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Smart Energy International spoke with David Eves, keynote speaker at this year’s Grid Evolution summit and VP - Utilities Group for Xcel Energy.

Xcel Energy serves customers in eight states, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, Colorado, Texas and New Mexico. Through four utility operating companies.

The company serves a very diverse geographic and socio-economic spectrum of customers.

This article was originally published in Smart Energy International 2-2019. Read the full digimag here or subscribe to receive a print copy here.

Eves, who is the executive vice president of the utilities group, oversees regulatory functions, state and local affairs and customer relationships for the utility companies across all service territories through the respective president for each utility. He is also responsible for resource planning across the entire corporation and has responsibility for federal affairs, which includes engagement with entities in Washington DC and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

In December 2018, the company announced its vision to serve its customers with 100% carbon free energy by 2050. The company has already reduced carbon emissions 38% from 2005 levels on its way to its interim goal to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2030.

What does the move to 100% carbon free entail?

For the last five years we have worked very hard to lead the clean energy transition in our country with the addition of renewable energy generation onto our grid and the retirement of existing fossil coal units.

We are now taking that journey one step further with the addition of storage onto our grid to complement the wind and solar generation continue to add. We aim to achieve dramatic reductions of carbon.

We believe that the foundation for that is to do it in a manner that ensures the reliability and affordability of service for our customers. We have three strategic priorities – to lead the clean energy transition, to enhance our customer experience and to keep our services as reliable and affordable as we can.

This goal has led us to the conclusion that we can continue to add renewables to our system, transition away from coal - and keep our customer’s bills affordable. To do so we have done a lot of work with industry stakeholders, policy makers, legislators, our regulators, and importantly our customers and the communities that we serve.

We strive to set an example for the entire sector to transition over time in a way that’s affordable and ensures reliability.

What are the first steps in this journey?

We are adding second generation storage in the form of batteries to accommodate the additional solar generation that we will be bringing online, and enhance the flexibility of the grid.

At the distribution system level, we have a number of demonstration and development projects where we are testing micro grids and battery storage. We have installed storage on the distribution system on our grid and behind the meter at our customer premises. That project is primarily designed for management of the voltage and power quality on the distribution grid which is currently being exposed to high penetrations of distributed energy.

How have your customers reacted to the initiative?

The customers who are taking part in the pilots have shown enthusiasm for the initiatives; we had a waiting list of customers who wanted to participate in the programme.

We’re in the first year of operation and will be fully exploring their reaction to the programme in more detail, but the primary purpose of the programme at the moment is to evaluate the economics and the effectiveness of the facilities and the impact it has on distribution circuits and additional penetration of renewables.

What does the Xcel Energy modernisation journey look like?

The amount of wind energy that we have on our systems means that we have been paying particular attention to the concept of forecasting and monitoring the production characteristics of the thousands of wind turbines on our system. We have also partnered with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and ultimately have developed a forecasting tool that they have now provided to other utilities as well.

We plan on continuing to work to develop a similar capabilities for solar.

The penetration of solar on our system increases, it is going to have a higher impact on our system at the distribution level. We are therefore undertaking the installation and deployment of advanced distribution management systems along with the installation of AMI on the network – which will give us significant additional insights into the control capability for the delivery system serving our customers.

We want to incorporate more sophisticated analysis, and tracking and monitoring of the distributed energy resources and community solar resources, and storage facilities that are either on customer premises or located on our distribution facilities.

How are electric vehicles impacting your grid?

We have seen a significant increase in the number of electric vehicles and charging requirements across the various utility businesses.

In Colorado we are one of the leading states supporting electric vehicles – we have tax incentives and credit facilities and policies in place that have incentivised the advancement of electric vehicles. Recent legislation means we will also be able to increase the extent of our participation in supporting the public with charging and ensuring the infrastructure is ready – to further facilitate the electrification of the transportation sector.

In Minnesota we’ll be investing more than $25 million to increase access to electric transportation with a plan focused on three main areas: home charging, public charging and fleet operations. We’re working to develop EV offerings that will keep bills low for everyone and benefit our energy grid.

What is the one message that you would like the attendees at Grid Evolution and the readers of Smart Energy International to take away with them?

I’d like to emphasise that the vast majority of our Carbon Reduction achievements come from, and will continue to come from, the transition of our energy supply resources at a utility scale level. In order to achieve the carbon reductions, maintain reliability or improve it – and do so affordably at a very low cost to our customers – is a significant priority. We will continue to capture the benefits of these economies of scale to make this transition happen.

That said, there’s an important role for the advancement of technology in the distribution system to improve the customer experience, to allow for the increased distributed energy resources – including community energy resources – and to facilitate partnerships with our customers and communities.

There are a lot of folks who probably think about the conversion of the grid primarily in terms of decisions regarding resources and the advancement of the grid itself. We think that that’s a part of the picture, but the big part of the picture is the retirement of core units, the operations of the remaining units and the addition of more renewables and storage at the transmission level to capture those economic benefits and to keep costs low. SEI