Grid Modernization: Bringing Maine into its Future

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Laney Brown, VP of Grid Modernization Strategy from Modern Grid Partners photo by Kay MannThe sixth annual Efficiency Maine Symposium had a very long name this year: “modernization of the electricity grid and opportunities for distributed energy resources”. On January 27, 2017, a group of experts was asked to speak to the question, “how does the internet of things relate to grid-tied equipment and how can it help create greater efficiencies and energy savings?”. Green Energy Maine was there and brings you this report.

Ken Fletcher, the chairman of Efficiency Maine’s board of directors, introduced the keynote speaker, Laney Brown, VP of Grid Modernization Strategy from Modern Grid Partners, to open the discussion.

Brown started right off talking about distributed energy resources (DER), which includes efficiency as well as renewables. DER can offer low cost options as the grid is aging and older generation plants are being retired. ISO-New England has already been able to defer a number of costly transmission infrastructure expansion/upgrade projects by integrating non-transmission alternatives including DER, bundled with other technologies such as demand response.

A big question out there is, “how can DER be valued or evaluated?” There is no clear answer yet and it has generated rich discussion. There are pilots where great value has been demonstrated, some in terms of avoided costs. Reliability is critical, so DER must deliver both at the right time and location. The longevity of DER systems is also important.

Brown cited a project she was involved in, called “Reforming the Energy Vision” of New York as a case history.

New York had significantly aging infrastructure and Hurricane Sandy was a wake-up call that made them realize it was time to do things differently. In order to leverage distributed energy resources, regulators understood that changing regulations had to be part of the upgrade process. This meant that they had to minimize regulatory barriers to DER penetration while supporting an evolving market to ensure safe, reliable, cost-effective service. Tricky.

Brown shared a list of some of the mechanisms they used:

Plans developed by utility companies to lay out a 5-year vision, increasing DER.
Evaluation of different interconnection portals
System heat maps to see where best interconnection places and existing DER are.
Incentives based on a benefit-cost analysis to determine value of DER
Incentive mechanisms to support carbon reduction
Updated interconnection standards and processes
Distribution system platform supports
Increased interconnection points to include 5 MW plants on the distribution system
Grid modernization tools such as monitoring controls, smart meters and sensors.

As a specific example, Brown mentioned the Brooklyn/Queens Demand Management Project. This is expected to produce a 52 MW of load reduction from $200 million in DER investment by 2018, using a combination of demand response, energy efficiency, storage and distributed generation.

Brown mentioned what we here in Maine have called “non-transmission alternatives”, by their New York name: “non-wires alternatives”. By whatever name, these must be fed into the distribution planning process. New York’s utilities are on a steep learning curve with regard to these; 13 projects are proposed and RFPs are currently out.

Flexible interconnect capacity demonstration requests have also increased, for facilities that produce less than 2MW on rural circuits. These distributed generation facilities can be brought online quickly at peak demand times.

Brown summarized by defining their challenges and opportunities. This transition is in its infancy and the models are immature. Planning models for the long term must yet be developed. Matching DER to changes in load demand to provide the same level of reliability as the traditional system. There is strong momentum to plan for DER integration nationwide. Establishing the value of DER resources will be crucial for comparison with traditional energy sources.

A couple of audience comments were of interest. One was the market-based example of standards development: NEST, which is leveraging customers’ WIFI and merging data to facilitate demand response. Another person commented that Maine would like to follow NY’s example, although we might do it differently. Maine gets a whole lot done below the radar. We are the state that has the highest penetration of smart meters in the nation. We are quiet and small and still in the forefront, possibly BECAUSE we are smaller.

Jamie Howland Director of the Climate and Energy Analysis Center at the Acadia Center photo by Kay MannACTIVE LOAD MANAGEMENT

Following the keynote, Efficiency Maine presented a forum of three panelists. The first to speak was Jamie Howland, Director of the Climate and Energy Analysis Center at the Acadia Center. He called his talk, “shaving load demand with smart home appliances”.

Efficiency programs have led to declining use and flattened peak demand. Solar power is increasing, Electric vehicles are becoming commonly used. Maine is the leading user of heat pumps in the country. We are harnessing the power of many small things. He introduced us to the term “active load management” (or ALM), which he defined as not demand response, not load shedding but changing the way devices are used.

Howland showed a series of graphs to illustrate the power used by different appliances over the course of an average day. Some functions, such as laundry, can be moved to lower demand times of day in order to reduce the needed capacity of the grid by flattening out peak demands. The five major appliance types shown were refrigerators, freezers, hot water heaters, dishwashers. and air conditioners.

Power usage for an average home peaks from 6-8:00 pm. The power generation profile for a solar home peaks around noon and pushes power out to the grid at the same time. With the use of ALM, solar homes can have their lowest power use at midday. One in 5 homes are suitable for solar but every home has the potential for active load management.

There are many products out there for ALM. Their costs need to be low for the economics to work from the consumer’s standpoint. All of the products can be incentivized by public efficiency programs such as Efficiency Maine. 

Society would in turn be compensated by favorable energy and capacity markets and the value of avoided generation infrastructure and/or fuel costs. Ideally, an aggregator would have to sell and track the load management products and measure the benefits of their use. This could be an efficiency program or a nonprofit third party.

ALM can play an important role in integrating renewables and optimizing the use of our grid infrastructure. Much more work is needed. The important thing is to AVOID LOST OPPORTUNITIES. We should no longer be incentivizing products that are not ALM capable when communicating or controllable versions are available at a reasonable cost. For example, some heat pump water heaters are connectable to (and controllable by) the smart grid and others are not. It is best to research their capabilities online before choosing a model. Many small load shifting activities, such as curtailing a water heater in the evening, can significantly reduce regional power load needs.

One audience member asked about demand response through time of use rates (lower rates at low usage times of day). Howland said they may not induce consumers to allow control of their appliances. Most of the studies do not show that they change behavior significantly.

Another commented that real-time pricing would be a carrot to motivate behavior changes. Howland said that it could be automated, with the cost being paid for by lower bills. In Britain, they published the hourly price in the newspaper, so people could choose when to run appliances.

Mei Shibata CEO of  of Essence Partners photo by Kay MannCHANGING BEHAVIOR

The second speaker appeared via teleconference due to an airline delay: Mei Shibata, CEO of Essence Partners. Shibata spoke about energy efficiency marketing strategies for the intelligent grid. Her company does research on customer insights in an evolving marketplace.

The customer energy experience is diversifying. It used to be more about service and safety. Now the market is broadening as the conversation is broadening. There is more confusion on the part of consumers; they feel empowered by greater choices and also confused since they lack accurate information in many cases

Marketing rules are evolving, too. Communications were one way (outward), 20 years ago. Ten years ago, it became 2-way and now it is more of a hub and spokes model, with multiple tiers. People are seeking to validate information through peer reviews, and community exchanges. The best way to meet customers is where they are, since time is short.

Shibata shared some insights she gained by taking the pulse of the market. Energy use tracking is most popular in the Northeast. In other regions, the mileage they get on their cars is of higher concern.

She studied cost perceptions of consumers, who don’t think they overspend on electricity, so much as on TV, cable, eating out and cell phones. So when they look for savings, it is on these areas where they think they have higher overspending habits. Another interesting fact she discovered was that consumers are willing to pay 24,300 times the actual cost of charging their phone in an airport. In the big picture context, words that consumers associated with their utility were ordinary, reliable, competent and up-to-date. DER increasingly is thought of as being innovative.

What it all means is that Influencing action requires a multi-sensory experience, the frame of reference must mirror customers’ view of the world and the value proposition needs to go beyond the functional.

Gabe Arnold Market Strategies Program Manager at the Design Lights Consortium photo by Kay MannLIGHTING CONTROLS

The third speaker was Gabe Arnold, Market Strategies Program Manager at the Design Lights Consortium. He spoke about the market potential of lighting controls.

Advanced lighting controls (ALC) are part of the internet of things; there is a lot of innovation going on in this field and many multi-national companies that never were in the field are jumping into it. They allow new data to be collected about lighting use and we are just beginning to imagine all the things that can be done with it.. Diverse devices are connected to the internet. ALC have not been widely adopted yet. Occupancy sensors have been adopted more than others, such as daylight harvesting. 

Some of the barriers to adoption include: contractors being unfamiliar with them or that they are too complex for some. There have been some poor past experiences, they are not standardized, have high costs and a weak value proposition. Products only a few years old that were not well-designed often end up being removed or disabled.

The newer ALC should cost less to install than conventional systems. We are at a transition point in the market now, thanks to three technology innovations:

1.integrated or embedded sensors in every light fixture, pre-installed by manufacturers and pre-configured for optimal function, fewer components under a single warranty with no control wiring between components. eliminates need to figure out where to place sensors. Total installed cost is becoming lower than single room sensors.

2. Wireless connectivity reduces or eliminates the need for control working and terminations while providing more flexibility in how devices are connected and configured. [However, there may be some distance limitations and interference with some other systems in some applications.]

3. App or software tools to configure lighting, so that we will be able to program lighting controls from a cell phone; multiple products are already available.

Future possibilities and trends include:

1. Integrated power voters in drivers, sensors and controllers.
2. New metering microchips are being embedded directly into lighting equipment.
3. Wireless smart sensors with a  built-in meter.
4. Wireless fixture controllers and LED drivers, all with built-in meters.

Image Credits: all photos by Kay Mann.