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$8 Billion in smart grids investments. What difference did It make?

In prior articles, I wrote about the vulnerability of the nation’s electrical grid. After all, the picture of the U.S. energy infrastructure is far from rosy. An analysis of the electricity outage data reported via DOE’s Electric Disturbance Events Annual Summaries yields the trends shown in Figure 1 [1]. Outages in the U.S. are on the rise; in fact, the average number of outages doubles every 5 years. Extreme weather events caused major outages. Events such as the NE Blackout (2003), Pacific NW Storm (2006), Hurricane Irene (2011), Hurricane Sandy (2012), and the East Coast Derecho (2012) caused major outages impacting significant portions of the country. One notable trend is the increased occurrence of vandalism events, which have been on the rise since 2010.

In recent years, government programs such as the Smart Grid Investment Grant (SGIG) – which spanned 2009-2014 as noted in Figure 1 – have placed a renewed emphasis on modernizing the electrical infrastructure, with emphasis on increasing resiliency [2, 3, 4]. The SGIG program consisted of 99 cost-shared projects, involving more than 200 electric utilities and participating organizations. With $8 billion of joint investment between the U.S. government and grant recipients, SGIG rapidly deployed a wide array of smart grid technologies. As a result, over 15 million smart meters and 1,200 phasor measurement units were deployed, in addition to 19,000 units of distribution technology (e.g., automated switches) and an assortment of customer systems (e.g., in-home displays).

But, what difference did it make? What is the impact of smart grid technology deployment on the resilience of the U.S. electricity infrastructure?

More here.

Nest Unveils Its Third-Generation Thermostat Amid Increasing Competition

Nest Labs released its third-generation learning thermostat on Tuesday. The updates include modifications to its design, as well as predictive analytics.

Along with the release of its newest model, Google-owned Nest touted its robust sales channels that include thousands of retail locations and installers and a bevy of utility partners.

“Today, we can count the largest regulated utilities, deregulated energy providers, and solar energy companies among our partners,” said Ben Bixby, head of energy and enterprise partnerships at Nest. “We’ve also added enterprise partners like ADT.”

Although Nest is often touted as the most sophisticated smart-thermostat company, it is facing increased competition from other thermostat makers such as ecobee and Alarm.com that are bolstering their capabilities. Apple also recently stopped selling the Nest thermostat as it looks to attract customers to its own HomeKit platform.

But the market is still growing rapidly. By the end of this year, smart thermostats will make up the majority of all thermostat sales in the U.S., according to Parks Associates.

The latest Nest thermostat has the same integration with Nest’s smoke alarm and camera as did previous iterations. Features include shutting off heating systems if the Protect senses carbon monoxide in the house and turning the Nest Cam on when the thermostat is put into away mode.

The device’s screen is 40 percent larger in diameter and features a higher-resolution screen — allowing customers to see information on the device from across a room and not just from a few feet away, according to Nest.

The thermostat will also look for shutoff patterns from the furnace to see if there’s a persistent equipment problem. The thermostat will run those diagnostics twice annually.

There were no announcements about new apps available for this latest thermostat. But at an event earlier this summer, Greg Hu, Nest’s head of product marketing for the Nest Developer Program, told GTM that the company planned some third-quarter announcements on how partners are using its APIs to enable energy-related smart gear and services.

More here.

Predicting the future of utility analytics

The term smart grid has been around for some time now, although the meaning has shifted over the years. In its earliest usage, it was applied to systems that made use of data to perform power quality studies and post event analysis. More recently, the term has come to mean using data to implement a self-healing grid. Self-healing is another term that has multiple definitions from standard protection relays and breakers to distribution level fault location, isolation and service restoration (FLISR). There are multiple definitions of what constitutes a smart grid, but the common denominator is that they all rely on data.

When it comes to modern controls, the latest new term in the utility industry is big data. Some new data sources, like AMI and synchrophasors, deliver significantly more data than the older SCADA systems. New applications have been developed and deployed to take advantage of these new data sources including wide-area situational awareness, revenue protection, forecasting modal analysis and others.

All of these new applications are designed to bring additional levels of actionable information to the utility industry. Without accurate and available data, the quality of information is called into question and the promise of efficiency obscured.

Accuracy, availability and latency

Data accuracy is controlled by the measurement devices and their connection to the assets they measure. Once installed and calibrated, such a device will remain accurate if properly maintained. Even with the simplest communication protocols, any changes in the measured value will be detected during error checking. As such, if a measured value is accurate at the source it will be accurate when delivered to its destination.

Availability is a much more complex issue. Even when working perfectly, most data delivery infrastructures (i.e. communications networks) were designed to minimize bandwidth utilization. To effectively deliver data over systems using 1200 baud modems and equivalent infrastructure, every attempt must be made to minimize the frequency of measured values transmission. Measurement systems like synchrophasor and AMI are using newer and more capable communications infrastructures. However, if they are not designed properly, even these systems can result in data availability issues.

Another key to availability is latency. An extreme example of high latency is the data collected by a protection relay during a breaker operation. This data, considered non-operational (i.e. not required to operate the system), can supply valuable data to the smart grid. However, acquiring this information often involves rolling a truck out to a substation and manually collecting the data.

Latency plays an important role when using data for system automation. Data archiving is also important in data availability. Beyond the near real-time uses for data, many applications require access to historical data from older data systems like SCADA to newer synchrophasor and AMI systems. Without proper architecture, these archives can quickly become overwhelmed by the quantity of data or in some cases, due to poor organization, the data becomes difficult to extract.

More here.

Facility Smart Grid Information Model (FSGIM)

Traditionally, facilities have been passive consumers of electricity.  The only data exchanges that occurred between a customer and the grid happened when a) the utility did a monthly reading of the customer’s electric meter, b) the utility sent the customer a bill, and c) the customer sent the utility a payment.  This is increasingly changing.

Facilities are becoming active consumers.  In some cases, this is due to the desire to limit demand charges.  In other cases, this is due to the desire of the customer to reap the benefits of participating in demand response programs.  In yet other cases it is due to the rapidly evolving activity surrounding Distributed Energy Resources and Transactive Energy.  Regardless of the driving force, facilities will need more energy-related information regarding their facilities in order to maximize the benefits of participating in the Smart Grid.

Where will this information come from?  In many cases it will come from the numerous systems that building owners, operators, and occupants already have within their facilities.  Building owners, operators, and occupants will not throw out their existing systems just to participate in the Smart Grid.  Rather, existing systems and the protocols that they use will adapt and contribute towards the facility’s Smart Grid-related goals.

But what happens if each of the protocol groups work on this adaptation totally independently? The result is likely to be confusion when it comes time to collect the data from the various systems and to provide information on how the facility as a whole will interact with the grid.  For example, suppose we ask several different systems in a facility “What is the electrical demand of your devices?”  We might get back any of the following answers:

  • the “instantaneous” demand, i.e., the power that you would measure if you connected a power meter to your loads and read the value “right now”;
  • the power being drawn by loads right now minus the power being supplied by onsite generation right now;
  • the average power drawn by loads so far in the current five or fifteen minute meter billing interval;
  • the average of the power drawn by loads minus the power being supplied by onsite generation so far in the current five or fifteen minute meter billing interval;
  • the average power that was drawn by loads during the last five or fifteen minute meter billing interval;
  • the average of the power drawn by loads minus the power supplied by onsite generation during the last five or fifteen minute meter billing interval;

Obviously, if we try to combine these various readings when there is not even a common agreement of what the term “demand” means, the results are likely to be meaningless.

More here.

Receive the latest cyber security case studies and project updates from Chevron, National Grid and British Gas | Oil and Gas Cyber Security, 30th November – 1st December 2015, London, UK

SMi’s 5th annual Oil and Gas Cyber Security conference will feature an array of project updates from organisations including Chevron, National Grid and British Gas among others. The two-day programme will contain unique presentations and recent case studies on the challenges of security architecture, securing end point devices and authenticating applications, where you will have the opportunity to network with some of the industry’s most authoritative Oil and Gas professionals from across the globe.

Oil and Gas companies are heavily investing in establishing the most comprehensive security systems for their assets and digital infrastructures, with spending set to reach $1.87 billion by 2018. Managing security of networks and wireless communication systems, as well as defending IT infrastructure from external virus attacks and internal compatibility threats is a top priority.

Against this backdrop, SMi’s 5th annual Oil and Gas Cyber Security conference, taking place on 30th November – 1st December 2015 in London, will feature senior industry figures from Chevron, National Grid and British Gas among others discussing what is being done to protect commercially sensitive information and highly valuable intellectual property.

Speaker Panel includes:

  • Andy Powell, General Manager, CSC
  • Martin Smith MBE, Chairman and Founder, The Security Company (International) Ltd and The Security Awareness Special Interest Group (SASIG)
  • Dr Jules Pagna-Disso, Head of Research, Nettitude Ltd
  • Graham Wright, Chief Information Security Officer & Head of Digital Risk, National Grid
  • Stephanie Daman, CEO, The Cyber Security Challenge
  • Rod Forsythe, IT Forensics Investigator, Chevron
  • Henry Carver, Assistant Director, CNI and Physical Cyber, UK Trade & Investment
  • Chris Patten, Enterprise Architect, British Gas
  • Jonny Kapacee, ICS and Operational IT- Senior Consultant, PwC
  • Thom Langford, CISO, Publicis Groupe

To view the full speaker line-up and conference programme, visit http://www.oilandgas-cybersecurity.co.uk/wsnbuzz

Frigidaire and ThinkEco Bring Web-Based Window AC Units to Demand Response

ThinkEco has teamed up with Frigidaire to give customers with Wi-Fi air conditioners an opportunity to participate in demand-response programs.

To tap the growing pool of bring-your-own-thermostat programs, in which utility customers who own various types of smart thermostats are paid to have their ACs adjusted on certain days of summer, ThinkEco has been looking to marry its demand-response technology with the products of original equipment manufacturers.

Last year, ThinkEco announced it was working with Friedrich to make that company’s Kühl air conditioners demand-response-ready out of the box. However, the unit retailed for nearly $800, so it is not likely to be a top choice for most of the millions of people who rely on window ACs.

Window or wall air-conditioning units still make up 58 percent of air conditioning in the U.S., according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, although central air continues to chip away at that figure.

The Frigidaire Cool Connect air conditioner, however, retails for about $270 on Amazon. “This is significant for us, as well as for the marketplace,” said Jun Shimada, CEO of ThinkEco.

More here.

BMW Drivers Get Paid $1,000 to Delay Charging i3 Electric Cars

In a new pilot program, a California utility is paying drivers of BMW electric cars to delay charging their vehicles when the power grid is under pressure.

One hundred owners of BMW AG’s i3 hatchback receive $1,000 upfront to participate in Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s 18-month trial, which starts this week and is confined to the San Francisco Bay Area. Peter Berman, a 70-year-old, semi-retired Los Altos psychologist, was selected from about 400 applicants.

“My understanding is that we’ll get a text message that says ‘Hey, you’re charging your car right now, can you back off for an hour?’” said Berman, who began leasing his $40,000-plus i3 in October. “This is the wave of the future. We can’t continue to be dependent on gas and oil and coal for our energy use. I’m really curious as to how this is all going to unfold.”

The PG&E-BMW pilot is one of myriad experiments under way worldwide as utilities try to anticipate what will happen if (or when) millions of electric vehicles pour onto city streets and highways. Power companies see both challenge and promise. Yes, electric cars could put more pressure on the grid if everyone plugs them in at the same time. But utilities could also tap batteries for backup power when the grid is under strain or temporarily knocked out in an emergency, paying drivers for the electricity harvested from their parked cars.

PG&E estimates that there are 65,000 electric vehicles in its vast northern California service territory, more than any other utility in the U.S. The iChargeForward pilot with BMW is an extension of PG&E’s so-called demand response program: asking industrial customers and large building owners to cut back on electricity use when demand exceeds available supply.

More here.

The four noble truths of energy investing

Warren Buffett (the crafty, veteran right-hander) likes to remind investors that when it comes to investment pitches nobody is calling balls and strikes. In other words, you can ‘take’ as many pitches as you want without striking out. Institutional investors sitting on their fossil fuel trillions are under no obligation to swing for the Renewable fences.

Even if they thought that getting out of oil and gas shares was a smart thing to do, because they observe that the risks are rising along with the sea level, investing that capital in New Energy companies (a term that has become synonymous with clean tech companies) does not necessarily follow. So why would they? Institutional investors are not going to commit to these companies just because “it’s the right thing to do.”

The start-up phase of renewable energy companies and projects may be over but New Energy companies are not going to prosper just because they show up. The long term winners from all sources are going to be those that pass these key tests, the Four Noble Truths of Energy Investing:

1) Cost-effectiveness

2) Bankability

3) Scalability

4) Producing few hazardous side-effects

More here.

Apple Will No Longer Sell Nest Thermostats

Competition between Nest and Apple in the smart home market is intensifying. Apple says it will no longer sell the Nest thermostat online or in its stores.

The move could be an advantage for ecobee, the company that makes the first thermostat available on Apple’s HomeKit platform. The ecobee 3 sells for $249 — a similar price point to the Nest. The thermostat also works with Apple Watch.

Since the Nest thermostat is not compatible with HomeKit, Apple will be removing it permanently from its catalog of products, as reported by Mashable. Other Nest products, such as its smoke alarm, will still be available through Apple.

Thermostats, however, are often the first product consumers purchase as they consider intelligent devices for the home.

Apple did not comment in detail on the decision, saying only, “We regularly make changes to our merchandising mix.”

Nest reacted in a very diplomatic way: “Apple is a valued partner to Nest and our new products will be available through Apple in the coming weeks.”

More here.

Thread Wireless Networking Protocol Now Available

The Thread Group (www.threadgroup.org) today announced the release of Thread, the new IP-based wireless networking protocol designed for low-power connected products in the home. Starting today, product developers who are members of the Thread Group can access Thread technical specifications and documentation to build Thread-compliant products.

“Thread was designed to be the foundation of the Internet of Things in the home by allowing developers and consumers to easily and securely connect hundreds of devices within a low-power, wireless mesh network,” said Chris Boross, president, Thread Group. “In the nine months since opening membership, more than 160 companies have joined the Thread Group, and now the group is launching the Thread technical specification, which has now completed extensive interoperability testing. Today’s announcement means that Thread products are on the way and will be in customers’ hands very shortly. I’m excited to see what kinds of products and experiences Thread developers will build.”

Qualcomm Incorporated, which has a long history of driving broad ecosystem initiatives, is joining the Thread Group Board of Directors. Qualcomm’s subsidiary, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., has established a solid framework for interoperable connectivity and communications. The company is committed to delivering standards-based IP technologies and supporting open platforms that coexist and interoperate with a broad range of solutions.

“When it comes to easily and securely connecting the smart home, the work of industry alliances like the Thread Group are essential,” said Raj Talluri, senior vice president, product management, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. “Collaborating with the Thread Group allows for the integration of this technology into the world’s leading brands of household appliances, and to thereby speed innovation and market transformation.”

More here.

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