Navigant Research Blog

Smartphone-Based Car Connectivity Is Likely Only an Interim Solution

— March 17, 2016

CarsharingstandortI’ve been an advocate of smartphone projection infotainment solutions in cars ever since Ford introduced SYNC AppLink back in 2010. That appreciation has grown recently since the rollout of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Despite the vastly superior user experiences provided by Google and Apple compared to OEM designs, the coming of autonomous vehicle control systems means these almost certainly won’t be long-term solutions.

Since the debut of built-in GPS-navigation systems in the 1990s, they have been an expensive but useful option. Unfortunately, maps and especially the points-of-interest database can become rapidly outdated and typically only have one name for each entry in that database, so if a driver doesn’t get the spelling exactly right, they’ll be out of luck. The ability to draw information from the ever changing data stores of Google, Bing, and other search engines is a key advantage of smartphone navigation. Combined with cloud-based voice recognition that can provide more natural language search capabilities that recognize multiple name variations and you have a much more robust user experience.

Reliable Data

Such reliable and detailed navigational data will be a crucial component of making self-driving vehicles work reliably, especially if they are moving around without occupants as they park themselves or go to pick up passengers. Navigant Research’s Autonomous Vehicles report projects that there could be as many as 85 million vehicles capable of some degree of autonomy on the world’s roads in the next 2 decades.

True self-driving vehicles, especially those that are operated as part of mobility as a service fleets, will need connectivity and built-in maps that don’t rely on the presence of an occupant’s phone. OEMs are rapidly increasing the deployment of telematics systems into new vehicles. Every vehicle built by General Motors (GM) for sale in most major markets comes with OnStar built in, and Ford will be offering SYNC Connect on most of its fleet beginning this year. Within the next few years, these cars will be capable of searching both embedded and cloud-based navigational databases for near real-time information.

When Ford recently began testing its prototype autonomous Fusion in winter weather conditions, one key to the car’s ability to get around on snow-covered roads was the detailed 3D maps that were available onboard. The car was able to find its way around using LIDAR scanning the surroundings for landmarks, something that wouldn’t be possible using smartphone projection.

Powertrain electrification can also benefit greatly from built-in 3D maps. In 2014, the Mercedes-Benz S500 plug-in hybrid was one of the first vehicles to use knowledge of the road topography ahead to manage the balance between using battery and internal combustion power. The Kia Niro and Hyundai Ioniq hybrids going on sale this year are utilizing a similar strategy to achieve fuel efficiency improvements of approximately 1%.

Different Roles

Smartphone projection systems can certainly utilize topographical data to provide more economical routing decisions for drivers of the hundreds of millions of existing cars that will continue to operate for decades to come, and they will likely play a major role in reaching critical mass for vehicles capable of V2X communications. CarPlay and Android Auto will also continue to play a part in delivering news and entertainment to drivers, but even this will likely be supplanted by the telematics systems.

This doesn’t mean Apple and Google won’t have a part to play in future vehicles. In addition to the autonomous control systems that Google is offering to existing OEMs, the technology companies will probably be pushing for greater integration of their software directly into vehicle infotainment without the need for a connected phone.


Indian Market Moves Forward with Solar + Storage Request

— March 11, 2016

Control panelThe Indian energy storage industry recently took a major step forward with the announcement of tenders for up to 750 MW of new solar PV capacity with a requirement to include energy storage. The Solar Energy Corporation of India, a state-owned entity that is helping to drive the country’s ambitious National Solar Mission, is looking to ensure this new variable generation capacity can be smoothly integrated onto an already unstable power grid. The structure of this requirement indicates that every bidder for solar capacity into the project will have to include a small energy storage system (ESS), likely determined by a set percentage of PV capacity. While this program is still in the early stages with many details not yet announced, it is expected that new storage capacity could total 100 MW.

According to Navigant Research’s Country Forecasts for Grid-Tied Energy Storage report, India is expected to be the fourth largest (and an incredibly fast-growing) market for storage worldwide in the coming decade. Nationwide deployments of storage are anticipated to increase from 110 MW in 2016 to 4.1 GW by 2025. Several key factors are driving the market for energy storage in the country, perhaps most notably the ambitious National Solar Mission. In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a national target to install 100 GW of solar PV capacity by 2022, which would make the country one of the largest solar power markets in the world. India’s rapidly growing population, particularly in urban areas, is driving the need for increased investment in both electricity generation capacity and transmission and distribution infrastructure across the country.

Recognizing the Need for Storage

Although the Indian government agrees that adding energy storage to new PV plants can add significant costs to the final price of delivered electricity, it recognizes that the greater control provided by storage is becoming increasingly necessary to operate the grid. The rapidly growing amount of renewable energy on the national grid combined with the significant potential for natural disasters to disrupt grid operations is making a more flexible and resilient grid enabled by energy storage a necessity.

This announcement of tenders is an important development for the global energy storage industry, as it represents one of the first times grid operators in a large country are requiring energy storage to be included with new PV plants. Although this type of requirement has been introduced in countries with smaller grids such as Puerto Rico, India will be the largest grid to recognize this need for storage. Grid operators in India admit that their system has a much lower tolerance to integrate variable forms of energy generation compared to other regions. Similar requirements are likely to be introduced in other areas around the world as the penetration of renewable energy increases. However, the rate at which energy storage will be needed to help maintain grid stability in each country will vary significantly.


Public Power + Solar PV + Batteries = Win-Win

— March 10, 2016

Solar heater for green energyThe stars are aligning for distributed energy resources (DER) to play an increasingly important role in providing energy services to consumers. Some see this growth in capacity (coming from devices such as solar PV panels, fuel cells, advanced batteries, and other forms of DER) as the supreme threat to incumbent distribution utilities, echoing the much ballyhooed “utility death spiral” storyline. Others see this evolution as an opportunity for utilities to reinvent themselves, aligning their business strategies and business models with the emerging digital economy.

While it is going to be a bumpy ride into the future, there are signs that it is possible to create win-win scenarios by leveraging the diverse services that energy storage can provide. Advances in software that can optimize DER to provide bidirectional value, along with the bridging capabilities that energy storage brings to the market, can create order out of what would otherwise be chaos.

Is there a way for everyone to come out as winners? The key is in intelligent distribution networks, an ecosystem of solutions that spans concepts such as nanogrids, microgrids, and virtual power plants (VPPs). These three platforms were described in a previous blog. Two companies are proving that the boundaries between these three unique market applications are blurring, thanks to innovative utility business models and the creative aggregation and optimization possibilities attached to energy storage.


PowerStream, the second-largest municipally owned utility in Ontario, Canada, is developing an innovative pilot project that involves 20 residential units, each to be equipped with a 5 kW solar PV array and a 6.8 kW/12 kWh lithium ion battery. The project is designed to enroll homes in select feeders (which may not be adjacent to each other) in order to provide system benefits.

Perhaps the most innovative aspect of the project is the business model dubbed DBOOME (design, build, own, operate, maintain, and energize). Customers have an opportunity to participate in a hassle-free, zero-maintenance solar storage program with an upfront cost to partially cover installation, followed by a nominal monthly service fee for a 5-year program (this DBOOME approach is also the model PowerStream plans to deploy for its microgrid program). In exchange for the customer’s upfront payment and ongoing service fee, PowerStream offers customers significantly reduced electricity bills and resilience.

The key vendor partnering with PowerStream is Sunverge, which provides residential and commercial building-sited energy storage solutions that integrate renewables such as solar PV. Sunverge offers a combination of onsite hardware and cloud-based services that enable remote monitoring and control of nanogrids, aggregating them into VPPs. Sunverge has also partnered with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, a municipal utility that is using the company’s systems in 34 homes as part of its net zero energy demonstration project. A net zero energy home is one in which a home’s total annual energy use is approximately equal to the amount of renewable energy generated onsite. Each home is a nanogrid located on a single city block that can also island as a microgrid. Sunverge’s business model essentially links the concept of nanogrids to a VPP. All of its systems can be controlled remotely from a central control room and capacity can be offered to distribution grid system operators.

To learn more about how public power utilities and energy storage innovators are forging win-win DER solutions, listen to the Navigant Research Utility-Energy Storage Collaborations webinar on Tuesday, March 15 at 2:00 p.m. EDT.


Smart Cities and the Smart T&D Electric Grid

— March 9, 2016

Bangkok SkylineMuch of the discussion around smart cities centers around smart buildings and the proliferation of smart meters (i.e., advanced metering infrastructure). Also discussed is the growing importance of distributed energy resources (DER) and the multitude of smart devices that make up the Internet of Things (IoT). However, the criticality of the electric transmission and distribution (T&D) grid that powers the smart city or smart community is rarely or only casually mentioned. Regardless, many T&D technologies and features will likely be critical to the smart city of the future.

Generation: The shift from local coal or nuclear generators supplying urban population centers to remote utility-scale wind and solar generation resources is rapidly occurring and can be seen across North America and Europe. Large-scale wind and solar generation farms are becoming an increasing portion of the generation mix. Electric power must be transferred from these remote sites to urban populations over hundreds (if not thousands) of miles of new high-voltage transmission lines using high-voltage direct current (HVDC) and extra high-voltage alternating current (HVAC) transformers and converter stations.

Transmission grid technologies: In turn, these lines require new approaches to monitoring and control necessary to maintain voltage levels and synchronize the three-phase power delivery at each substation along the way. Relatively new phasor measurement units (PMUs) and digital protective relays collect voltage, current, and power factor information up to 60 times per second, time stamping it for comparison purposes. Synchrophasor analytics make real-time comparisons of status at each end of the transmission lines, warn operators, and automatically correct voltage or power factor when readings diverge from optimal operating conditions. These high-speed incidents go largely unnoticed with traditional SCADA monitoring and control and can sometimes create major reliability incidents.

Distribution substations: The digital substation will also be a critical part of the new smart city. As every device in the substation is upgraded to have digital communications and control, substations will be ringed with high-speed fiber optic networks. These networks connect the various devices, including transformers, switchgear, protective relays, and other intelligent electronic devices. This sets the stage for the virtual substation, where every piece of equipment is modeled, operating data is shared, and system operations are monitored, controlled, and automated at the local and centralized operations centers.

Distribution feeders and low-voltage (LV) distribution transformers: Distribution feeders connect the substation with customers in both urban and rural locations. Urban distribution feeder systems are complex meshed networks, with fleets of disconnect switches, reclosers, and other devices that allow the network to be reconfigured and continually operated when isolated system faults occur. These intelligent electronic devices increasingly include local and autonomous decision-making and control capabilities. They communicate with adjacent devices and reconfigure the network or managing voltage and power factor without control by the substation or central operations center.

There are also millions of LV distribution transformers that operate at the edge of the grid, stepping down voltage for delivery to the customer. These transformers have traditionally been mechanical/electrical devices with no monitoring capabilities, but are now being gradually replaced with smart transformers that measure and report critical operating condition information. Sophisticated transformers may provide control and automation capabilities, which are becoming increasingly critical for managing the distribution grid as DER penetration increases. Retrofit monitoring and control devices are also now available and can be installed close to problematic or overloaded transformers.


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