Autovation Trumpets Communication, Collaboration

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Kathleen Davis, Senior Editor

The buzzword Sept. 12-15 at Utilimetrics’ Autovation 2010 in Austin, Texas, was communication in its technical automation form, with customers and among vendors. 

Communication is Key

The communication fest began with the opening keynote. Austin Energy Chief Operating Officer Cheryl Mele talked about the utility’s program to exchange old, outdated meters for smarter, sharper ones. It was all about information distribution.

“One of the most important things we did during this exchange process was communicate,” she said.

They communicated with flyers, press releases, postcards, door hangers, even a dedicated customer call center to answer questions about the meter exchange process.

Communication with customers was also on the minds of David Elve and Matt Zafuto, of Sensus, on the exhibit floor. Elve discussed the importance of managing customer expectations. Zafuto agreed that being in the customer business is part of being in the automation business these days.

“Utilities don’t react with customers very well, and traditionally they haven’t had to,” Zafuto said.

He and Elve compared the current state of smart grid development to the “awkward toddler phase.” They said utilities have the technology available to them, but they need the technique and flexibility to change plans as feedback from customers and other partners change smart grid needs.

Itron and Cisco expressed the need for communication as they expanded on their original partnership announcement during a press conference.

Philip Mezey, Itron North America senior vice president and chief operating officer, said that a lack of trust and problematic scalability has created a pushback against smart grid advances. He said he hopes this collaboration between Itron and Cisco will announce a new state of affairs in the industry, one of communication and collaboration among vendors.

Paul De Martini, Cisco chief technology officer and vice president of strategy for the smart grid business unit, said it is time the industry moves out of the “embryonic stage” and starts real deployment, which would include a standards-based approach with better communication and more vendor partnerships. This would allow for creativity and innovation in the smart grid marketplace, he said.

From Communication to Collaboration

Ben Koch, managing director in the corporate finance division of SWS Group, joined Austin Energy’s Mele at the opening keynote. He discussed collaboration.

“We’re all on this road to a true end-to-end smart grid together,” he said.

While Koch noted that there have been and still are obstacles on the road, the path is getting smoother and the industry is making progress.

“The smart grid has persevered,” Koch said.

That’s despite challenging economic conditions, complex integration issues, consumer skepticism, regulatory pressures and evolving standards, he said.

Koch said that financing is still an issue. He said federal stimulus money for smart grid is “on the right path” and third-party private investors are stepping up, offering nearly $500 million for smart grid products this year.

“On the private side, (companies) believe in smart grid opportunities,” Koch said.

He said investors have faith in the smart grid.

“They are willing to put capital to work,” he said.

The smart grid market has a number of positives that investors look for, including growing market opportunities (1.3 billion electric meters around the world, for example), unique technology solutions and scalable business models, Koch said.

While the gray area of emerging-but-not-definitive standards and significant consumer issues remain, Koch doesn’t see those as impossible.

“There will always be challenges in a market this size, but they will be overcome,” he said. “It’s a great time to be in the market.”

Autovation 2011 will be Sept. 25-28, 2011, in Washington, D.C.


ComEd Launches Smart Grid Innovation Corridor

In September, ComEd launched the ComEd Smart Grid Innovation Corridor, one of a broad collection of smart grid pilots. This suite of projects will evaluate the latest technology and implementation approaches in areas such as residential solar power, the company’s first intelligent substation, distribution automation and electric vehicle charging stations.

The ComEd Smart Grid Innovation Corridor encompasses the 10 communities of Bellwood, Berwyn, Broadview, Forest Park, Hillside, Maywood, Melrose Park, Oak Park, River Forest and the Humboldt Park neighborhood in Chicago. It will build upon the information-rich smart meters installed in 130,000 residences within this area.

Standing in front of an Oak Park, Ill., substation that will become ComEd’s first intelligent substation, ComEd project engineers, from left, Rich Gordus, Maryl Freestone and Dan Gabel discuss elements of the Smart Grid Innovation Corridor. This includes advanced substation microprocessor relays (held by Gordus), distribution automation, electric vehicle pilots and a residential rooftop solar project with the Department of Energy.

“Our innovation corridor is unlike any in the U.S.,” said Anne Pramaggiore, president and chief operating officer of ComEd. “It allows us to study a variety of advanced smart grid technologies individually and in relation to each other. Through this deliberate approach, we will learn the best and most cost-effective way to deliver value to our customers, help them manage their bills and improve system reliability.”

Pramaggiore said that the foundational technology for each pilot is the smart meter. ComEd recently launched one of the largest smart meter pilots in the U.S. and is well-positioned to study the best approaches for creating a robust smart grid in northern Illinois, said Terence Donnelly, ComEd executive vice president of operations

Standing in front of Oak Park TDC 505, ComEd Smart Grid Manager Rich Gordus displays a microprocessor relay that is among the equipment that will transform the substation into ComEd’s first intelligent substation

“The smart meter is the on-ramp to the smart grid, and our goal is to ensure that these systems work for our customers,” Donnelly said. “The ComEd Smart Grid Innovation Corridor allows us to prove out advanced technologies under realistic operating conditions.”

ComEd Senior Engineer Maryl Freestone, at right, explains the photovoltaic pilot and how solar panels would mount on the home of a potential pilot participant, Oak Park customer Tom Bassett-Dilley.

The five pilots to be initiated this year include:

  • Photovoltaic (PV) Pilot: This three-year project is partially funded by a $5 million Department of Energy grant. It will examine the customer benefits of residential solar generation, hourly pricing signals, the ability to sell back unused solar electricity and the impact of changes in customer load on the ComEd grid. Participants will be selected by the end of this year for the pilot, which is expected to begin in spring 2011.
  • Intelligent Substation: Microprocessor-based controls and advanced digital devices are being installed at an Oak Park substation to create an intelligent substation that will feature automated monitoring and analysis to improve reliability and streamline maintenance. The intelligent substation will go live in December.
  • Distribution Automation: Automated power line restoration devices and smart isolation switches will be installed to create self-healing lines that will automatically correct disturbances and minimize outage durations. Equipment will go live in December.
  • Electric Vehicles and Charging Infrastructure: Through partnerships with General Motors Co., the city of Chicago, the Electric Power Research Institute and industry groups, the next generation of electric vehicles will be studied and smart-charging infrastructure will be installed to encourage development of a Chicago market for electric vehicles. The first charging stations will be installed this fall, and ComEd will begin testing GM’s Chevy Volt in 2011.
  • Dynamic Voltage Regulation: This will green the electric system using smart grid technologies to reduce surplus voltage on distribution lines while maintaining high reliability. The pilot will go live in December.

To recruit participants for the PV Pilot, ComEd recently invited more than 25,000 customers who own single-family homes within the ComEd Smart Grid Innovation Corridor. One hundred homeowners will be selected to receive free rooftop solar panels and other equipment, free installation and Web access to monitor their electricity generation and consumption.


Southern California Edison Opens Smart Energy Experience Center

Southern California Edison’s (SCE’s) Smart Energy Experience is one of the first U.S. exhibits to demonstrate live how smart appliances and devices work with a smart meter.

The Experience is located at SCE’s Customer Technology Application Center in Irwindale, Calif.

The Smart Energy Experience is designed as a home exhibit to help customers learn about and experience smart grid technologies being researched at SCE. Exhibit displays provide a glimpse into future energy distribution and consumption. Demonstrations include the future of power delivery via smart grid technologies, including home area networking of smart meters, smart appliances and devices, solar installations and plug-in electric vehicles.

SCE highlights the Control4 EMS 100 at the exhibit, including the ability to monitor real-time fluctuations in electricity usage and present that information on flat panels throughout the house.

A smart grid feature for utilities and homeowners is demand response or pricing event triggers that help utilities and consumers work together to manage energy load, particularly during peak times. The demand response event demonstrated at the Smart Energy Experience involves communication to a programmable communicating thermostat, smart lighting, televisions and household appliances. In response to the communication, the devices reduce their power consumption to preset levels selected and programmed by customers. Within seconds, the display shows the resulting load reduction, reinforcing the value of the action to homeowners.


NIST Identifies Five Foundational Smart Grid Standards

The Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has advised the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that it has identified five foundational sets of standards for smart grid interoperability and cybersecurity that are ready for federal and state energy regulators’ consideration.

The standards, produced by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), focus on the information models and protocols important to efficient, reliable grid operations, as well as cybersecurity.

The five families of IEC standards will further efforts to achieve efficient and secure intersystem communications, among other FERC priorities identified in the commission’s July 16, 2009, Smart Grid Policy Statement. These standards will be updated as smart grid requirements and technologies evolve.

The standards and their functions are:

  • IEC 61970 and IEC 61968: Providing a Common Information Model (CIM) necessary for exchanges of data between devices and networks, primarily in the transmission (IEC 61970) and distribution (IEC 61968) domains.
  • IEC 61850: Facilitating substation automation and communication, as well as interoperability, through a common data format.
  • IEC 60870-6: Facilitating exchanges of information between control centers.
  • IEC 62351: Addressing the cybersecurity of the communication protocols defined by the preceding IEC standards.

To determine whether a standard was ready for regulators’ consideration, NIST considered many things, including the maturity of the standard, the resolution of previously identified issues by its Smart Grid Interoperability Panel, and a satisfactory review of cybersecurity requirements.

NIST anticipates that the release of future standards identified as ready for consideration by regulators, as well as by other smart grid stakeholders, also will be organized according to smart grid functions and domains of application, such as bulk generation, transmission or customer premises.

For more on standards, see the feature article in this issue on page 20.


A Look Inside Smart Metering at Hydro Ottawa

Maintaining customer satisfaction and providing comprehensive program support are two keys to Hydro Ottawa’s smart metering infrastructure program’s success.

The utility’s shift to smart meters began in 2005 in response to a provincial government mandate that dictated the transition, calling for all Ontario electromechanical meters to be replaced by 2010. Not long after the program began, Hydro Ottawa realized it needed a partner that could manage such a complex operation.

Hydro Ottawa had conducted all meter changes, which was a high-volume task with safety concerns and risks that must be properly managed. By having Honeywell handle the operations, Hydro Ottawa could focus on other core competencies and higher-risk commercial work.

“Converting to smart meters is a complex process,” said Steve White, Hydro Ottawa manager of metering systems. “We’re dealing with real customer homes and a process that’s different compared to the standard, outdoor meter reading of the past. We looked to Honeywell to manage the project and maintain the high-quality service delivery and safety standards that our customers demand.”

In the case of Hydro Ottawa’s program, that management entailed handling a large volume of installations in diverse, dynamic work environments with changing weather, different construction standards and meters located in and outside homes. Honeywell also tracked installation progress and reached out to customers to drive participation and manage the customer service aspects after installation, including warranty support.

The result is a 99.5 percent participation rate among Hydro Ottawa’s customer base. While Hydro Ottawa’s old meters measured only the total electricity used throughout a specific time, smart meters can measure energy consumption remotely and in real time, giving the utility greater insight into usage levels and facilitating more accurate billing. The smart meters also improve customer visibility into energy use to foster more conscientious consumption patterns.

Also, the smart meter network will enable time-of-use pricing, shifting consumption to off-peak periods. This provides a more accurate picture of how electricity prices change throughout a day depending on available supply and demand levels. As a result of this insight, customers can make smarter choices about when and how they use electricity. Time-of-use pricing will be implemented for Hydro Ottawa customers in 2010.

“With our old meters, everything was done outside, which was quick and easy,” White said. “Now, we’re working with meters that go inside a customer’s house or business, which is fairly intrusive and requires a bit of negotiating and explanation for why we’re doing it.”

To work quickly while retaining an optimal performance level, Honeywell helps Hydro Ottawa with outbound calls to customers and scheduling installation appointments, all of which is tracked with a mobile work force management (WFM) system that schedules appointments no sooner than 48 hours in advance.

This management strategy helps maintain close coordination of customer service and field operations, preventing the program from overbooking installations. The program’s technology, including the customer scheduling and WFM systems, are integrated so technicians can stay on top of appointments more easily.

Now in its final phase, Honeywell collectively has helped Hydro Ottawa install more than 280,000 smart meters. By December 2009, Honeywell had exceeded targets by 40 percent.

The final leg of the program is focused on the last and most challenging installations. To help Hydro Ottawa convert these final customers, Honeywell project managers tap into data from the call center, drilling down into specific information such as the number of times and ways a customer has been contacted. This includes tracking in-person visits, the types of materials left behind such as door tags, and calls made.

Honeywell and Hydro Ottawa also have extended work hours for the final installation push, making outreach during evenings and weekends.

“In the later part of the program, all customers should be aware of the switch to smart meters as a result of our coordinated communications campaign and efforts to reach customers with information and messaging through a variety of channels,” White said.

When the smart meter installations are complete and the full communications network is in place, Hydro Ottawa customers will benefit from more precise, up-to-the minute energy use and billing information. In addition, the direct data exchange between the smart meters and Hydro Ottawa will enable the utility to pinpoint outages easily and ensure quick restoration.

This is also helpful in tracking the general health of meters, which can allow Hydro Ottawa to resolve potential issues and errors before they affect customers.

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