Autovation, the smart utility conference run by Utilimetrics, took on new content this year with a track organized by the Geospatial Information Technology Association. The event took place from Sept. 25-28 at the Gaylort National Resort in Washington, D.C., drawing a strong crowd of electric and water utilities that are committed to the promise of intelligent infrastructure.
The opening plenary session featured a keynote by Bill Gausman, senior vice president at Pepco Holdings, who discussed his utilities move to intelligent grid sensors and automated meters to improve control, quality, reliability and security of their transmission lines. Gausman stressed the operational efficiencies of smart grid technologies with their delivery of up-to-date and fact-based data.
Gausman stressed a phased and measured approach to the roll-out of improvements, saying that it has taken 100 years to build the current infrastructure, and that it will take time to update it. The phased approach of Pepco has been carefully planned to maximize customer benefits and minimize confusion, because negative response to deployment can adversely impact the ability to recover costs. Customer control is the greenest and cheapest method to add capacity as opposed to adding more generation and transmission capacity.
Among the customer benefits that were outlined were the improved interaction between the customer and the utility, without the need for customers to call for outages, to access information on usage, or to understand cost associated with use. Among the indirect benefits are improved reliability, more strategic mobilization for outage events, reduced truck calls (which amounted to 600 fewer truck routings for Hurricane Irene alone), and more usable and understandable energy data. Pepco is taking several next-steps with their customer interface, including expanding access to energy information to smartphones and ipads as well as the ability to remotely control themostats, which will be a big benefit for their East Coast customer base with many that have summer homes.
Visualizing Evolving Demand
Paul Feldman, past chair of MISO, gave a detailed map-based overview of the day in the life of the electric grid in the midwest. The talk described the impact of real-time wholesale pricing where congestion on the grid caused higher prices, and projected a future that does away with the artificial prices that we all pay now, instead having us all pay the actual price for electricity, and allowing companies to bid and sell their energy into a wholesale system.
In the early morning hours the grid is largely quiet, but prices rise quickly as people wake up. As winds pick up due to an incoming weather front, power generation increases from various wind farms, driving the prices down. Wind variability can have a dramatic impact on energy cost across regions.
Prices increase dramatically over the course of a day, with real costs of electricity far exceeding the artificial pricing. Supply and demand curves vary east to west and north to south, dependent on weather and constraints on the distribution system. Feldman discussed a future scenario where a chain of retail stores might monitor the actual costs of energy and quickly respond by changing their demads, such as dimming their lights across all stores and reducing their heating and cooling demands. The real-time response to pricing would have a bottom-line impact on their energy costs, while also reducing their emissions.
Utilities as Civilization's Backbone
George Hawkins, general manager of DC Water, gave a rousing keynote this morning at the Autovation event taking place in the DC area this week. Hawkins asserts that utilities are at the forefront of saving human civilization. He said that we’re called utilities, which in sports implies that you’re able to play a number of different positions, but that we’re really a “fundamental ‘ility’.” His reasoning for this belief is that because water and electricity are essential to life. Without utilities there really are no jobs, because all employers and all homes need connectivity in order to be occupied.
Five points that are critical to a water utility (and translate to other utilities):
The community at this event all shared the belief that 3D and 3D modeling have a promising future to solve many real-world problems. The group is at the forefront of wrestling with data and workflow issues to speed the adoption, and the meeting proved an important venue for the open discussion of where are we now, where to we need to go, and what are some of the challenges that need to be overcome.
Among the emerging areas for greater GIS utility in Smart Grid applications are: