By Ed Ritchie
From the smart grid to the smart meter, to the smart building and right down to the smart thermostat, it seems as if the quality of being “smart” is on its way to becoming the average state of affairs for anything that controls the flow of electricity. But intelligence is more than the ability to control energy use; it’s also about collecting, reporting, and using the information you gather. The smart revolution is still in its infancy, and the flood of information—along with three key technologies: demand response, renewable energy, and onsite power—is fueling explosive growth in technologies, redirecting and reshaping the energy industry.
Let’s set the stage with a visit to Alameda County, CA, where summer temperatures often exceed 105°F. In this rather inhospitable environment, Chevron Energy Solutions (San Francisco, CA) recently completed a project demonstrating the benefits of merging different smart technologies into one efficient system. The Santa Rita Jail is Chevron’s flagship project—covering all the angles of energy efficiency and reliability and touted as a symbol of the Chevron’s commitment to sustainability.
Fuel cells are one way the Santa Rita Jail keeps energy costs down.
|The Santa Rita Jail is the site of one of the nation’s largest solar arrays.
It’s been more than a decade since the Santa Rita Jail started the path to sustainability, starting with its first step: the installation of the country’s largest rooftop photovoltaic (PV) array. Reports on the PV system—and subsequent additions, such as a fuel cell system—have previously appeared in the pages of Distributed Energy, but the latest accomplishment is taking the project to the next level with the launching of a state-of-the-art microgrid. David Potter, senior project director, Chevron Energy Solutions, believes the microgrid rightly returns the project to center stage, making the latest upgrades and advances worthy of the attention.
“Santa Rita is the showcase of Chevron’s capabilities for energy solutions,” says Potter. “It has energy efficiency, distributed generation, and power quality from the battery system. The battery’s role [and the goal of that demonstration] is actually to reduce the load during peak loads on the distribution feeder.
“From that perspective,” he continues, “you could look at it as a relationship to the smart grid. With the battery’s static disconnect switch, and the backup capabilities, it’s a power quality and reliability play, too.”
According to Matthew Muniz, P.E., energy program manager for the County of Alameda, the jail is the largest facility in the county and uses 30% of the utility budget annually.
“Our expectation and goal for this project was to develop a net-zero facility during the utility’s peak hours of noon to six,” says Muniz. “It gets hot, and the chiller load rises very high. But, now we have the generation, plus the battery, and we are confident that we can be generating our own electricity and not have to import anything from Pacific Gas and Electric [PG&E] when their highest rates are being charged.”
The battery also allows for future planning by giving Muniz the option to further expand the jail’s solar PV system. During some days of summer when the chiller isn’t needed, the system would generate more than enough of the power earmarked for the grid. However, Santa Rita isn’t net metered, meaning the battery storage solely serves to take advantage of the excess power generation, relieving the need to use the grid to recharge overnight.
“We’re also excited about using the static disconnect switch to island completely from PG&E if there are disturbances to the grid, or brownouts and blackouts. We can utilize the renewable energy and the battery to run the jail without turning on emergency generators” says Muniz. “The backup generators are diesel, but we still have the option to use them, and if we run down the battery, we could turn on the generators to take care of the jail and recharge the battery backup. So we could survive without electricity for a long time. Before, we had this fuel cell and solar as the only onsite power and in a blackout the diesel generators would take over, and we would have to turn off the fuel cell because the emergency generators were designed for the load of the jail.”
Santa Rita requires a constant 3 MW to support up to 4,000 inmates in 18 housing units. Along with the fixed-mount rooftop 1.2-MW PV array, the site has another 275-kW ground-mounted PV tracking system, a 1-MW fuel cell cogeneration plant, a group of five small wind turbines rated at 11.5 kW, and a 2-MW battery energy storage system. In fact, the jail could not have added the ground-mounted PV system without the batteries.
“The battery supports many different value streams,” says Potter. “We have rate arbitrage where we charge the battery at night and discharge during the day, and we can prevent over-generation from the PV system by capturing the power in the batteries. That’s one of the interesting things about this value chain proposition, because you can add another piece to the value chain, and it makes the batteries more attractive.”
Battery storage is making progress, agrees Don Rickey, senior vice president, Schneider Infrastructure Business, Palatine, IL, but it’s still a long way off from being a mainstream option for utilities, and the variability of renewable resources continues to present a challenge. “They have to provide the [peak] capacity or seek demand response participation or curtailment to offset the variability,” says Rickey. Moreover, factors such as deregulation and the high cost of investing in generation and transmission right-of-ways make peak shaving and demand response even more attractive.
“The smart grid is invaluable as the nature of our power systems becomes more complex, and there is a necessity to advance our grid solutions to make them smarter because of all the resources we have available to balance supply and demand,” adds Rickey.
So what are the main components of these solutions? For utilities, they include monitoring, data communication, and online analysis at central locations. Moving out to the transmission lines, diagnostics and controls are necessary as switching devices become more prevalent.
To identify the opportunities for demand response or peak shaving at a commercial location, Schneider starts with engineering, design, and analysis, plus the financial calculations to determine the highest economic returns. “Today we can help our industrial customers with the economics and financial analysis, and if it’s the use of backup generation, the cost of the fuel and the opportunity in the marketplace,” says Rickey. “All of it is shared with the customer, along with the improvement project that they may need to bring those emergency standby units on as paralleling units to enjoy the economic benefits of demand response and other opportunities.”
Demand response services are creating new opportunities for Schneider and others in the energy service company (ESCO) industry, according to a recent study from Pike Research. Pike reports that the ESCO market for energy efficiency project installations and services in the US exceeded $5.1 billion in 2011, and it’s expected to grow beyond $13 billion by 2020.
Roughly $34.3 million of that $13 billion is already committed to Johnson Controls Inc., Glendale, WI, thanks to a federal contract for energy efficiency improvements at Fort Buchanan and US Army Reserve Centers in Puerto Rico. The project saves $61 million in energy and operational costs over the next 16 years by enhancing all aspects of energy use at the post, including solar power generation, solar thermal applications, wind power generation, new indoor and exterior light-emitting diode (LED) lighting, a building automation and control system to manage energy at 87 buildings, and other energy efficiency improvements. The savings generated from the improvements will fund the cost of the project.
|Photos: Johnson Controls Inc.
Onsite power allows locations—like military bases—to exist as standalone islands, free from the Grid.
Earlier in 2012, Johnson Controls announced a $16 million contract with the Army’s Fort Bliss for a solar photovoltaic system and energy efficiency improvements expected to save the post $39 million in energy costs over the next 24 years. Under the federal ESPC program, Johnson Controls has implemented more than 100 projects for various agencies, including the Army, Department of Energy, Air Force, Navy, General Services Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs, Justice Department, and Department of the Interior.
“The entire scope of Fort Buchanan and Fort Bliss is amazing, and the military is a unique customer, because they like to think big and comprehensively,” says Kelly Smith, program manager, Johnson Controls Demand Management Services. “The vision has been very strong, particularly around the concept of security. Microgrids are very popular and tied into what is the ‘smart fort’ concept. The main focus on the smart grid from the utility’s perspective is getting the information network overlaid. But beyond that, look at the military or university campuses that want to be able to become ‘islands’—completely disconnected from the grid. This helps meet their own reliability needs, and also alleviates situations when there’s trouble on the grid.”
In mid-2011, Johnson Controls acquired EnergyConnect Group Inc., a provider of smart grid, services, and technologies. The move enhances the Johnson Controls Building Efficiency position as a demand response leader in the large commercial, industrial, and institutional markets. “EnergyConnect helps large commercial industrial institutional customers participate in demand response programs and adjust their use of electricity to benefit from dynamic rates,” says Smith. “EnergyConnect’s demand response technology and service platform provides real-time information and access to energy markets. The platform features a scalable, cost-effective, clean technology to enhance the grid’s efficiency and reliability.”
The rapid growth of demand response has also spread to the residential level, notes Jason Cigarran, VP of marketing at Comverge Inc., Norcross, GA. In January 2012 Comverge announced that it had extended its partnership with Gulf Power, Pensacola, FL, to help advance the country’s largest and most successful residential dynamic pricing program. Comverge estimated the value of the partnership at more than $10 million, wherein Gulf Power will deploy Comverge’s IntelliSOURCE 2.0 platform and intelligent devices to support the growth of the Gulf Power Energy Select Program from approximately 8,000 participants to an expected 16,000 participants within the next four years.
“Gulf has a summer and winter peak, and they’re looking to reduce the need for generation and to optimize their existing capacity generation,” says Cigarran. “A third benefit is a boost in customer satisfaction and the relationship between the utility and the customer. With the Gulf Power Program, they’ve improved their customer’s perception of the company
Beyond the residential controls, the platform lets utilities model additional load and generation from resources such as renewables and distributed energy. “They can understand how to better manage these disparate resources and loads coming on and off from renewable energy, such as solar and wind,” adds Cigarran. “So, they can see what resources contribute and how shutting down a certain number of customers or resources would impact their overall grid performance.”
As the variety of the types of data collected increases, changes are afoot for one of the oldest entrants of the smart revolution: the smart meter. And while the tide’s been shifting for a while, there are still more changes to come, according to Chuck Hornbrook, a senior product manager for smart grid solutions at Itron, Liberty Lake, WA.
“Things are moving towards the capability to meter and monitor distributed energy resources and get data back to the utility,” explains Hornbrook. “So now if a utility is without a smart meter infrastructure, it isn’t aware of what’s being generated, or if one of the utility’s major customers improved their lighting systems and lowered their load. But with better data it allows the utility to work with their customers to provide more detailed information about what's going on at the feeder level. So we have metered endpoints for an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) network that you can now aggregate from all those different feeder lines and understand what kind of penetration and load pattern you have. If we know there’s a certain load pattern at a certain capacity, when a customer comes to install a PV system they are then able to understand the impact along those feeder lines.”
In January 2012, Itron announced the release of its first set of specialized analytic software. The software leverages Itron’s metering, communication network, and meter data management (MDM) solutions, using analytic applications for actionable business intelligence, and to enable specific smart grid solutions for distribution operations, revenue cycle services, and customer engagement.
As tools such as analytic software continue to develop, look to an evolution of hardware such as inverters for PV arrays, says Hornbrook. “Photovoltaic systems continue to grow, and you’re going to see manufacturers introduce products to help the grid with problems, such as low-voltage ride-through. Typically, on a hot summer day you may have instability on feeder lines, and then there can be voltage sag, and inverters will shut off because it’s a signal to them that there’s a problem on the grid. Then, five minutes later, they all come back on, and it creates a lot of problems for the distribution feeder.
“But, imagine a world where the utility says today is going to be very warm, so inverters can ignore the low-voltage sags and have a voltage ride-through,” he continues. “Because, hot summer days are when the utilities need to import this generation, rather than turning it off. Or maybe there’s going to be high penetration, and these resources could come on in a staggered strategy rather than all at once.”
Meter data from the new AMI is displayed on the OMS system at Florida co-op Talquin Electric’s dispatch center, helping the co-op pinpoint and prioritize service restoration and repair.
The good news is that inverters are improving their communication abilities. For example, Echelon Corporation, San Jose, CA, recently partnered with Direct Grid Technologies, Edgewood, NY, a manufacturer of PV micro-inverters for utility and commercial grade solar power generation, to integrate Echelon energy control networking products. By integrating the solar panels into a power line communicating energy control network with Echelon’s technology, Direct Grid can offer improved diagnostics, remote management and control, and lower the life cycle cost of the installation. According to Anders Axelsson, Echelon’s senior vice president, commercial markets and energy control networking technology, coupled with innovations like Direct Grid’s micro-inverters combine control of energy supply and demand right at the edge of the grid.
Utilities are more than concerned about the impact of solar energy installations, according to “Achieving High Performance with Solar Photovoltaic Integration” a study of 31 North American utilities, by IDC Energy Insights. Significant issues included the high costs of providing reactive power/voltage support, additional interconnection requirements, and grid instability caused by anti-islanding requirements. These issues were seen as occurring with penetration levels of less than 15%, but at solar’s current rate of growth, utilities should be preparing to meet the those issues head on.
A new study from the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) reports that utilities experienced a solar output rise of over 100% in 2011—a surge that equates to almost 1,500 MW of new installed capacity as US utilities interconnected more than 62,000 PV systems in a variety of sizes. According to SEPA, a total of 39% of the new capacity came from utilities that own or contract for solar power, and large projects of more than 10 MW made up most of the capacity. SEPA also found that new solar grew 120% over 2010 rates.
Data from smart meters and AMI networks can help utilities manage their systems and balance demand with those growing renewable resources, according to Michael Logue, product line manager for Electric Metering, Sensus Inc., Raleigh, NC.
“With AMI technology, utilities have more real-time data,” says Logue, “The meters communicate back to the base station several times a day and give the utility the ability to see the data in a timely manner that they can take action on.”
Additionally, smart electric meters have the ability to communicate with multiple channels, because, unlike gas and water meters, they don’t rely on batteries. The channels can be used for reporting power failures, diagnostic functions, and, of course, billing and accounting.
“We talk about kilowatts and kilowatt-hours, and with more information from these meters, the utility can improve their system,” says Logue. “One of these is voltage. Today, we run our systems and bring power to customers, but we don’t yet have data points monitoring power quality along the system. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a voltage measurement brought back at important points from the system and analyzed over time? Utilities need to have information to make intelligent decisions about improving, and if they have voltage data across the whole system, they can grab that and understand how it’s doing over time, and find things to help improve the system going forward.”
So far we’ve seen the majority of power quality and monitoring tools filling the gap between power generation and the smart meter, but Sandia National Laboratories has developed an experimental “smart outlet” that autonomously measures, monitors, and controls electrical loads with no connection to a centralized computer or system. The goal of the smart outlet is to make the power grid more distributed and intelligent, capable of reconfiguring itself as conditions change.
The outlet offers flexibility that could make more use of variable output energy resources such as wind and solar, because devices such as the smart outlet can vary their load demand to compensate for variations in energy production. It measures power usage and the direction of power flow, which is normally one-way, but could be bidirectional if something like a PV system is connected to send power onto the grid. Bidirectional monitoring and control could allow each location with its own energy production, such as photovoltaic or wind, to become an “island” when the main power grid goes down.
With companies such as GE and national resources such as Sandia racing to develop technologies to support the smart grid, users of demand response, renewable energy, and distributed energy will find their opportunities expanding. And as we’ve seen, these technologies are merging together in ways that compliment and enhance grid intelligence. So ultimately, both energy generators and users may find themselves in a partnership that blurs the lines between providers and consumers.
Author’s bio: Writer Ed Ritchie specializes in energy, transportation, and communication technologies.