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As utilities turn to cloud-based DR platforms, cybersecurity is key concern

Utilities looking to consolidate load management systems are increasingly turning to cloud-based solutions, but concerns over cybersecurity threaten to toss in a hitch. Power companies want systems that can connect all of their energy resources, while also keeping them secure.

Diana Breziner manages demand response programs for PECO Energy, and says a cloud-based demand response management system (DRMS) would give her pause.

“Our cybersecurity has been increased, so I kind of see that as a problem for me, because if I’m going to bring a cloud-based DRMS, I’m going to need a lot of time to be able to implement it and have it go through a security process,” Breziner said.

Utilities are quickly adopting new models to bring together a slew of demand management programs, including commercial and residential offerings that range from one- and two-way pager systems, wi-fi enabled control, direct-control switches and cell networks. The DRMS model can do many things, from balancing and scheduling to demand projections and customer care, but the essential idea is to take a utility’s resources and programs and make them work as efficiently as possible, in concert.

More here.

Internet of Things and the myth of the killer app

To prepare for the future, mission critical infrastructure must balance the need for near-term ROI and lay the groundwork for future benefits – while hedging the risk and uncertainties of an emerging marketplace. Above all, scrutinise your communications platform.

The concept of smart city and Internet of Things (IoT) is at the peak of the hype cycle. It offers tremendous promise of a future enabled by smart analytics that enhance efficiency, ease congestion, reduce waste and error and make our lives easier. Yet it faces many obstacles. Who will own the data it generates? Who can access it? What about privacy – and security? Who will pay for the infrastructure and who would truly benefit from it?

The history of smart grid offers significant parallels to the smart cities movement and the evolution toward the IoT. As IT and communications technologies transformed consumers’ lives over the past decade or so, utilities faced a range of challenges to integrate it effectively into their operations and their customer relationships. Throughout the transition, two patterns have endured. First, adoption tends to begin with use cases that promise near-term return on investment. Second, new technologies tend to emerge then merge.

Vertical smart grid applications that pay

Utilities, due to their regulated nature, have hurdles to cross to establish the case for investing in technology. Smart grid, for many utilities, began as nearly synonymous with smart meters simply because metering was the first use case supporting a return on the cost of installation. Gradually, the understanding of ‘smart grid’ grew to include forms of automation across the distribution grid as utilities also found cost/benefits in applications like outage management, voltage regulation and advanced distribution management.

Emerge and merge

Smart grid innovation arose from these vertical applications, each requiring some form of communication and management. Embedded communications allowed meters to talk to each other; upgrades to substation and other T&D resources often meant equipping units to send and receive data, even if it was only the capability to be pinged. As the smart grid era matures, utility operations, many still siloed, may have multiple smart devices and technologies, each capable of communicating only with their own make and model.

As the smart grid market developed, mergers and acquisitions brought some hardware and software makers under the same umbrella, consolidating the market to some degree. Yet the patchwork challenge has remained for utilities; many that had invested deliberately to secure return on their investments are now facing limitations in managing, securing, updating – or bringing together for analysis – now exponential volumes of data.

More here.


5 Emerging Trends That Drove the Utility Industry in 2016

The power sector is similar to geology in the sense that change must often be measured over long periods of time in order to see significant patterns.

Increasingly, however, the timescale of change in the power sector is accelerating. As we look back at 2016, we see an industry grappling with seismic upheaval, and trying to adapt faster than it ever has before.

Here are five trends that pushed the utility industry in 2016.

Resource planning moves to the grid edge. “Across the board, integrated resource planning has gone on to include distributed energy resources,” said Matt Mooren, an energy and utilities expert at PA Consulting Group. “And not just traditional resources like energy efficiency and demand response, but in many areas, such as solar, storage and electric vehicles and their impact on electric sales and demand.”

While California and New York are the prime examples of regulatory and market changes that are pushing utilities to consider resources at the grid edge, it is also increasingly happening in the independent system operators (ISOs) and in other states, particularly in the West, said Mooren.

This was not the first year that including DERs in integrated resource planning emerged as a talking point, but rather, it was the year where utilities, beyond a few early movers, began seriously considering what they need to get there.

“The realization of the need for granular information and looking beyond coincident peak demand is happening now,” said Zach Pollock, an energy and utilities expert at PA Consulting.

Of course, it will take years to put in place the technical capability for the sort of location-specific data that will be required to truly integrate DERs into distribution system forecasting and capital investment planning on a wide scale. But 2016 is the year that many utilities began articulating what that approach could look like and examining the investments they need to make resource planning at the grid edge a reality.

Beyond NEM. It seems like a lifetime ago, but it was just in January that California’s Public Utilities Commission voted on its net energy metering successor tariff. Just before the year began, Nevada’s regulators voted unanimously to institute a new solar rate that did not grandfather in existing customers. After months of battles, the regulators restored net metering for existing customers, and some new ones.

For many states, however, the conversation is moving beyond retail-rate net metering to designing rates that offer a more complete valuation of not just solar, but also other distributed resources, like storage.

“More broadly, we’ll see shifts toward new customer classes and distribution system locational pricing considerations,” said Mooren, although there is still a lot of work that needs to be done on the technical side before these rates can be put in place.

Regulation innovation. The regulation and oversight of electric utilities and independent power producers continued to evolve in 2016, and not just in terms of how utilities treat renewables and resources at the grid edge.

In New York, regulators passed new rules on energy retailers, requiring them to offer better prices than the incumbent utility. In both New York and Illinois, the states set zero emission credits to keep nuclear plants open, a trend that could expand further in 2017, said Mooren, as certain states look to diversify their low-carbon energy mix through targeted subsidies.

More here.

5 under-reported climate change stories of 2016

This is the time of year when some people talk about the news stories that didn’t receive the attention they merited over the past year.

But with the threat of runaway climate change greater than ever before and a denier elected to the U.S. presidency, it seems appropriate to narrow the field to this area alone in 2016.

Here are my five picks for under-reported climate-change stories of the year.

1. Loss of global sea ice

Recent news has been bleak from the U.S. National Snow & Ice Data Center.

The extent of Arctic and Antarctic sea ice reached record lows this year for the month of November, each tracking two standard deviations from the norm for that time of year.

On December 22, the Washington Post reported that a weather buoy near the North Pole hit the melting point because of far warmer than expected weather.

“The entire Arctic north of 80 degrees, roughly the size of the Lower 48 states, has witnessed a sharp temperature spike reaching levels 30-35 degrees (nearly 20 Celsius) above normal. In reviewing historical records back to 1958, one cannot find a more intense anomaly – except following a similar spike just five weeks ago,” wrote the Washington Post‘s Jason Samenow.

More here.

How regulations and technology brought us closer to Utility 2.0 in 2016

It’s too soon to say the utility industry has evolved, or reached some kind of 2.0 status in 2016. There’s still much work ahead and most states have yet to forge ahead with new business utility models and aggressive grid reform. But the vision became clearer this year, outlined by favorable policies and strong research, and enabled by cheaper technologies and more robust infrastructure.

While coal and natural gas may continue their commodities war for some time, new battle lines are being drawn. The next resource tensions will be between the value of storage and demand flexibility, and between the brute force of clean resources and developers’ ability to isolate their locational value.

In New York, utilities have made significant progress using distributed resources to defer costly investments, and are experimenting with new business models. In California, demand response and storage are now competing in wholesale markets. Several states, notably Hawaii, have shown how to bring intermittent resources online quickly.

Regionally, PJM has strengthened its capacity product while working to enable demand response as a competitive resource. In the Northeast, voluntary carbon markets are saving (literal) tons of pollution, while in the West, a voluntary energy balancing market is saving millions of dollars and optimizing use of renewable energy.

Taken in aggregate, the progress is undeniable. But not a single utility or state has it all nailed down. Progress is patchwork, and some form of barriers remain in every jurisdiction. The inherent difficulty and tension in the utility evolution has little to do with a single policy or stakeholder, but the shift in fundamentals. Utilities are tightly regulated because they often operate as a natural monopolies, but as distributed resources become the norm rather than exception that basic idea will vanish.

“The electric industry is really quite a unique industry,” according to Phil Giudice, CEO and President of Ambri, a company working on energy storage solutions. “New resources like distributed solar, storage, and other technologies that are coming onto the grid create many challenges for the traditional infrastructure and regulation and market structure to deal with, but create tremendous benefits also for the grid.”

More here.

Demand Response Status and Initiatives around the World

After the new emission targets of the COP21 summit last year, many countries in the world are making a serious effort in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by integrating more renewable energy sources in their system. However, this is not straightforward, as important sources of renewable energy, such as solar power and wind, are inherently variable and difficult to forecast. Therefore, there is an increasing need for flexibility in the system to compensate for the variable output of renewable energy generation. Traditionally, flexible gas turbines are used to maintain the stability of the grid.

However, with increasing shares of renewables and hence increasing flexibility needs, back-up gas turbines might not be the most cost effective or sustainable option. Other alternatives such as pumped hydro storage are used to cover periods with high demand or few renewable energy production, however in some regions the availability of this storage source is geographically limited.

Therefore, an interesting alternative is to shift the peak demand to periods with more renewable production like solar power. In fact, demand sources have been proven to be a fast responsive, reliable and cost effective alternative to conventional generation flexibility. Today, flexibility at the demand side is becoming an essential part of the energy system.

The ability to spread flexible demand in time can have many different applications. First, the customer can use it to reduce its energy bill by consuming only at periods with low prices. Currently, this is usually reserved for large industrial consumers connected to the wholesale market. Similarly, a so-called Balancing Responsible Party (BRP) can shift demand to balance his portfolio in case e.g. his wind generation is producing less than expected. In addition, the flexible demand can be offered to the system operator, either ancillary services for the Transmission System Operator, either local grid management for the Distribution System Operator. Depending on the market model in the region in question, the flexible demand can be contracted commercially by an independent aggregator, or by the utility.

In this report, the global smart grid federation presents the status of demand response integration in different parts of the world. The contributions from the Global Smart Grid Federation regions consist of several parts:

  • Some short information of the market model of the country or region in question. In this report we limit ourselves to some basic issues, for more information in Europe for instance we can refer to the report of the Smart Energy Demand Coalition .
  • Which barriers towards implementation of demand response and dynamic pricing schemes exist in the region.
  • A few important research and demonstration projects on demand response and dynamic pricing.

This information is given for several countries, where the energy system is often very different (regulated vs. liberalized, unbundled vs. vertically integrated, etc).

More here.

TRC’s Top 12 Predictions for The Energy Industry in 2017

TRC Companies Inc. (NYSE: TRR), a recognized leader in engineering, environmental consulting and construction-management services, today released its top 12 predictions for the energy, utility, and oil and gas sectors for 2017, including robust funding for utility mergers and acquisitions and infrastructure upgrades as well as big shifts in power plant and pipeline construction focus.

TRC CEO Chris Vincze said: “Even as oil and gas prices fluctuate and regulatory policies evolve, we see market drivers remaining very strong for investment in energy system upgrades and environmental and infrastructure work for the ongoing expansion of renewables. Our country has a tremendous need to update antiquated and deficient infrastructure, and that combined with available capital means investment will remain robust in 2017 for everything from renewable power and energy efficiency to utility consolidation and upgrading distribution systems.’’

With national emissions and climate-change regulations likely to change significantly under the new president and Congress, TRC’s energy/utility/oil and gas predictions for 2017 include:

1 Robust power-generation deal making and M&A activity. Private equity funds have billions of dollars looking for returns, and slow load growth has investor-owned utilities interested in expanding both geographically and from electricity into gas and vice versa. “Interest will remain high in deals for gas-fired generation, wind and solar projects, and even existing coal-fired generation when the price and potential returns are right,’’ said Mark Hall, TRC vice president of power development.

2 Pipeline construction and maintenance focus shifts. Given current oil and gas supplies and prices, expect pipeline construction activity in the U.S. in 2017 to focus much more on optimization than unbridled expansion: 30-, 40-, and 50-mile projects in various areas to improve the efficiency of delivery networks or meet the needs of specific end-use customers (“demand pull”), not proposals for 300-, 400-, and 500-mile projects to open major new supply flows. Two exceptions: We anticipate a big push to increase gas pipeline capacity from the U.S. Southwest to and through Mexico as the country continues to replace oil-burning electric generating stations with units fired by U.S.-exported gas. Also, with the new White House administration, the Keystone XL pipeline will likely be back on the table. Finally, 2016 incidents will drive stricter regulations (like the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration “Mega Rule”) and more aggressive inspection regimes by pipeline operators in 2017.

More here.

EU Energy politics at its best – and worst

A 50% renewable electricity target for 2030 and a radical free market shake up- that’s what is on the cards from the latest EU proposals, with consumers empowered to self-generate and sell power themselves. The European Commission’s recent proposed energy policy changes aim to keep the EU competitive as the clean energy transition changes global energy markets. It also proposes new approaches to empowering and informing consumers, enabling them to self-consume renewable electricity without facing undue restrictions, and ensuring that they are remunerated for the electricity they feed into the grid. It also ‘recognizes energy communities and facilitates their participation in the market’. The EC’s proposal have all still to be agreed, but it’s pretty far reaching, with actions to accelerate clean energy innovation, and encourage public and private investment, and a commitment ‘to modernising the EU’s economy and delivering on jobs and growth for all European citizens’. As part of that there is a strong commitment to renewables: ‘Renewable energy is currently the only decarbonisation option in the power sector which is being deployed at a rate that is close to what is required under long-term scenarios of the International Energy Agency (IEA) to attain the 2◦C target’. That’s in line with the already existing policy to cut CO2 emissions by at least 40% by 2030, with renewables supplying 27% of EU energy and energy efficiency increased by 27%, now proposed to be raised to 30%. https://ec.europa.eu/energy/en/news/commission-proposes-new-rules-consumer-centred-clean-energy-transition

Fleshing out the details, the EC has issued a draft revised Renewable Energy Directive, offering an adjusted framework for renewable energy development up to 2030. There had been national level targets set for renewables for 2020, but that was resisted (by the UK amongst others) for 2030, with only an EU-level binding target set – 27%. In order to achieved that ‘on time and in a cost effective way’ the EC says that, ‘the 2020 national targets will be established as baseline to build on the progress achieved with the current framework. Member States will not be allowed to go below their 2020 targets from 2021 onwards’. So no backsliding will be allowed, but its not clear how a move to higher levels will be achieved.

More here.

What can VR do for Energy Efficiency?

Energy efficiency is a continually evolving puzzle of ideas, potentials, technologies and solutions. From variable speed drives, demand response to behavioral change and investments, energy efficiency it its broadness and dynamics is both the exciting and most demanding area of current energy technology development as well as sustainability policies.

When in 2011 we started EEIP (Energy Efficiency in Industrial Processes), we hoped to make a conservative industry more exciting and more open. We did this on then growing and exciting social media. With rocketing uptake and growth of our network we realized an immense internal dynamics in energy efficiency. It took us by surprise. Energy efficiency is global, it is happening. We worked to connect suppliers to the energy users, best available technologies to the projects and financing to ensure successes.

The biggest obstacle to energy efficiency in business is not lack of awareness of energy used, or ability to pass energy costs to customers, or the lack of funding or perceived risk in investing in energy efficiency. The barrier is energy efficiency information flow. Energy saving technologies are existing, improving and developing in technologies and often becoming more affordable.

EEIP has been a market leader in use of social media to communicate industrial energy efficiency. Nascent mobile Virtual Reality (VR) technologies are the logical next step to explore how to improve this communication.

Virtual reality headsets are reaching mass-market. With Google Daydream Virtual Reality is becoming mainstream. What could be a potential for business-to-business marketing. These can range from developing and showing prototypes. Having an energy efficiency product or service at hand and being able to demonstrate to a potential investor or customer. With VR, providers already have software on the market that can help them with creation of prototypes that can be adjusted as needed and integrated into virtual energy management models.

More here.

Could gamification hold the key to driving demand response?

Households across the North East of England have been invited to engage with demand response initiatives through a new gamification platform developed by TheGenGame, Open Energi and Northern Powergrid.

Halfway through a three-year trial, TheGenGame syncs with participant’s home appliances and allows households to score points by improving their energy load. According to the developers the game has the potential to significantly boost consumer engagement with energy and free up capacity on the UK grid.

Managing director at GenGame Stephane Lee-Favier, says: “Our goal is for people to be drawn to TheGenGame for fun first. We focus on building a product that looks and feels like a mobile game rather than a traditional utility engagement app.

“The results we’re seeing in terms of how players are changing their electricity use to win, and success we’ve had recruiting players for our closed trials through digital marketing tells us we’re on the right track.”

Around 400 people are currently signed up to the most recent trial, with plans to recruit a further 600 players across the Northern Power grid with the game’s update next year. Early data reveals that certain households have offered 50% of their energy load for direct control through the app.

The trials haved revealed a “surprising” level of engagement from consumers to win and score points, with people allowing games consoles, TVs, electric vehicles (EVs) and hot tubs amongst many other devices to be turned off whilst not in use.

More here.

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