Navigant Research Blog

The Case for Smart Grids Grows in Britain

— February 11, 2015

We are reaching a tipping point in the movement toward smart grid deployments in Europe. There is growing agreement among stakeholders—utilities, regulators, and suppliers—that the benefits of the core technologies have been proven but that structural barriers still remain. The challenge now is to establish the right investment models, regulatory frameworks, and methods for appropriate cost and benefit sharing. These messages are reinforced by a new report on the results of one of Europe’s most ambitious smart grid pilots and by a new study of the impact of smart grids in Great Britain undertaken by Navigant Consulting.

Low Carbon London (LCL) is a £28 million ($43 million) smart grid and energy efficiency project led by the distribution network operator UK Power Networks. It was one of the first and most expansive of the projects enabled by the Low Carbon Network Fund, which was established in 2009 by U.K. energy regulator Ofgem. The £500 million ($768 million) fund has supported projects sponsored by distribution network operators to test the viability of new technology and operating and commercial arrangements.

LCL focused on four core issues: demand-side response and distributed generation; network planning and operation; electrification of heat and transport; and the future distribution system operator. The project was completed in December 2014 and UK Power Networks has now produced a summary report titled DNO Guide to Future Smart Management of Distribution Networks.

A Green Light for Demand Response

One of the most important elements of the trial was its examination of the potential for demand response (DR) programs to ease pressures on the distribution network and provide financial benefits to customers. The industrial and commercial DR program had 18 MW under contract at its peak, running across 37 customer sites, and provided more than 300 MWh to the London grid at peak times. The result has strengthened confidence in the capability of DR programs to contribute to the better management of the distribution network.

The residential dynamic time of use (TOU) trial was one of the first of its kind in the United Kingdom. The trial was used to examine the role of dynamic TOU to support constraint management on the network and to balance energy supply to reflect the availability of renewable resources. During the trial, 95% of households saved money compared to the standard flat rate of the non-TOU control group. Another important finding was the high level of approval among customers for the TOU program, with 81% believing that “it should be the standard tariff for everyone.”

A Changing Landscape

As a result of the commercial DR program, UK Power Networks has been able to include demand-side response as part of its business-as-usual model and expects to save £43 million ($66 million) on the cost of its service to customers (£12 million, or $18 million, on the London grid alone) over the next 8 years. These savings will be made under Ofgem’s new regulatory framework for network price controls, which begins in April 2015. Through the RIIO (Revenue = Incentives + Innovation + Outputs) model, Ofgem aims to encourage network operators to make use of technologies such DR to reduce costs and improve performance.

In the future, we will see a greater role for DR at the distribution level in the United Kingdom. Today, the main program for DR is the Short Term Operating Reserve (STOR) program run by National Grid, the United Kingdom’s transmission system operator. However, modelling by the LCL team suggests that, by the mid-2020s, energy suppliers could be equally significant players as the grid operator, particularly as they seek to manage the impact of much greater renewables generation.

Overall, the findings from the LCL project reinforce the message from a recent Navigant study, prepared for SmartGrid GB, on the potential benefits of smart grid innovations to the United Kingdom.  That report, Making Smart Choices for Smart Grid Development, estimates that smart grid development can deliver £2.8 billion ($4.3 million) of value to Britain’s economy by 2030. These studies are part of a growing body of evidence for the importance of smart grid innovations to meeting the country’s energy needs. The challenge now, as both reports emphasize, is to continue to develop the right mechanisms for funding and benefit sharing to ensure that the momentum toward large-scale deployment is maintained.

 

Adapting to the New Demand Response Landscape

— January 27, 2015

Demand response (DR) was first employed in the United States the 1970s.  At that time, DR was implemented as a component of the energy conservation focus of demand-side management (DSM) programs to encourage consumers to use less electricity during peak hours or to shift their energy use to off-peak times.  Utilities have run residential direct load control programs as forms of demand management and offered interruptible rates to commercial and industrial customers for many years.

Today, however, the electric grid needs resources beyond just meeting peak demand situations, requiring more flexibility and faster response.  A number of drivers point toward increased DR adoption by utilities and grid operators around the world.  The changing resource mix in electric grids globally is creating more potential for DR to play a pivotal role.  As coal and nuclear plants retire due to economic or environmental factors, clean replacements are needed that can be built in short timeframes.  Conversely, as large-scale intermittent renewable resources like wind and solar power fill in this gap, they require backup solutions when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining.

New Training Course

At the same time, new market types, including ancillary services such as spinning reserves and frequency regulation, are opening up to DR.  The concepts of resilience and microgrids have taken strong root along the Atlantic Coast following Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and DR will be an integral part of those developments.  The advent of grid modernization is also tied to this new view on how the grid should be designed.  With the proliferation of advanced meters that can record usage at very small intervals, more dynamic types of pricing can be applied down to the residential level.

To help utilities navigate through this changing landscape, the Peak Load Management Alliance has developed a series of DR training courses.  The next session, DR Program Design and Implementation, will take place from February 18 to 19, hosted by NV Energy in Las Vegas.  The 2-day course will first cover program development topics like DR program types; how to determine market potential; designing programs and managing portfolios of programs; and calculating cost-effectiveness.  The second day will delve into program implementation strategies and tactics such as staffing and operations; strategic outsourcing; technology architecture and integration; and evaluation, measurement, and verification.

A Visit to the NOC

NV Energy is a pioneer in testing out innovative DR program designs in an extreme climate.  The company has a diverse portfolio of programs that includes a range of applications, along with various flavors of direct load control, dynamic pricing, and DR in combination with energy efficiency programs.  The Las Vegas course will include a visit to NV Energy’s operations center, along with a first-hand look at its DR management system in action.

For utilities considering or being required to implement DR programs (which includes just about every utility today), this is a great opportunity to hear from industry experts and meet peers from across the country to exchange experiences and best practices.  For more information on the course, please click here.

 

Busy Start to 2015 for Smart Grid Companies

— January 22, 2015

Smart grid companies must have gotten their wishes granted during the holidays, because they are in a sharing mood to kick off the new year.  A burst of merger and acquisition and partnership activity shows that the ecosystem is growing and there’s enough room for everyone to get a piece of the bigger pie.

Trilliant and Innovari announced the completion of interoperability testing of the Innovari Interactive Energy Platform (IEP) and the Trilliant Smart Grid Communications Platform (SCP).  This combination enables utilities to improve operations and benefit customers with a shared communications infrastructure for smart grids.  The Innovari IEP provides automated demand response (DR) for commercial and industrial customers.  The Trilliant SCP complements the IEP with a two-way communications network to deliver grid situational awareness that enables real-time demand side management and the integration of distributed renewable energy resources.

Analytics and Engagement

Silver Spring Networks acquired longtime partner Detectent, which provides software to improve advanced metering infrastructure and utility grid operations, ensure revenue protection, and deliver enhanced customer engagement programs.  Detectent’s utility analytics solutions will be offered both as a standalone solution or powered by Silver Spring’s smart grid big data platform, the SilverLink Sensor Network.

Schneider Electric, meanwhile, announced two recent partnerships.  The first is a partnership with PlanetEcosystems to provide utility service providers with Efficiency Advisor, an integrated suite of software-as-a-service customer management offerings.  Combining Schneider’s Wiser Home Management system with PlanetEcosystems’ P-ECOSYS customer engagement platform, Efficiency Advisor will offer features like behavioral usage efficiency, home usage reporting, personalized recommendations, and an energy marketplace for customers to find contractors and financing options for energy efficiency programs.

Schneider’s second announcement involves a partnership between its European DR division, Energy Pool, and Hyosung, a South Korean industrial conglomerate, to offer DR in the newly opened South Korean marketplace.  Energy Pool will provide its DR expertise and manage operations, while Hyosung will tap into its network of industrial partners and provide IT support.

Just Couldn’t Wait

Often, companies will wait for the DistribuTECH conference to make big announcements about partnerships and new technologies, but these deals apparently couldn’t wait.  They’ll be discussed at this year’s DistribuTECH in San Diego, running February 3 to 5.  Last year, the theme at the conference seemed to be data analytics, as vendors showed how they can extract usable information from the plethora of data now available from meters and devices.  Based on these early announcements, it appears that the one-word summary for this year’s conference will be “interoperability.”

Now that the analytics are available, vendors are realizing that they likely can’t offer all possible analytical tools for utilities on their own, so collaboration will be necessary.  Whether that is through mergers and acquisitions or partnerships, I expect this trend to continue and am sure there will be more announcements at DistribuTECH from those who held back their surprises.

 

In Detroit, a Utility Comes to the Rescue

— January 14, 2015

In early December, the municipal power system in Detroit had a major power outage that was thankfully restored by DTE Energy (DTE), the investor-owned utility that stepped in to lend a helping hand.  The Detroit municipal system supplies power to city buildings such as courthouses, hospitals, city offices, and schools, as well as critical local infrastructure such as traffic lights, municipal transportation, and fire departments.  Even the Detroit Red Wings hockey practices were disrupted by the power outage.  Fortunately, with the help of DTE, the outage was restored within 9 hours and life in Detroit was back to normal.

As news of the municipal power system outage spread, it was initially speculated that this power failure was another glaring example of the lack of ongoing investment in critical infrastructure that occurs when a municipality goes into bankruptcy.   The good news is that, as part of the bankruptcy process, Detroit will no longer run the electric system; DTE will begin running the grid over a 4-year transition period.  DTE’s deeper pockets will restore the high standards of operation for the Detroit municipal system.

The Beleaguered City

Detroit’s woes have been national news over the past 3 or 4 years, as illustrated by the many pictures of abandoned neighborhoods, factories, churches, and commercial buildings.  In fact, Detroit’s mayor, Mike Duggan, said at a news conference on Tuesday, December 2, 2014 that, “Today is another reminder of how much works we still have to do to rebuild this city, and the bankruptcy order doesn’t solve the decades of neglect in our infrastructure.”  The mayor’s spokesperson, Robert Warfield, went on to say that the outages were “caused by extreme heat, cable failure, and routine maintenance – all combining causing system overload.”  Apparently, a cable feeding a critical substation failed, and the municipal utility tried to reroute the system, triggering a circuit breaker, which caused the blackout.

Spirit of Cooperation

During 2014, I wrote a number of blogs on various utility transmission and distribution issues that arise and the investment required to keep the lights on.  These issues are also discussed in detail in Navigant Research reports, including High-Voltage Transmission Systems, Flexible AC Transmission Systems, Synchrophasors and Wide Area Situational Awareness, and Smart Grid: 10 Trends to Watch in 2015.   Over the years, I have seen neighboring and even distant utilities step in to help utilities in another state or region restore power after a natural disaster, storm, or power failure.  DTE’s work to make sure the lights stay on in Detroit is another great example of the spirit of cooperation within the electric utility industry.

 

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