Navigant Research Blog

New York Details Its Vision for the Future of Energy

— March 2, 2015

On February 26, the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) released its long-awaited Phase 1 Order on its Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) proceeding. The order lays out the PSC’s vision for how the future retail electricity market in the state should operate to maximize efficiency, improve reliability, engage customers, and create clean, affordable energy products and services. I can’t cover the entire 328-page order in one blog, but I’ll hit on the major decisions that affect the current utility world order.

The biggest variable in the REV equation was whether the PSC would require an independent party to perform the function of the distributed system platform (DSP), the central role of REV. According to the order, the DSP’s functions include load and network monitoring, enhanced fault detection/location, and automated voltage and volt-ampere reactive (VAR) control. That list covers a lot of what the utilities currently do, so taking those tasks away from them would have caused a major shift in the market landscape. However, the Phase 1 Order outright supports utilities acting as the DSP as a way to minimize the redundancy of actions. This singular decision vastly limits the potential impacts to the state and the utilities. Utilities must be breathing a sigh of relief.

Metering Alternatives

A second thorny issue was whether utilities should be able to own distributed energy resources (DER) or whether DER should be the sole domain of the competitive marketplace. Many market players wanted to prohibit the utilities from competing with them when they might have a natural advantage in acquiring customers. Under the order, utilities will be able to own DER if they run a solicitation to meet a system need and they are able to show that competitive alternatives are inadequate or more costly than a traditional infrastructure alternative. They will also be able to invest in storage to the extent it functions as part of the transmission and distribution (T&D) system. This seems like a reasonable compromise that should work for most parties.

The last major component is advanced metering infrastructure (AMI). Earlier communications from the PSC hardly mentioned metering at all, so it was unclear how the final rule would play out. In fact, the Phase 1 Order does not mandate AMI deployment by utilities. Rather, the PSC prefers the term “advanced metering functionality” (AMF)—meaning that other technologies, including ones provided by third parties, may be able to achieve the desired functionality cheaper and more efficiently than AMI. It states that “each utility Distributed System Integration Plan (DSIP) will need to include a plan for dealing with advanced metering needs; however, plans that involve third party investment may be preferred over sweeping ratepayer funded investments.” This indicates that utilities should consider AMI alternatives before choosing a path forward.

Ticking Clock

As far as next steps, the utilities’ integration plans must be filed by December 15, 2015, so the clock is ticking. Phase 2 of REV will consider reforming the PSC’s ratemaking process so that utilities do not have disincentives to further developing DER. Utility income is tied to bond funds now, but they should depend more on creating value for customers and achieving policy objectives. A draft proposal is expected by June.

It was interesting trying to guess which way the PSC would fall on these and other major issues. Now the real fun begins: implementing the vision.

 

Despite Bumpy Road, Smart Meters Deliver Benefits

— January 13, 2015

As 2015 begins, it’s clear that smart meter investments around the globe will continue to play a key role in the transformation of electric utility grids.   A new report by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) notes that the penetration of smart meters in the United States continues to climb.  As those deployments have unfolded, utilities and industry stakeholders have gained valuable experience in integrating the latest technologies that enable new grid and consumer applications.

As the FERC report notes, smart meters enable a number of applications that enhance a utility’s operational efficiency, including remote meter reading, remote meter connections and disconnections, tamper and outage detection and notification, voltage monitoring, integration of distributed energy resources (especially solar PV) through net metering, and time-based rates.  Advanced metering also provides demand-side benefits, such as deferred capital expenses, improved utilization of capital assets, reduced electricity generation, reduced environmental impacts, and more options for customers to manage consumption and lower costs.

Restorative Powers

Many of these smart meter benefits form the basis of what we described as smart metering 2.0 in Navigant Research’s free white paper, Smart Grid: 10 Trends to Watch in 2015 and Beyond.  Installing meters – just the first step in transforming the grid – lays the foundation for enhanced consumer engagement, demand response capabilities, and overall utility efficiency.  One recent example came from Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), which credited its smart grid technology for the quick return of power to half a million customers who had electricity knocked out when violent storms rumbled across Northern California in mid-December 2014.  The company said it restored power to more than 95% of those customers who lost power in less than 48 hours.

Outside the United States, smart meter deployments will expand in 2015.  In Japan, for instance, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) is expected to accelerate its smart meter deployments as it attempts to install 27 million devices by 2020.  Japan’s nine other major utilities will soon follow with initial deployments that will eventually lead to a total of 80 million smart meters nationwide by 2024.  In Europe, France’s national utility Electricité Réseau Distribution France (ERDF) is expected to ramp up smart meter deployments as well, and deployments in Spain are expected to continue apace.

Best Laid Plans

But deployments don’t always go as planned, and schedules can get bumpy.  In Britain, for instance, the rollout of smart meters was supposed to accelerate in 2015, but another delay has pushed back the massive deployment until 2016.  In Germany, smart metering remains on a slower track since regulators said utilities can conduct deployments in a targeted way.  And even in places where smart meters are now common, such as Ontario, Canada, the debate about their value relative to the cost continues.

Nonetheless, investments in smart meters and related grid technologies will expand in 2015 and in the following years (see Navigant Research’s report, Smart Meters, for a detailed forecast).  New deployments will face challenges, especially large and complex ones like the one in Great Britain, which includes gas meters along with electric ones, and in Japan, where several communication standards are in play.  Even so, the value of smart metering technologies is undeniable, and they will continue to be a foundational piece of future smart grids.

 

Green Button Pushes Useful Usage Data

— December 3, 2014

The installation of advanced metering infrastructure is helping to transform the U.S. utility industry.  While over 43 million advanced meters have been installed, most electricity consumers have seen few benefits from the new device on their property.  Recently, the government has been making an effort to improve the accessibility of data from advanced meters.

The Green Button Initiative is an industry-led effort developed in response to the federal call-to-action to provide utility customers with easy and secure access to their electricity usage data in a user-friendly format.  A key focus of Green Button is standardizing electricity usage data; this will allow many stakeholders to use the data without the burden of converting proprietary formats.  Energy consumers, third-party software/application developers, public institutions, energy efficiency organizations, and utilities/energy service providers will all benefit from increased visibility of detailed electricity consumption data.

Developers of software and applications to help consumers understand and reduce their electricity consumption may have the most to gain.  Many advanced systems to manage energy use in buildings are already in operation; these will only be improved by easy access to more granular data from utilities.  Some solutions that can take advantage of this newly available data are discussed in Navigant Research’s report, Building Energy Management Systems

Tip of the Iceberg

Despite successful programs with many utilities, the Green Button Initiative has only scratched the surface of its full potential.  To date, at least 50 utilities have implemented the program, with a few dozen more committed.  Among the participating utilities, the amount of data available and the support provided to customers varies greatly.  In fact, some utilities are only providing monthly meter readings to their customers through Green Button.  This information has generally been available to customers online for years, and it does not provide enough new detail to enable many behavioral changes.

What’s more, many utilities are not actively promoting the availability of this data or helping their customers understand how to interpret the information.  Further collaboration between utilities and industry stakeholders is required, and a more developed app marketplace will be crucial to Green Button’s success.

Competitive Solutions

A major focus of the Green Button Initiative is to facilitate the development of third-party software programs and applications that use utility data to provide consumers with an easily understandable view of their consumption.  One interesting application is wotz, developed by a group of graduate students at the University of California, Irvine.  This application runs in a web browser and provides a simple to use, graphically pleasing interface to view and understand energy consumption over time.

Wotz relates household electricity use to more easily understood terms, such as a certain number of MacBook charges.  The program also includes challenges with guidance to reduce consumption over time and can be connected with Facebook to share results and benchmark against friends.

Another program utilizing Green Button-based data takes the idea of benchmarking and social media-based energy competitions even further.  Simple Energy, based in Boulder, Colorado, has a similar program with easy visualization and also features a community leaderboard that allows users to see how they stack up with their neighbors – as well as electricity consumers around the world.

 

British Smart Meter Rollout Hits a New Snag

— November 24, 2014

There is another delay in the rollout of smart electric and gas meters in Great Britain.  The deployment of more than 50 million meters was expected to begin in the fall of 2015, but now that starting date could be up to a year later, meaning the fall of 2016.

The delay comes as the entity in charge of the communications system, known as the Data Communications Company (DCC), has said it is not feasible to meet the fall 2015 start date.  The DCC, which is run by outsourcing vendor Capita, blames the delay on U.K. government officials who changed the specifications that required redesigns for parts of the systems.  The delay is expected to add an additional $140 million to the expected $17 billion cost of the multiyear project.

This new delay follows an earlier postponement announced in 2013.  This new delay could mean that the mandatory completion target year of 2020 will not be met. However, the U.K. Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) maintains that the deadline will still be met.

Pushback for Vendors

For the meter vendors and technology providers involved, like Sensus, Landis+Gyr, and Trilliant, the new delay pushes out their delivery cycles and could negatively affect their financial pictures as well.

So far, the other large European smart meter deployment in France (as noted in Navigant Research’s report, Smart Meters) is still on schedule, with the installation of the first 3 million meters expected to begin sometime in the third quarter of 2015.

No doubt there is plenty of frustration among the parties involved in the British project, but what they plan to do is undeniably complex.  Connecting one type of smart meter, electric for instance, poses enough of a challenge, but connecting both an electric and a natural gas meter at the same time and expecting the communications elements to run smoothly is asking a lot.  Further delays, or at least a speed bump or two, are more than likely.

 

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