Anne Pramaggiore, President and CEO of ComEd of Chicago, was the first at the Smart Gird Interoperability Panel 2016 Grid Modernization Summit in Washington DC to call the current business transformation that the electric power industry is experiencing a revolution. But many other speakers agreed with this characterization. Frequently mentioned were the regulatory and utility business transformations occurring in California and New York (REV). Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) was mentioned as an example of a utility that was aggressively driving change in the utility business model.
Robert Wilhite of Navigant Research pointed out that their recent research had found that 90% of utilities recognize that utility business models have to change. But there are different opinions about the urgency of this transformation. Navigant found that about half believe that it has to happen immediately, while the remainder believe it can happen later.
Of course none of this would be possible without the enabling technology of the smart grid. Dave Velazguez, President and CEO of Pepco, now part of Exelon, recollected that the first smart grid development at Pepco, by no means a laggard in adopting new technology, occurred only a decade ago.
Virtually every speaker singled out distributed energy (DER), especially solarPV, as the main motivating driver that is forcing the business transformation of the utility industry. Originally seen as a response to a warming climate, solarPV has achieved grid parity in several parts of the country and is seen as a way of providing customers not only with a choice of a green energy source but increasingly as a less expensive alternative to the local utility. The price drop has been so substantial that even at a time of unusually low natural gas prices that are responsible for closing many coal-fired generation plants solarPV is achieving grid parity in many parts of North America. Another important contributor to the revolution is the electrification of transportation, not only EVs but also buses, rail and even trucks.
But none of this could have happened without the enabling platform of the smart grid. The conjunction of technological advances in packet switched wired and wireless communications networks, intelligent electronic devices underlies the DER advances that have created choice for customers. As we have seen previously in other industries such as telecom consumers have grasped the opportunity and are now beginning to drive changes in the energy market.
Another topic that came up repeatedly was microgrids. Duke Energy has been running microgrid pilot for several years from which emerged the OpenFMB standard with an OpenFMB working group to support the effort. ComEd has five microgrid pilots and is starting the country's first microgrid cluster. Pepco has two microgrid projects underway.
At the Distributech 2016 and at this SGIP Summit an implementation of OpenFMB demonstrated live by Green Energy Corp. It was also announced at the summit that the source code was now available for download from the openFMB.io site.
In addition a number of vendors were offering solutions for managing microgrids including the KEPCO Consortium from Korea who has built a comprehensive microgrid solution.
Although this was not a geospatially-focussed conference, GIS and geospatial technology came up in several areas.
Chanda Visweswanah, an IBM fellow, outlined in three topics what the the challenge is in transforming the grid. First, there are several trends that are behaving exponentially, the number of sensors, the volume of data, and renewable energy sources were among them. Secondly, we are increasingly relying on intermittent energy sources like wind and solarPV. Third, this is not you grandmother's software. This is software that provides a platform that supports sophisticated mathematical algorithms. One of the most important of these are algorithms that nowcast and forecast weather at a very high resolution so that it is possible to predict wind velocity not at ground level but at the elevation of the turbines and at the location of the wind farm. Similarly for insolation for solarPV. These wind and insolation maps are effectively are the generation forecast minutes and hours in advance.
The Kepco Consortium demonstrated the μ-Grid platform. Kepco have already partnered with PowerStream in Ontario to provide a utility-scale microgrid. Earlier this year PowerStream and Kepco officially launched a utility-scaled Microgrid, which has the capacity to provide several hours of backup power supply for approximately 400 customers residing or owning a business in Penetanguishene. The Microgrid is helping to reinforce the existing grid by increasing resiliency and operational flexibility. The platform provides a GIS Studio which allows grid 35 types of power facilities such as transformers to be visulaized and edited on a map, either imagery form satellites or overflights or a topographic map.
Another application of geloocation is in the area of cybersecurity where location is used by advanced cybersecurity applications for verifying identity.
Several speakers pointed out that the volume of data has simply become to large for a centralized IT system that collects all the data at a central control point where analysis and visualization is performed. By pushing intelligence out into the field, it reduces the data volumes that have to be handled at the central station and reduces the data flow over the network.
Based on the very successful Green Button program, an important standards initiative is Orange Button. It was initiated by the Department of Energy (DOE) with the objective of making it easier for investment to flow into solar power by standardizing electronic reporting of solar installation performance. Orange Button targets a reduction in soft costs by streamlining the collection, security, management, exchange, and monetizing of solar datasets across the value chain of solar. It is expected that creating an industry-driven standardized data landscape will facilitate the growth and expansion of distributed solar. As the solar market continues to expand, it is critical that the collection, management, and exchange of solar datasets – especially those that affect the bankability (ability to secure loans for solar installations) of solar assets – are coordinated and streamlined to protect consumers, increase efficient pricing, and support new and existing businesses entering the solar marketplace. In April of this year four awardees (kWh Analytics, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Smart Grid Interoperability Panel, and SunSpec Alliance) were announced by the Department of Energy that will collaborate on the overall goal to standardize the way solar data is collected and exchanged. SGIP was chosen to lead the effort.
At SGIP the effort is being led and coordinated by Dixon Wright of Wells Fargo. Dixon is the only person that I was aware of representing a financial institution at the SGIP event. I think that the presence of a major financial player such as Wells Fargo is a strong indication that solar is moving into the big leagues of financing. Dixon is passionate about the Orange Button initiative and believes that once a draft standard and implementation becomes available and a few users champion it, it will catch on rapidly with the large financial institutions and the solar industry.
In March 2015, the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP) formally kicked-off its OpenFMB effort to foster field interoperability drawing upon Duke Energy’s previous Coalition of the Willing I and Distributed Intelligence Platform work. By the 2015 SGIP Annual Conference in November, three microgrid use cases had been developed and demonstrated: optimization, unscheduled islanding, and grid reconnection.
In February 2016, the first OpenFMB reference implementation, utilizing SGIP’s microgrid use cases at Duke Energy’s Mount Holly microgrid test center, was demonstrated at the 2016 DistribuTECH Conference by Duke Energy’s Coalition of the Willing II (COW-II) vendor partners. For the annual SGIP Grid Modernization Summit in November 2016 the SGIP OpenFMB task force published a series of related foundational use cases that center on Distributed Energy Resources (DER) Circuit Segment Management for the active coordination of power systems equipment to DER, including a microgrid. Green Energ Corp demonstrated an OpenFMB implementation connecting a solar PV installation with other equipment and applications. This is an open source project and it was announced at the SGIP event that the source code is now available and can be downloaded from openfmb.io. There is a free webinar replay "SGIP Grid Modernization Summit OpenFMB Demo Preview."
Several speakers were on hand from the Department of Energy's Gris Modernization labs. Since this was an SGIP event they focussed on the research underway at 13 Federal labs and 150 partner organizations that involves interoperability. First of all research is underway to find a way to measure interoperability. Secondly, there is an important initiative underwritten by several million dollars of financing to determine how to value interoperability. If we can quantify the contribution it makes to business efficiencies by enhancing the opportunity for competitve products, by creating standards-based platforms that intelligent products from different vendors, whether smart meters, synchrophasors, reclosers, or substation components can plug and play with, that ultimately reduces prices for utilities, then it will be easier to justify and priorize greater investment the standards and implementations that provide interoperability.