Navigant Research Blog

Coming to the Motor City: A Smarter Grid

— July 13, 2014

The smart grid in Detroit is about to get smarter – and so are utility industry executives exploring options for real-time grid data and analytics.  Distribution grid sensor developer Tollgrade Communications recently announced a $300,000 project to deploy its LightHouse sensors and predictive grid analytics solution across DTE Energy’s Detroit network.  The companies aim to demonstrate how outages can be prevented.

The 3-year program was selected as a Commitment to Action project by the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) at the recent CGI event in Denver, where Tollgrade CEO Ed Kennedy took to the stage with former president Bill Clinton to discuss the project.  Tollgrade, Kennedy said, will make public quarterly reports on the project, beginning in 1Q 2015, identifying best practices and sharing detailed performance statistics.

Cheaper Than Building a Substation

With 2.1 million customers and 2,600 feeder circuits, DTE Energy has already begun piloting the system around Detroit, and Tollgrade says that it hopes to prevent 500,000 outage minutes over the next 3 years.  Because of the heavy concentration of auto manufacturing in the Detroit area, those saved minutes should translate into substantial economic benefits.  The system will leverage several communications protocols, including DTE’s advanced metering infrastructure communications network, reducing the startup cost and improving the return on investment.

The sensors will be placed along troublesome feeders as well as outside substations where older infrastructure increases the likelihood of outages.  Combined with the predictive analytics solution, the sensors cost just a few thousand dollars per location and could help DTE Energy avoid or defer replacing a million-dollar substation.  Both investors and regulators are sure to like those stats.

Predicting Change

Predictive grid analytics has been a hot topic in the industry for the last few years, but only recently have the prices of solutions and sensors fallen to a level where utilities can justify the cost to deploy them widely throughout the distribution network.  Navigant Research expects the market for distribution grid sensor equipment to grow from less than $400 million worldwide today to 4 times that amount by 2023.  (Detailed analysis of distribution grid sensors can be found in Navigant Research’s report, Asset Management and Condition Monitoring.)

Since its first meeting in 2011, CGI America participants have made more than 400 commitments valued at nearly $16 billion when fully funded and implemented.  The Modern Grid was one of 10 working groups this year; others include efforts in Sustainable Buildings and Infrastructure for Cities and States.

Another CGI Commitment to Action grant announced last week will fund a market-based, fixed-price funding program for solar and renewable technologies.  The Feed-Out Program from Demeter Power will support solar-powered carports with electric vehicle charging stations at a net-negative cost to the customer.  In other words, eligible businesses pay a fixed monthly fee to Demeter Power (lower than their previous monthly electricity bill) and their employees and customers enjoy free car charging while parked there.  Demeter will own and maintain the infrastructure.

The program will initially make financing available to commercial properties located in Northern California communities participating in the California FIRST property assessed clean energy (PACE) Program, which is offered through the California Statewide Community Development Authority.  Interested participants must register with Demeter Power Group to participate in the program, which is expected to launch in the first quarter of 2015.

 

To Win, Utilities Must Play Offense as well as Defense

— July 10, 2014

Since I’m originally from the Netherlands and spent several years living in Brazil, the semifinal results of this week’s World Cup soccer (or football, as we Europeans call it) matches have been disappointing, to say the least.  One thing that’s clear from the tournament ‑ one of the most exciting World Cups in my memory, by the way ‑ is that to succeed at this level, teams must play well on both ends of the field: offense and defense.  The Netherlands squad, the Orange, played superb defense on Argentinean superstar Lionel Messi, but failed to muster a goal in 120 minutes of regular and extra time and lost on penalty kicks.  As for Brazil, it played neither offense nor defense.

The same is true for utilities in today’s rapidly transforming power sector.  Playing defense – by sticking with established ways of operating and traditional forms of customer service – is no longer enough to succeed.  Utilities must also play offense; they must proactively develop new capabilities and innovative business models to thrive in a world of proliferating distributed energy resources (DER), greater customer choice, and rising competition from new players.

A Shifting Landscape

Widespread coal plant retirements, stiff renewable portfolio standards in many U.S. states, and the spread of renewable generation are all irrevocably changing the mix of generation assets while increasing the need for load balancing and frequency regulation on the grid.  Navigant forecasts that cumulative solar capacity in the United States will reach nearly 70,000 MW – 60% of it distributed – by the end of 2020.

At the same time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) proposed limits on CO2 emissions from existing power plants will drive further changes in the generation landscape.  These limits will bring new natural gas capacity online, put upward pressure on wholesale electricity prices, and make demand response and energy efficiency programs key parts of the answer.

(Source: Navigant Consulting)

Today’s centralized, one-way power system is quickly evolving into an energy cloud in which DER support multiple inputs and users, energy and information flows two ways across the system, and market structures and transactions grow more complex.  The energy cloud is more flexible, dynamic, and resilient than the traditional power grid, but it also brings new challenges to a power sector that until recently has changed little in its fundamental structure for almost a century.

Lead or Lose

Facing declining revenue as customers consume less and produce more of their own power, utilities are faced with large investments to build new transmission capacity, upgrade distribution systems, and invest in new DER businesses.  Given these challenges, utilities must be adept at playing offense and defense.  An updated defensive strategy will entail:

  • Engaging with customers and regulators to understand customer choices vis-à-vis price and reliability
  • Improving customer service and grid reliability at the lowest prices possible
  • Finding equitable ways to charge net metering customers for transmission and distribution services
  • Developing utility-owned renewable assets to appeal to environmentally conscious customers

Playing offense is even more important.  Utilities must:

  • Create new revenue streams through the development of new business models, products, and services
  • Transform their organizations and culture in order to fully integrate sales, customer service, and operations
  • Upgrade the grid and operations to facilitate the integration of DER

These objectives can only be accomplished by implementing new business models that include developing, owning, and operating DER such as rooftop solar, customer-sited storage, and home energy management systems; providing third-party financing for DER; and offering new products and services focused on energy efficiency and demand response.

There is no going back to the old ways of doing business.  Utilities must lead – by playing both offense and defense – or they run the risk of being out of the competition.

 

Facing Power Shortage, United Kingdom Looks to Demand Response

— July 10, 2014

Outside the United States, the United Kingdom represents the largest (and arguably most dynamic) market for demand response, as described in Navigant Research’s Demand Response report.  In some ways, though, the United Kingdom has surpassed the United States on the demand response front.  One of these is a proposed mechanism known as the Electricity Demand Reduction (EDR) program that would create financial incentives for customers to pledge permanent electricity reductions.

In contrast with traditional demand response programs, which pay customers to reduce power demand during peak periods and shift it to other times, EDR creates incentives for customers to invest in energy efficiency measures that result in lower overall peak demand.  The U.K. government launched a 2-year pilot in June and will continue to examine the viability and impact such a program would have on the country’s electricity system.

Crisis Ahead

Much of the impetus for demand response programs in the United Kingdom is due to the rise of intermittent renewable energy sources such as offshore wind energy.  However, with the country aiming for broader decarbonization of its energy system, demand response is being considered alternatively as a platform for deeper investment in energy efficiency measures that reduce energy consumption in terms of not only kilowatt-hours, but also kilowatts of power demand.

The United Kingdom is headed toward a potential crisis in its energy supply, with a severe shortage of new plants slated for construction to replace those being decommissioned.  The country is expecting to shut down more than a dozen baseload power plants by 2025 with a combined capacity of over 20 GW.  To put that into perspective, the United Kingdom’s peak demand usually hits 55 GW to 60 GW in the winter, so more than one-third of the country’s current baseload power generation is going offline in the next 11 years.  As a result, the government is looking into a wide range of options such as EDR that would make permanent reductions in peak demand to help close the gap with the decline in supply.

In its 2012 Energy Efficiency Strategy, the U.K. government concluded that, “through socially cost-effective investment in energy efficiency we could be saving 196 terawatt-hours in 2020, equivalent to 22 power stations.”  The EDR pilot will address the lingering questions about the program’s practicality and cost effectiveness.  If it succeeds, it will represent an attractive approach for meeting the country’s long-term decarbonization targets.

 

LEDs Lead Smart City Networks

— July 3, 2014

The path to more systematic and dynamic control of street lighting is being blazed by the adoption of light-emitting diode (LED) technology.  The continuing fall in the price of LED street lights has made them attractive to city managers around the world, particularly for new installations.  In our new report, Smart Street Lighting, Navigant Research estimates that 53% of street light luminaire sales in 2014 will be LED, and that percentage will grow to 94% by 2023.

This rapid transition to LED street lights is occurring as new, networked control systems become widely available.  These systems can bring added energy savings as well as additional value through greater control and reduced maintenance costs (see here, here, and here for examples).  Given the comparative ease and reduced cost of installing a control node while replacing a luminaire, the LED transition is proving to be a boon in the adoption of networked street light systems.  Navigant Research forecasts that revenue from the control equipment for such systems will grow from $197 million in 2014 to $477 million by 2023.

Illuminated Backbone

With the installation of a network that can communicate with street lights comes the opportunity to integrate those controls with multiple other intelligent systems: traffic light controls, security cameras, electric vehicle charging stations, environmental sensors, and digital signage.  The availability of both power and communications on street light poles throughout a city provides a ready-made backbone for many of those other services.  The same communications infrastructure can often be expanded for additional applications, and once the value of one such system is proven, city managers become far more likely to seek new applications for the technology.

In order to fulfill the potential of integration between multiple smart city systems, however, smart street lighting systems have to become more adaptable and more open.  In short, they need to look more like platforms than proprietary, closed systems.

Standards Emerge

The adoption of standards at multiple levels is crucial if smart street lighting networks are to serve as the platform for other smart city projects.  Standards adoption will open up the market and provide cities with more choice and greater confidence about the future value of their investment.

Standards-based software and communications protocols enable greater interoperability between systems, but there is also a role for more standards at the hardware level.   For this reason, the publication of a new standard by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) earlier this year is an important development.  Standard 136.41 defines a dimming controller and socket for street light luminaires.  The implication of the new standard is that, as long as a city purchases compliant street lights, it will be able to add control features, such as dimming and wireless communications, at a later date simply by purchasing any vendor’s compliant controller and plugging it into the top of their lights.  I discussed the new standard in more detail in a previous blog.

For a detailed examination of the benefits of smart street lighting for smart cities, the challenges still to be addressed, and Navigant Research’s forecasts for the growth of the market, please join us for the upcoming free webinar, Smart Street Lighting for Smart Cities, on July 8 at 2 p.m. EDT.  Click here to register.

 

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