Distributech 2020

On the day before DISTRIBUTECH International’s official kick-off, utilities across the United States were recognised at the pre-event day for their best practices in consumer engagement.

In an initiative by the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC), these utilities were recognised for successful programmes, products and strategies in six categories.

This article was originally published in Smart Energy International Issue 2-2020. Read the full digimag here or subscribe to receive a print copy here.

The winners of the 2020 Best Practices Awards are:

• ComEd – Product Innovation Award – for the Bronzeville Community Microgrid that’s providing increased sustainability and resilience to the Bronzeville community and the broader service territory.

• CPS Energy – Culture Transformation Award – for the People First philosophy that has reinforced the utility’s focus on its customers, community and employees.

• National Grid – Consumer Engagement Award – for its first-of-its-kind online solar marketplace that’s helping consumers learn about and confidently purchase solar and storage.

• Austin Energy – Underserved Markets Award – for its energy efficiency programs that are helping multifamily renters and lower-income consumers save on their energy bills.

• Puget Sound Energy – Consumer Education Award – for its Up & Go Electric campaign that’s effectively educating consumers about the benefits of driving an electric vehicle.

• Pepco/Delmarva Power – SMB Engagement Award – for the Small Business Energy Savings Programme that is helping small business owners save on their energy bills.

Patty Durand, President and CEO of the SECC, said: “Electricity providers have made progress in becoming more customer-centric, but there’s more work to be done to meet the needs of today’s consumers. These winners showcase exemplary consumer-focused innovation, and we hope that they will pave the way for other stakeholders to follow.”

Host utility CPS Energy opened up its combo facility to a tech tour of DISTRIBUTECH International attendees. The solar-storage site is located well away from downtown at a secluded site near a substation and a testing facility for the Southwest Research Institute.

CPS and SWRI are working together to learn the limits of battery technology.

“We don’t know what the next solution will be,” said James Boston, project director for CPS’ new 5MW solar, 10MWh energy storage combination, which became operational in

  1. “We have to look at all the avenues.”

“Although renewables solve one problem, when it comes to carbon, it also creates another challenge,” he said.

Says Rod Walton, Content Director, Clarion Energy: “The reality is that the sun generates its greatest photovoltaic potential in the late morning and early afternoon when customer demand is the lowest. But it is not operating at peak when people are home and using devices and appliances at their highest levels.

“While the solar plus storage system works to smooth out that imbalance, for CPS Energy making the financial case for the $16 million project also necessitates exploring other potential revenue resources. Thus, the testing of the project seeks opportunities in solar shifting, price shifting and fast frequency response.”

DISTRIBUTECH International’s first full conference and exhibition day welcomed delegates to the event with a keynote session headlined by Paula Gold-Williams, President
and CEO of CPS Energy.

Gold-Williams shared how CPS Energy is planning for a more flexible path to reduce its carbon footprint and the role that distributed energy resources (DERs) at scale will play in that strategy. CPS is committed to reducing its carbon footprint, having already closed two coal-fired power plants in 2018 and now considering the future of some single-cycle, natural-gas-fired
power plants.

Gold-Williams spoke of the utility’s reliance on large-scale generation and grid reliability and resilience – a challenge that she believes is going to grow – especially as the level of renewable energy on the grid increases. Gold-Williams reminded the audience: “We have to focus first on reliability,” continuing: “Solar’s great – you just have to wrap
something around it to make it effective.”

To this end, CPS Energy has formulated Flexible Path – a plan to increase the share of renewables to 50% and be 80% carbon neutral by 2040. The plan is to reach NetZero status by 2050. Besides the addition of renewable energy resources to the grid, 16% of the energy needed will theoretically come from “flexible generation,” which is a catch-all for technologies which might not be economically viable at the moment.

The Flexible Path plan will see CPS get half of its energy from wind and solar by 2040. Thirteen percent would be generated by natural gas, 9% by nuclear and 7% from coal, while battery storage would account for 5%. CPS Energy is testing integrated solar storage-grid control systems to help balance intermittent renewables with flexible loads.

Futurist Sophie Hackford spoke about the ways that data and artificial intelligence can play a role in the energy future.

Meanwhile, Tom Deitrich, Itron CEO, shared some thoughts in his keynote speech on the importance of weather resilience. According to Deitrich, increasing extreme weather events such as hurricanes and wildfires will demand a strong utility response. At the same time, reliability will be challenged by the addition of unconventional loads or assets such as renewable energy and EVs.

He further predicted that there will be a need for “more agile systems for operational improvements and for consumer engagement.” This requirement will be met by an increase in smart meter computing power, communications hubs and distributed endpoints, according to Deitrich. SEI

For more information about DISTRIBUTECH International and the 2021 event, visit www.distributech.com