric Power Corp. in September announced ITC Great Plains will build two of three sections in the proposed Kansas V-Plan, the largest electric infrastructure project proposed in Kansas in nearly 25 years. The 180-mile high-voltage transmission line project is part of the Southwest Power Pool’s Transmission Expansion Plan.

The project places Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius closer to one of her goals: meeting 10 percent of the state’s electricity needs with wind power by 2010, and 20 percent by 2020. Kansas ranks third in wind-energy potential. It is the seventh state to reach 1,000 MW of wind power, according to the governor’s Sept. 12 press release.

Drop down a state, and obtaining utility status is again the first step for ITC Great Plains, Welch said. Further plans include becoming a transmission owner and constructing a 115-mile line in western Oklahoma that will eventually connect with lines in Kansas and Texas. The new line would not be operational before 2012.

Another of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s rulings permits Oklahoma Gas and Electric. Co. (OG&E) to recover costs of the wind-power transmission line. This will allow OG&E customers to see renewable energy credits on their bills before the line’s completion, commission chairman Jeff Cloud said. OG&E’s plans include quadrupling its wind energy capacity in Oklahoma to at least 770 MW.

Right now Oklahoma ranks 43rd on employing energy efficiency to power its economy, states a report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. Kansas is 34th. States were evaluated according to the following criteria:

  • utility-sector and public benefits efficiency programs and policies;
  • transportation and land-use policies;
  • building energy codes;
  • combined heat and power;
  • appliance efficiency standards;
  • energy efficiency in public buildings and fleets;
  • research, development and deployment; and
  • financial incentives for efficient technologies.

ITC will work with state and local officials in Oklahoma to build the transmission infrastructure with minimal economic and environmental impact, Welch said.

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