California utilities rank IT/OT needs


Introduction by Kathleen Davis

The integration of information technology and operations technology (IT/OT) has lit up the energy industry recently.  Part of the overall smart grid evolution, the communication of IT and OT may be the key to building a platform for a more intelligent distribution network.

In California, two utilities are hard at work building smarter grids of their own. 

San Diego Gas and Electric is a regulated public utility serving 3.4 million consumers via 1.4 million electric meters in San Diego and southern Orange counties. Pacific Gas and Electric Company, incorporated in California in 1905, is one of the largest utilities in the U.S. with 5.1 million electric customer accounts. Both have made significant strides in the smart grid.

PG&E has its own branded SmartMeter program which is heavily promoted to customers with a website of information and pricing plans, and SDG&E has received awards for their ambitious smart grid plan.

FierceEnergy knocked on both utilities' doors to formulate a short list of needs for the next step in smart grid development -- namely IT/OT integration incorporating -- and specifically how each company utilizes that technology choice.

Here are the top needs -- from the tried-and-true to the unexpected:

Smart Meters

Both utilities put smart meters at the top of the list, whether generic or branded -- as with PG&E's SmartMeter.

Smart meter technology gives customers an easy way to access their energy data, enhancing their ability to analyze their energy use and make smarter, more informed choices.

"SDG&E customer offerings that are enabled by smart meter technology include our online energy management tool and the Green Button, which give customers access to their data anytime and anywhere," said Ted Reguly, director of customer programs & assistance for SDG&E. "Also, smart meters made possible the new 'Reduce Your Use' rewards for customers that use less electricity on specific days."

Outside of the customer energy use and management benefits provided by the technology, PG&E's SmartMeters form the foundation for many Smart Utility projects.

The widespread deployment of SmartMeters enabled PG&E to implement its SmartMeter Outage Management Integration Project, which uses notifications to better detect areas affected by outages and "ping" individual meters to determine whether service has been restored for faster and more accurate service restoration.

Smart meter technology gives customers an easy way to access their energy data, enhancing their ability to analyze their energy use and make smarter, more informed choices. ______________________________

PG&E's SmartMeter Transformer Loading Management project gives PG&E the ability to leverage customer usage data from SmartMeters for equipment sizing and voltage analysis.

Phase I of the utility's Plug-In Electric Vehicle Demand Response pilot tested baseline functionalities of PEV charging hardware to evaluate potential residential smart charging capabilities utilizing the load management software over the SmartMeter communications network. In Phase II, PG&E will evaluate specific requirements for PEVs and how their unique attributes can be incorporated into both statewide grid and distribution level operations and planning.

Synchrophasors and Smart Sensors

Along with smart meters, smart sensors and synchrophasors are the hardware that form the smart grid. PG&E sees IT/OT big data coming not just from meters but from smart sensors and synchrophasors.

"Smart sensors enable real-time monitoring of power conditions across the electric transmission and distirbution system," said Marianne Dickerson, senior director of business technology - electric operations for PG&E. "Synchrophasor technology supports real-time, high-speed data collection to identify and analyze disturbances so we can act to avoid widespread outages."

PG&E is installing a new high-tech monitoring system using synchrophasor technology on its electric transmission system to provide early warning of potential problems. PG&E will provide the data in a secure interface to its transmission operators, neighboring utilities and the California ISO so corrective action can be taken before widespread outages occur. The synchrophasor technology will also lower transmission costs by allowing operators to increase utilization rates on high-voltage lines.

SDG&E has also been a leader among utilities and plans to roll out synchrophasors at all of its major transmission substations by 2013.

Data Management and Analytics

For SDG&E, data management and analytics are necessary building blocks to begin IT/OT communication efforts.

In fact, implementation has just begun on a data analytics and management project to enhance SDG&E's enterprise capabilities to leverage customer data assets into useful, actionable insights for executives, managers, power users and customer-facing personnel. The Customer Analytics System will provide the infrastructure to store and analyze the vast amounts of data generated by existing applications, as well as smart grid systems. New analytics tools will be deployed and specifically tailored to the smart grid business domains to uncover a greater understanding in the areas of demand forecasting, situational analysis, optimization, and customer usage analytics.

PG&E agrees that data management and analytics are essential to integrating IT and OT.

"These will be the foundation of evolving the utility industry to a more predictive-based business model," said Rick Harris, vice president and chief technology officer for PG&E. "The potential for consumer and business insight to be gained out of that data across the utility value chain is rapidly increasing as the utilities evolve into a smart grid. Technologies such as smart meters, grid and pipeline automation will materially change how both the utility and consumer interacts with the broader global energy market place."

Energy Storage

While not a direct IT/OT player, the interaction of more renewables on the system greatly impacts data exchange, explains SDG&E.

Distributed Energy Resource Management for the smart grid allows utilities singular control over multiple functions, including customer load, energy storage, distributed generation and renewables. ______________________________

"With the falling price of solar technologies, more solar-generated gigawatts are likely to come online in the near future," said Lee Krevat, director of smart Grid, SDG&E. "In order to both integrate renewable energy reliably and ensure supply when the sun is not shining, storage will play a large role in enabling utilities to go beyond the California Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) goal of 33 percent and eventually beyond 50 percent."

SDG&E has been researching projects to evaluate the impact of charging EVs on the state's grid, using a $1.2 million-plus grant from the California Energy Commission's Public Interest Energy Research program. The project demonstrates an approach to charging plug-in vehicles that integrates renewable generation, energy storage and smart charging to show that grid performance, reliability and power quality can be maintained even with substantial plug-in vehicle charging loads. More research underway by SDG&E will help determine the best energy storage locations for mitigating the impacts of groups of residential renewable generators such as wind and solar photovoltaics.

PG&E recently received $1 million from the CEC for the research and development of a compressed air energy storage (CAES) plant, which is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve reliability and lower electric power system costs. As part of the research, PG&E will verify the performance of advanced, CAES technology for providing support to the state's electric grid. Excess wind energy will be used to compress air into depleted natural gas reservoirs within PG&E's territory and used to generate electricity during periods of high demand.

Distributed Energy Resource Management

"With increased electric vehicle penetration, storage, home energy management systems, etc., it will become necessary to utilize a management system that optimizes the balance of the grid, leveraging these distributed utility- and customer-owned energy resources," said Krevat.

Distributed Energy Resource Management for the smart grid allows utilities singular control over multiple functions, including customer load, energy storage, distributed generation and renewables.

With Distributed Energy Resource Management, the condition of the grid can be forecast using such data as detailed weather analytics and historical load. With this information, responses can be orchestrated before an emergency.

To demonstrate, excess energy is stored when demand is low. When peak load is high, stored energy is discharged. Load reduction measures are taken and renewables are utilized. The end result is better forecasting and management of grid conditions, more precision and control, and overall optimized grid management.

Social Gaming and Behavioral Initiatives

This interesting wild card was put on the list by SDG&E -- where the focus is on making energy efficiency relevant, actionable and customized -- as not really technology but psychology.

"Customer behavioral programs that utilize social gaming technology make that [focus] possible with initiatives like the [2012] San Diego Energy Challenge, which uses a fun social online game platform developed by Simple Energy to encourage customers to save energy through friendly competition with their friends and neighbors," explained Reguly.

The Biggest Energy Saver campaign was a great example of the creative ways in which SDG&E facilitates a higher level of engagement with customers and demonstrates how technology can leverage smart meter data and provide real benefits.

Participants in the 2011 Biggest Energy Saver contest more than doubled their energy savings in a three-month period. The ultimate "Biggest Energy Saver" achieved savings of 46.5 percent.

Capitalizing its success, SDG&E went on to use social game mechanics to enhance its Peak Time Rebate program, allowing customers to earn points, prizes, and rewards for signing up, saving energy, and responding to peak events during Reduce Your Use days.