Image Credit: SDG&E loads trucks to help with Sandy restoration in the East.
About two weeks after Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the mid-Atlantic, one utility stepped up and announced the launch of a sophisticated outage management system years in the planning.
The utility? San Diego Gas & Electric.
San Diego is a city awash in mild, sunny weather, but that doesn’t mean SDG&E is sitting back lapping up the beautiful climate. Instead, the utility, which sits in arguably the most progressive state for the industry, has rolled out an OMS that integrates a geographic information system, or GIS with its Oracle distribution management system (DMS) and smart meters to track outages during storms and to better organize planned outages.
“The ability to identify the outages more quickly is exciting,” said Vic Romero, director of asset management and smart grid at SDG&E.
About four years ago, SDG&E starting thinking about bringing in multiple technologies, including the GIS and expanded mobility for field crews. Troubleshooters that were sent out after storms or problems had laptops in their trucks for years, but SDG&E now has mobile terminals for line crews as well. Various utilities are installing different aspects of smart grid, but there are only a handful that are integrating all of the elements – including OMS, DMS, GIS and smart meters—to reform the approach to outage management.
Two-way digital smart meters, which are being installed as part of California’s Energy Action Plan, allow SDG&E to know when power goes out at individual locations and integrate that information into their OMS. The system has only been in place for about two months, so there are no figures of savings as far as measured indices like SAIDI, said Romero, but there is some other glimpses into the benefits.
“Advanced metering infrastructure lets us know 14 minutes before the first customer call,” he said, “And there’s even more savings on top of that if it’s a breaker.” He noted that sometimes they have a crew on site before the first customer even calls.
The smart meters can also be used to manage and monitor power flow in a way with a granularity that was not possible before. That visibility allows for better planned outages, said Romero.
A few utilities during Sandy realized the advantages of their smart meters, including Baltimore Gas & Electric and PECO. Others are focusing on a 21st century OMS; Commonwealth Edison in Chicago is upgrading its system, for example, and EPB Chattanooga is already taking advantage of a cutting-edge system. SDG&E’s northern neighbor, Pacific Gas & Electric is also investing heavily in reducing outages.
The next step for SDG&E is not to sit back and wait for a wind storm, but to add in self-healing capabilities using fault location isolation and service restoration, which can significantly cut outages further.
For operators, the advantage is more information at their fingertips and real-time intelligence, using software by Obvient, which was bought by ABB’s Ventyx. With the integration of the OMS and DMS, “we’re able to get much more information to the status of the system.”
Despite being known for beautiful weather, SDG&E also boasts an impressive weather network with onsite meteorologists to better understand localized forecasts. Those forecasts can be used to know when to call for outside help before a storm even starts.
No matter what the project, for utilities like SDG&E, smart grid -- including upgraded outage management -- is simply an evolution. “We don’t stay still,” said Romero.
Rodrigo J Prudencio was named new CEO at Hara, a cloud-based energy and resource data management firm. Prudencio was most recently a partner at Nth Power, a Hara investor along with GE and KP. He replaces Dan Leff, Hara's CEO for less than two years and formerly COO of Enron Energy Services.
Enphase Energy (NASDAQ: ENPH) announced several new senior executive hires: Ciaran Fox is the new VP of quality and reliability. Martin Rogers is now VP of customer service and support. Rogers was previously at Schneider Electric and Power-One. Steve Lapointe, formerly with Cadence, has been named VP of human resources.
Robert Roche was named VP of Sales, Marketing and Communications at flexible thin film CIGS solar firm Ascent Solar.
Long Island Power Authority's COO, Michael Hervey, resigned over criticism for the utility's alleged slow response after the recent storm. 82 percent of LIPA customers lost power during Sandy.
Boralex, a Canadian renewable power producer with an installed capacity of more than 500 megawatts in Canada, the U.S., and France named Robert F. Hall as Chairman of its Board of Directors.
Harris Utilities SmartWorks named Chris Lewis as VP of business development, focused on smart grid products. Lewis was most recently director of market development with Cognera, a Harris Utilities firm.
Retroficiency announced Bill Richardson, former Secretary of the U.S. DOE as a member of its Advisory Board. The Boston-based startup's technology platform combines public and proprietary data to create building energy models -- ones it says can shed light on where energy is being wasted without entering the building.
Aurora Algae named Lee Covert as SVP of sales. Aurora develops methods for growing, harvesting, extracting and producing algae-derived products.
Ceramic Fuel Cells (AIM / ASX: CFU) named Bob Kennett as CEO, replacing Brendan Dow. The Australian firm builds SOFC-based small-scale on-site micro combined heat and power (CHP) and distributed generation units.
Fallbrook Technologies, an engine transmission technology innovator, named John K. Penver to CFO.
The Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP) is seeking an Executive Director.
GTM Research’s latest report, titled Innovations in Crystalline Silicon 2013: Opportunities, Challenges, Costs and Leaders in Nine Technology Areas, is out today, and it’s a refreshing distraction amidst the gloom that hangs over an industry that has been bleeding money for the last year and a half. Authored by Andrew Gabor, formerly of Evergreen Solar and 1366 Technologies, the report takes a close look at several emerging technology areas in crystalline silicon technology that could alter the well-established process flow and device architecture of the c-Si value chain. Each of these concepts aims to improve some combination of factors that are essential to lowering installed or delivered costs of energy, be it cell/module efficiency, energy yield, material utilization, or manufacturing throughput. Below, we present a selection of key insights about the technology areas covered in the report.
“Has a solid two- to three-year run ahead of it, but … will face severe challenges after that point. In the long term, we see the bigger challenge to multi [crystalline] market share to be from reductions in the cost of CZ-mono wafers and from cell architectures that are dependent on CZ-mono-quality material.”
Diamond Wire Sawing
“While the cost benefits of using diamond wire may be small right now, it is likely that it will be an important technology in the coming years as wafer thicknesses are driven lower, as wire quality improves, and wire costs come down, sawing processes and equipment improve, and kerf recycling takes hold. Although it may be tempting to simply implement diamond wire on existing slurry-based wire saws, the best performance will be achieved with saws customized specifically for the diamond wire and with special attention paid to the coolant and filtration systems.”
“Saving silicon is great, but if this comes at the expense of cell efficiency, the technology doesn’t stand a chance. Crystal Solar and Solexel appear the most promising long-term bets since they cut out most of the silicon value chain and have wafers that can support high efficiencies. Solexel in particular is far along in its wafer, cell, and module development, has proven high efficiencies, and even novel technology in several areas, but also has a frighteningly tall stack of challenges from wafers all the way to modules.
“In terms of efficiency gain potential, the etchback technique developed in Professor Giso Hahn’s group at the University of Konstanz and now being commercialized by Schmid in Germany is another clear winner. […] Schmid appears to now have the largest base of installed selective emitter capacity (> 1.5 gigawatts), although it is not clear what percentage of these systems are in regular use.”
“The value of reducing the tail of the efficiency distribution should be properly accounted for in the CoO benefit. This will be different for each manufacturer. Indeed, this could be the most important benefit since 'low'-efficiency cells are equivalent to yield loss these days.”
“The cost savings for implementing both thinner and segmented busbars are dramatic. [...T]his is the easiest and most obvious first step for silver reduction.”
“Conventional wisdom holds that copper front metallization will take significant market share from silver within a few years. In 2008, it was thought to be just a few years away. Likely, it will still be a few years away in 2014.”
Dielectric-Passivated Backside Cell Architectures
“[S]elf-restraint is exactly what is needed when considering rear dielectric passivation on p-type wafers. This technology is not yet mature, the process windows are narrow, several extra steps are needed, light-induced degradation (LID) is a problem with mono wafers, and the benefits are likely smaller than advertised. For this level of benefit, there may be better places to spend one’s money and engineering bandwidth."
“Conductive adhesives are promising materials for the future of both conventional stringing (as a solder replacement), as well as for the assembly of modules with back-contacted cells. Their costs are largely misunderstood by the industry and have significant potential to drop further and actually reduce dollar-per-watt manufacturing costs.”
Encapsulant Alternatives to EVA
“Polyolefin is the most promising material for improved module durability at a similar price point to EVA and which is readily compatible with glass/backsheet module construction.”
“DuPont ionomer is the material to watch for higher transmission and improved module durability at a price point that may be acceptable to the industry.”
“An industry that is selling a two-decade to three-decade lifetime product should not be trying to save a few dollars per module at the risk of high degradation rates down the road that could damage its long-term reputation. More sophisticated customers will start to demand ionomer and polyolefin encapsulants, and our educated guess is that their combined market share may exceed 30 percent by 2016.”
Frameless and Plastic-Framed Module Designs
“The one-size/shape-fits-all module design makes no sense in an age where nearly every market segment is large enough to warrant customization at reasonable economies of scale.”
“The lines between the module and the system are blurring, and we can expect to see even more balance-of-system component integration within the modules in near future. These exciting areas of product development can allow more opportunities for companies to offer differentiated products at non-commodity pricing.”
“We see the following approaches as having the largest potential for high-volume sales in the next few years: (i) The integrated plastic frame and mounting structure approach for flat rooftop applications taken by SunPower and Solon, and (ii) large utility-scale frameless modules such as those sold by Solaria and Advanced Solar Photonics.”
Innovations in Crystalline Silicon 2013: Opportunities, Challenges, Costs and Leaders in Nine Technology Areas was just released. For more information on the report, click here.
We don’t talk about hydropower much in the U.S. when we talk about renewable energy. Many states don’t even count it as renewable. But as a new International Energy Agency report highlights, around the world, hydropower is seen as a significant weapon in the battle against climate change.
Check it out: Since 2005, there’s been more new hydropower generation -- around 600 terawatt-hours -- than wind, bioenergy, solar and geothermal combined (which account for less than 550 terawatt-hours combined).
According to the IEA’s Technology Roadmap for Hydropower (PDF), global installed hydropower capacities have been growing in recent years at an average of 24.2 gigawatts per year. By the end of 2011, total capacity was at 1,067 gigawatts and the new capacity under construction will drive the figure up to 1,300 gigawatts by 2017.
The IEA is enthusiastic about this expansion -- in fact, it wants to see more, aiming for a doubling of hydroelectricity output by 2050, which if accomplished would prevent up to 3 billion tons of CO2 emissions annually.
What about the other environmental angle? In the U.S., the damming of the Columbia and Snake rivers has decimated native salmon runs, and the loss of the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park has caused similar problems. In China, the Three Gorges projects, while an aid in flood control and a big power producer, are widely considered to be an environmental disaster.
In the Technology Roadmap, the IEA argues that advances in hydropower technology and careful planning, design and implementation can make hydropower a truly sustainable form of energy. For instance, it cites new “fish-friendly” turbine designs like the Alden turbine, a project that has been backed by the U.S. Department of Energy.
The DOE, for its part, isn’t looking to use such technology on big, new dams, however. It says it wants to modernize hydropower infrastructure in the U.S., “increasing efficiency and reducing environmental impacts at existing facilities.”
In the early days of the Obama administration, $30.6 million in stimulus funding went to test innovative technologies that the department said could add power generation at just 4 cents per kilowatt-hour, a rate that is highly competitive for renewable energy. One of those backed projects was the Boulder Canyon Hydroelectric Facility in Colorado, where two older turbines were replaced by one new unit that can put out 30 percent more energy, according to the DOE.
The DOE is also excited about the possibilities for small hydro. Last November, it announced $17 million in grants for sixteen projects in eleven states, with $7.3 million of that going to ten small hydro projects. The goal, the department said, was “to research, develop and test low-head, small hydropower technologies that can be quickly and efficiently deployed at existing non-powered dams or constructed waterways.”
Another $6.8 million of the money was earmarked for two storage projects, where pumped storage hydropower is used to enable the integration of wind and solar energy, intermittent renewable sources that basically need to be used when they become available.
The challenge for pumped storage projects in the U.S. right now, however, is the price of natural gas, the IEA points out in its report. For pumped storage to be viable, there needs to be a big gap between the price of peak and off-peak power, and the shale gas boom has made gas-fired plants an economically attractive way to produce peak power at a relatively cheap cost. That leaves little incentive for investment in pumped storage.