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Category Archives: ‘Grid Vulnerabilities’


Power restored to thousands in San Fernando Valley after DWP facility explosion

Los Angeles Fire Department firefighters battled a major fire at the DWP plaint in Reseda on Saturday, July 9, 2017. The huge circuit breaker unit exploded and burned for hours. LAFD used foam rigs to put out the fire. As of 10 P.M., more than 140,000 people were without power. (Photo by Gene Blevins, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Photos: 140,000 without power after DWP transformer explosion, fire

By Matthew Carey, Correspondent
POSTED: 07/09/17, 8:48 AM PDT |

Los Angeles Department of Water and Power crews work to clean up the aftermath Sunday morning of an explosion and fire at a Northridge utility station. Photo by Gene Blevins

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power said Sunday crews worked through the night to restore electricity to some 94,000 San Fernando Valley homes and businesses that remained powerless following an explosion and billowing fire at a Northridge utility station Saturday night.
In a 5:30 a.m. news release, DWP said many remained without electricity. But by 8:46 a.m., the utility tweeted that the power was back on after around-the-clock efforts.
“All the customers are restored; we feel great about it,” DWP spokesman Michael Ventre said by phone Sunday. “We’re sorry for the inconvenience for people who were out of power, but our guys worked extremely hard all night in difficult conditions to restore power as safely and as quickly as possible.”

Fire and DWP officials attributed the cause of the fire at DWP’s transmission site, known as Receiving Station J, to an accidental “mechanical malfunction,” but no further details were offered Sunday.
The station at Wilbur Avenue and Parthenia Street turns high voltage power into lower voltage power to distribute to customers.
“While efforts to make permanent repairs are the primary focus of all involved, a full investigation into the cause of the fire that occurred Saturday evening will also be conducted and reported publicly,” DWP said Sunday in a statement.

• Related Story: DWP crews work Sunday to restore power to 94,000 in Valley as another hot day looms
The event plunged much of the San Fernando Valley into darkness Saturday night, affecting street lights and traffic signals, causing businesses to close early and prompting residents to find ways to try to deal with the unusually oppressive heat.
With the power restored Sunday, fans were again blowing inside a workshop across the street from the DWP facility. Ernesto Córtez, 44, works there painting cabinets. He said he spent Saturday night inside the workshop where he often sleeps, but without power the temperature soared.

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Opinion: Electricity from natural gas still needed to cool California

By Tom Dalzell
June 26, 2017

Tom Dalzell is the business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245, which represents thousands of gas and electrical workers across California.

Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez, The Chronicle

According to the California Independent System Operator, the primary agency responsible for managing the grid, energy demand peaked at roughly 47,000 megawatts.

Last week was a scorcher across California. It didn’t matter where you were — Sacramento, Fresno, Palm Springs, San Francisco and Oakland all set new daily high temperature records. San Diego County even broke its all-time high temperature at 124 degrees.
The oppressive heat grounded airplanes, stoked wildfires, buckled some roads and even led to deaths — a reminder that our Mediterranean climate sometimes turns hostile. Climate change will only make this worse.

As you might expect, Californians’ demand for electricity increased dramatically as we relied on air conditioning to combat the heat. According to the California Independent System Operator, the primary agency responsible for managing the grid, energy demand was projected to peak at roughly 47,000 megawatts — the fourth highest in the past 20 years.
In the face of this tremendous demand, California’s electrical grid performed amazingly well. This is somewhat of a marvel, given the complexity of the grid and our dynamic demand for power.
The grid’s performance was also a reminder of the continued importance of natural gas in meeting California’s needs, even as the state transitions to more renewable sources.
For example, despite the growth of solar power, available solar energy on the grid peaked at roughly 10,000 megawatts last week — roughly 22 percent of the needed peak supply — while natural gas provided roughly 50 percent.
Solar power will likely be able to meet a greater percentage of demand as incentives boost its development, but even then there is an issue of matching supply and demand. For example, as the heat lasted well into the night, so did Californians’ demand for electricity. However, electricity generated from solar had dropped to 60 percent of its peak by 6 p.m. and was completely offline by 8:30 p.m. Solar was meeting only 7 percent of California’s demand at 7 p.m. and zero percent by 8:30 p.m. each day.
In the future, storage may play a role in saving solar and wind power for later use. However, power storage technology is still very expensive. We still need natural gas power and will for some time.

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Plan To Regionalize Western Power Grid Stalls Post-Trump

 Ben Bradford 
Wednesday, June 21, 2017 | Sacramento, CA | Permalink

cbcastro / Flickr

California energy regulators say the state could benefit from sharing more electricity with its neighbors during heat waves such as this week’s, but a proposal to do so has stalled after the election of President Trump.
While an enormous electric grid carries power throughout the western United States, it’s divided into 38 fiefdoms, where regional operators figure out their own power needs. That can leave solar energy unused in one state while another fires up reserve gas plants to meet demand.
The Brown administration last year looked to create a centralized authority that could plan power use across the west. Ralph Cavanagh, co-director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, is a major proponent of "regionalization."
“We will reduce costs for everybody. We will reduce pollution. We will improve system reliability, and these are all reasons to do this,” says Cavanagh.
Last August, Gov. Jerry Brown wrote to leadership in the Legislature that he would look to pass a proposal earlier this year.
“I have directed my staff, the Energy Commission, the Public Utilities Commission and the California Air Resources Board to continue working with the Legislature,” Brown wrote. “The goal is to develop a strong proposal that the Legislature can consider in January.”
That still hasn’t happened, although the governor has maintained he still supports regionalization.
Some environmental groups worry about partnering with coal-burning states, but a larger concern is that a major change in grid operation would create an opportunity for federal regulators appointed by President Trump to influence California’s renewable energy policies.

Ben Bradford
State Government Reporter
As the State Government Reporter, Ben covers California politics, policy and the interaction between the two. He previously reported on local and state politics, business, energy, and environment for WFAE in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Read Fu

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Utilities in hot water: Realizing the benefits of grid-integrated water heaters

Water heaters offer storage capabilities at a fraction of the cost of batteries. The challenge is getting everyone a piece of the returns.
Herman K. Trabish
June 20, 2017
Utilities have always tried to stay out of hot water with their customers. But now, they're itching to get into it. 
A wave of interest is building in grid-integrated water heating (GIWH) as a path to system flexibility at a fraction of the cost of battery energy storage. At last count, 53.6 million of the 118.2 million U.S. water heaters were electric. Each could act as a battery for load shifting, peak shaving, or to integrate renewables, according to a Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP) paper.
Hot water is used largely by residential utility customers in morning and evening hours, wrote RAP Sr. Advisor Jim Lazar. But it can be heated “when power is most available.”

The stored hot water could then be used during the morning and evening without increasing system burden, Lazar wrote. And, to optimize the use of variable renewables, it could be heated at night to take advantage of high wind production and at midday to take advantage of abundant solar production.
Effective utility control of residential water heating could integrate “up to 100,000 MW of additional variable wind and solar energy in the U.S.,” Lazar wrote.
Transforming the U.S. electric water heater fleet to 100% GIWH represents a $3.6 billion per year market, according to think tank Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI). And “utilities, GIWH manufacturers, installers, solar companies, aggregators, and customers themselves can all capture a piece of this prize.”
Utilities across the country are catching on. There are GIWH pilots at Portland General Electric (PGE), Arizona Public Service (APS), and Green Mountain Power (GMP) in Vermont. PJM has introduced GIWH for frequency regulation and the California Energy Commission is discussing GIWH, according to Brattle Principal Ryan Hledik, co-author of a recent paper describing the GIWH opportunity
In the next 12 months to 18 months, Hledik said, it is likely there will be a utility-led “new wave of grid interactive water heating pilot programs.” The challenge, however, remains in spreading the benefits to all parties involved.

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BMW and PG&E Prove Electric Vehicles Can Be a Valuable Grid Resource

Nearly 100 plug-in cars and a stack of second-life EV batteries successfully responded to dozens of demand response calls.
by Julia Pyper
June 20, 2017

The concept of using electric vehicles as a grid resource is no longer just theory. A pilot program recently conducted by BMW and Pacific Gas & Electric successfully demonstrated that electric vehicles can serve as reliable and flexible grid assets, which could eventually save money for both utilities and EV owners.
The BMW i ChargeForward Project is one of the best examples to date of a utility and an automaker working together to develop new technologies and use cases for electric vehicles (EVs) and their batteries.
“One of the things that we really wanted to test here was, how can we work closely with an automaker?” said David Almeida, electric vehicle program manager at PG&E. “We are an old company, and we're a large company. Automakers are old companies, and they're large companies. We both have our own internal bureaucracies. And so, one of the challenges I wanted to understand when we were setting this up was, how do we make those two independent entities work well together?”
“By and large, we didn't have any of those institutional challenges that I was [worried about],” he said. “We ended up working very closely, I think partially because we've got this common shared goal of increasing electric transportation.”

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Extreme Heat Strains Power Grid, Puts Cal Fire On Alert For Wildfires

 Randol White 
Monday, June 19, 2017 | Sacramento, CA | Permalink


senoranderson / Flickr

This week's streak of extremely hot weather is putting a major strain on the western power grid...and it could get worse.

The National Weather Service in Sacramento says this week's heat could tie a June record set in 1981 that had nine consecutive days of triple-digit temps.

The longest summertime stretch of this sort was set in 2006, when 100-plus degree heat stretched out for eleven days in mid-to-late July.

Managers with Pacific Gas and Electric say they expect to break a power usage record set that same year.

PG&E's Lynsey Paulo says this week the load could hit nearly 23,000 megawatts.

"We expect to exceed our peak load - that's a record for us - on Thursday," Paulo says. "And so in preparation for that; we're staffing up, we're suspending work on some of our system, and we're going make sure that our system is at full capacity for Thursday."

In addition to heat-related power issues, CAL FIRE is preparing for severe fire weather this week.

The agency says it's focused on the northern Central Valley where there's an abundance of tall, dry grass from the wet winter.

Randol White
All Things Considered Anchor/Reporter
Randol White is an award-winning, accomplished, and well-rounded broadcast journalist with more than two decades of radio, television, web and print experience.  Read Full Bio 

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Big power outages accompany record-breaking Bay Area heat

By ROBERT SALONGA | | Bay Area News Group
PUBLISHED: June 18, 2017 at 8:12 pm | UPDATED: June 19, 2017 at 7:37 am

Amid record-breaking heat in all corners of the Bay Area, residents are not only struggling to stay cool, but to keep the lights on.

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As of 10:30 p.m. Sunday, upward of 19,500 PG&E customers throughout the region were without power due to up to 10 large outages, with a scattering of small outages accompanying them, including 8,098 in the East Bay, 8,214 in the South Bay and 38 in the Peninsula and San Francisco.

The number was gradually decreasing from earlier in the day. No official cause of the outages has been released, but there are multiple anecdotal accounts from throughout the region from police and fire agencies reporting blown transformers and other issues attributed to the heat.
PG&E spokeswoman Jacquelyn Ratto cited demand as a key driver. “When there’s increased demand for power for air conditioning, for example, during hot weather, it can overload electric lines, transformers and other equipment resulting in outages,” Ratto said.
“A lot of times we see more impact in afternoon, because that’s when systems are getting overloaded, a lot of equipment failing which is cause of a majority of these outages.”
An exact number of customers who lost power was not available late Sunday, but Ratto credited crews’ steady work with the restoral of 22,500 customers’ service between 7:30 and 10:30 p.m..

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Building the ‘Solar Protection Factor’ Into an Increasingly Green-Powered Grid


A new ScottMadden report describes the challenges of balancing renewables and natural gas with retiring baseload power plants.

by Jeff St. John

June 12, 2017

Utilities need to prepare for the rise of wind and solar power and the retirements of baseload power plants, and that includes building “solar protection factors” into their long-term planning.

That’s one of the recommendations from consultancy ScottMadden in its latest energy industry update. The report, which covers subjects ranging from Trump administration energy policies, to blockchain, to smart cities, also gets into detail on today's key grid paradigm shift -- the increasingly frequent retirements of coal and nuclear power plants and their replacement by natural gas and renewables.

In the past decade, for the first time ever, baseload retirements outpaced baseload additions, with 23 gigawatts of net retirements since 2010, the report found. Of the 84.2 gigawatts of retirements, 61 percent were coal and 29 percent gas steam turbine plants, while the 61.1 gigawatts of additions have been 74 percent combined-cycle natural gas and 24 percent coal steam turbines.

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Utility Execs See Distributed Energy as the Biggest Stress on Grid Reliability, Revenues


Accenture report adds to the wealth of data on utility fears of DERs as grid and business model disruptors.

by Jeff St. John

June 06, 2017

The rise of distributed energy resources remains a worry for utility executives -- not just in how it erodes their revenues, but in how it affects their distribution grids.

This week, Accenture released a new report that asked more than 100 utility executives in 20 countries for their thoughts on the effects of distributed energy, and what steps they're taking to address the rapid-fire changes being wrought on the grid edge.

Just under three in five -- 59 percent -- said they’re expecting “small-scale/prosumer distributed generation to place greater stress on network hosting capacity” than any other part of their networks, through the rest of the decade.


These trends will only accelerate over the next decade. Accenture estimates the costs of additional network reinforcement and automation required to manage distributed resources at $20 billion in the United States and €58 billion in Europe through 2030.

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Nevada Just Became the Most Exciting State for Energy Storage Policy


Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk / Flickr

Under new legislation, storage dispatched at peak times will count double for the RPS.

by Julian Spector

June 07, 2017


Nevada jumped to the vanguard of energy storage policy after passing a revision to its state renewable energy targets.

In the past week, state legislators deputized the Public Utilities Commission to investigate whether it is in the public interest to require an energy storage procurement by utilities. The PUC has until October 1, 2018 to make that decision, based on a wide variety of criteria. That makes it the fourth state to set in motion a storage target, a policy that contributed significantly to the growth of the technology in California.

Nevada tucked even more goodies into a bill updating the state renewable portfolio standard. If Governor Brian Sandoval signs AB 206, it will raise the state's RPS from 25 percent renewable by 2025 to 40 percent by 2030. And storage will play a role that no state has thus far attempted.

Each kilowatt-hour of energy delivered by a qualified energy storage device will count double for the purposes of meeting the RPS requirement. There are two ways for a storage system to qualify: if it charges from renewable generation and discharges during a peak load period, or if it performs ancillary grid services that help integrate renewable generation.

"I am astounded at the amount of progress that Nevada legislators have made in such a short amount of time to catapult their state into the leadership of storage policy in the United States," said Jason Burwen, policy and advocacy director at the Energy Storage Association industry group.

The new policies leapfrog Nevada into the ranks of important storage markets like Arizona, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York and Washington, behind the national leader, California, said Ravi Manghani, energy storage director at GTM Research.

Several of those states have passed storage targets, but the RPS bill takes storage policy in a whole new direction.

It casts storage devices as renewable energy assets that can deliver energy, along with solar, wind, and geothermal.

It also incentivizes storage specifically for peak capacity, so that systems will be inclined to discharge their energy at the time of greatest grid need. Alternatively, it rewards systems that provide valuable grid services like frequency regulation and voltage control, which keep the grid running smoothly as renewable penetration increases.

A typical mandate sets a gigawatt threshold for utilities to meet. That drives deployment on the metric of power capacity. Nevada's policy uses more sophisticated metrics, which could lead to outcomes more carefully tailored to the state's goals.

In a zero-sum view of the world, any RPS credits that go to storage are coming at the expense of renewable generators that could have had them. The bill offers storage a slice of the pie, but it also expands the pie so that everybody who qualifies gains in market size.

The bill also caps the role of energy storage at 10 percent of the electricity covered by the RPS, ensuring the vast majority of compliance will still take the form of generation.

What kind of market could this create for storage?

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The Biggest, Strangest ‘Batteries’


What if you need a battery? A really big one — big enough to run a city?



It’s a question that inventors have been tackling for decades. No one wants the fridge, or the hospital, going on the blink when demand surges or the power plant needs repairs.

It turns out to be a surprisingly tricky question to answer. Today, with the rise of green energy sources like solar and wind, the need for industrial-scale energy storage is becoming ever more vital to make sure there’s power even after the sun sets or the breeze dies down.

It’s usually (but not always) still too impractical to string together enough traditional batteries — those powered by chemical reactions, like the ones in smoke alarms and Teslas — to do the job. Instead, with remarkable ingenuity, technicians have relied on a host of physical forces and states such as temperature, friction, gravity and inertia to keep energy locked up for later release.

That’s why in Wales a power company engineered a special lake on a mountaintop. And in Germany a utility pumps underground caverns full of compressed air. Here’s how those and other systems — all in use today — work.

Compressed Air in a Cavern

Back in the 1970s, a German utility wanted to build a flexible storage plant that could respond to sudden peaks in electricity demand, since its conventional plants — mainly coal — weren’t designed to dial up or down quickly.

It didn’t have the hilly terrain needed for a hydroelectric plant, which can start operating much more quickly when demand surges. But here’s what it did have: ancient, underground salt deposits.

Borrowing a technique commonly used to store natural gas and oil deep underground, it piped water into the salt beds to dissolve the salt and create two caverns roughly a half-mile below the grassy fields in Huntorf. The plant, which opened in 1978, uses electricity from the grid, when it’s cheap because demand is low, to compress and store air in the salt caves.

Then, when electricity demand surges, a motor pushes the air to the surface and into a combustion system, where it burns natural gas that spins a turbine to produce electricity. Compressing the air allows it to deliver more oxygen to the turbines, making them more efficient.

A similar plant opened in 1991 in McIntosh, Ala. Several energy companies, mainly in the United States and Europe, are exploring mining their salt deposits for storage as well.

Molten Salt to Stockpile the Sun’s Rays

Out in the desert of Tonopah, Nev., about 200 miles northwest of Las Vegas, an enormous spiral of mirrors surrounds a concrete tower roughly 55 stories tall. Topped with a 100-foot heat exchanger formed of tubes, it’s not a relic of some mystical pagan rite, but the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Facility.

It is the world’s first utility-scale concentrating solar power plant that uses extremely hot salt to extend the use of solar energy way past sundown.

Rather than using solar panels to produce electricity, the plant has more than 10,300 billboard-size mirrors that focus the sun’s heat on the heat exchanger, melting the salt into millions of gallons of 1,050-degree liquid that is stored until electricity is needed. The salt, which can stay liquid at higher temperatures than some other fluids like water, then flows through a steam-generating system that drives a turbine, producing enough electricity for 75,000 homes for as long as 10 hours past sundown — in essence, allowing the sun to shine at night.

Spinning Wheels That Power a Crane

On Kodiak Island in Alaska, the local electric cooperative got an unusual request from the shipping company that operates the port: Could it install an electric crane?

The company wanted to replace its aging diesel-powered crane with a new, and faster, electric one. It would be able to service larger ships and higher container stacks, making the shipping operations more efficient.

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After Initial Jolt Over Qatar Tensions, Energy Markets Settle




A gas plant in Ras Laffan, Qatar.


Andrew Testa for The New York Times

LONDON — As Saudi Arabia and four other Arab states cut diplomatic ties with Qatar on Monday, the threat to the oil markets will depend on whether tensions translate into disruptions.

The flare-up in the Middle East adds to the instability in the world’s most important energy-exporting region. Saudi Arabia is the biggest exporter of crude oil, while Qatar is home to substantial natural gas resources.

But a diplomatic dispute will not necessarily cut into supplies, provided tensions in the region do not escalate. Amid a global glut, other countries could easily step in to fill the void.

Investors seem to be calculating that. While oil prices initially spiked 1.6 percent on Monday, the markets quickly fell back to just above $50 a barrel.

“In the Middle East, there is politics and then there is business,” said Chase Untermeyer, who served as the American ambassador to Qatar in the George W. Bush administration. “And business tends to keep on going regardless of political scrapes.”

At present, the markets are digesting an oversupply of crude oil, which has kept prices low for more than two years. Saudi Arabia and other major oil-exporting nations are trying to keep supplies in check, but American shale companies continue to ramp up production.

Qatar, a member of OPEC, helped broker last year’s agreement by the cartel and by other producers, like Russia, to trim output in an effort to soak up supplies. The parties agreed last month to extend the cuts for nine months.

A small country with only 2.2 million residents — many of whom are not citizens — Qatar occupies a strategic position, jutting into the Persian Gulf from the Arabian Peninsula. Qatar has a border with Saudi Arabia and shares the world’s largest natural gas field with Iran.

Qatar is a relatively small oil producer with output of about 620,000 barrels a day in April, less than 1 percent of world supply. But the country is a world power in natural gas.

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A Deep Look at Sacramento’s Groundbreaking Use of Distributed Energy and Customer Data


This utility is integrating smart meter data and customer insights for a holistic approach to DERs and grid planning.

by Jeff St. John

June 01, 2017


Utilities traditionally haven’t had to consider the vagaries of consumer behavior as a big part of their grid investment and power procurement plans.

But with the rise of customer-owned solar PV, plug-in electric vehicles, demand response, behind-the-meter batteries and other distributed energy resources (DERs), leaving the customer out of the equation is no longer an option -- at least, not for the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

In fact, the utility DER projects that its customers and third-party companies are financing total around $150 million to $200 million per year. That’s more than what SMUD spends on all the utility-scale solar and wind energy it's procuring to meet the state’s renewable portfolio standard, indicating how important a role they will play in the utility's carbon and green energy goals.

These DERs are largely outside utility control. But they have an increasingly important impact on how SMUD operates and invests in its grid and procures power for future years.

At the same time, there are also opportunities for utilities to explore new financial structures and business models.

This week, SMUD, the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) and engineering firm Black & Veatch released a report that could lay out a new model for utilities struggling to bring DER-equipped customers into their long-range plans. It’s based on more than a year of work integrating dozens of different sources of data about customers, and then using it to predict just how different neighborhoods will adopt DERs at different rates over the next decade or so.

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Black & Veatch has been working with SMUD on this new approach for two years now, and this approach has now been described as part of SEPA’s “Beyond the Meter” research into how utilities can plan proactively for a distributed energy future. The latest report, the fifth in the series, is the first time SEPA has been able to apply its new concepts to a real-world utility.

“In terms of how this compares to what other utilities have done, SMUD is, at least in our opinion and experience, on the cutting edge in terms of DER planning, and putting a lot of different pieces together,” said Dan Wilson, manager at Black & Veatch.

Utilities around the country are exploring DERs as grid assets. California’s investor-owned utilities have created DER capacity maps for their distribution grids, and are in the process of enumerating their localized values. New York is doing the same under the state’s Reforming the Energy Vision initiative. And big utilities in Hawaii, Arizona, Vermont and other states are doing pilot projects to see how solar, batteries, EVs and building energy controls can be aggregated for local and system-wide benefits.

But as Wilson noted: “What I think is interesting about SMUD, and what makes this study kind of unique, is combining these pieces together using the same set of data through the whole process." Those pieces include customer adoption forecasting, distribution grid impacts, bulk power system planning, and broader utility financial modeling.

SMUD has incorporated all three elements of SEPA’s protocol for dealing with DERs -- evaluating them as grid assets, integrating customer insights, and reconfiguring the utility’s standard operating practices to make use of these new sources of data. Unlike most traditional utility distribution grid planning, however, this process begins not with power flow models or engineering estimates, but with customer data.

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Trump’s Sale of WAPA & BPA Lines is a Lead Balloon

23 MAY 2017

The Trump Administration’s proposed 2018 federal budget, released May 23, puts a for sale sign on federally-owned power lines in the West.

However, selling the transmission assets of the Western Area Power Administration, the Bonneville Power Administration, and the Southwestern Power Administration will face major resistance from federal lawmakers from the West and Northwest.

Carl Zichella, NRDC director of western transmission, said the proposed sell off of public transmission will be dead on arrival. He noted strong opposition, including from WAPA’s preference customers, which include “small coops and utilities entitled to energy and water from its projects – whose payments over the years have funded much of WAPA’s infrastructure.”

The President also proposes gutting many consumer and climate-friendly programs, from weatherization for low-income residents to clean energy research and development.

“Whether it is attacking low-income energy assistance programs, blowing up innovation research at EPA or defunding clean coal programs, the Trump budget seems designed to outrage almost every constituency on Capitol Hill,” Zichella noted.

The transmission sell off is attributed to free market advocates at the Heritage Institute and Cato Institute, who claim it would reduce the federal deficit.

That assertion was refuted.

“Because BPA is a self-supporting business and makes annual payments to the federal government to pay down its debt, any revenue from the sale of its transmission assets would be a one-time fix,” said Fred Heutte, senior policy associate at the NW Energy Coalition.

The sale also would be bad for transmission efficiency.

“At a time when economic and environmental priorities point to the need for greater integration and efficiency in electricity generation and transmission, this proposal goes in the opposite direction by threatening to fragment the Northwest energy system and increase costs for customers,” warned Wendy Gerlitz, NW Energy Coalition policy director.

This is not the first time a sell off of western power lines has been proposed. It was floated during the Reagan Administration at the height of free market and deregulation mania. That proposed sale was defeated.

The budget proposal also would repeal WAPA’s $3.25 billion emergency borrowing authority.

WAPA referred budget questions to the Department of Energy.

Elizabeth McCarthy

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Mercedes-Benz Brings a New Model (of Battery) to U.S. Homes



Mercedes-Benz Energy and Vivint Solar have announced a partnership to bring energy storage units to the United States residential solar market.


Vivint Solar

Vivint Solar, a leading provider of residential rooftop systems, has tried many things over the years to gain an edge on the competition. Now it is hoping that offering customers a Mercedes-Benz for $5,000 to $13,000 will do the trick.

But the offer is not for a car from the German automaker. Instead, it is for a sleek battery the size of a mini-fridge that will allow homeowners to take better advantage of the energy their solar power systems produce, whether to cut costs or to maintain a steady source of electricity during power failures.

Mercedes has been selling the batteries in Europe and South Africa this year, but its partnership with Vivint, announced Thursday, represents its entrance into the United States market.

The combination, said Boris von Bormann, chief executive of Mercedes-Benz Energy Americas, will allow customers “to take the next step toward a sustainable energy future.”

To the companies, along with rivals like Tesla and other solar installers that have joined forces with battery providers, that future involves tracts of software-enabled homes with solar panels on their roofs feeding batteries that can charge electric vehicles and power lighting and appliances at times when drawing from the grid is costliest.

In some states, like California, where Mercedes and Vivint will first focus their efforts, the economic equation is beginning to make sense, investors and analysts say. But in many other states, potential customers may be driven more by emotion — like feeling environmentally responsible or self-sufficient — than by cost savings.

“Everybody’s adding an energy-storage offering one way or another,” said Shayle Kann, who leads GTM Research, which tracks the solar industry. “Solar plus energy storage at the residential level is almost definitely the future, but it isn’t yet the present.”


The Mercedes battery, about the size of a mini-fridge, will allow homeowners to take better advantage of the energy their solar power systems produce.


Vivint Solar

For solar companies, battery storage may provide a lift in a market whose dizzying pace of growth has suddenly slowed, especially for leading installers like SolarCity and Vivint, which both reduced their installation estimates amid corporate upheaval, and Sungevity, which went bankrupt.

At the same time, policy changes and proposals reducing incentives in Arizona, Indiana and other states have dimmed the prospects of rooftop solar. And in two leading markets — California and Hawaii — new rates, incentives and rules are pushing customers to obtain batteries along with the solar panels.

For the automakers, adding solar to the mix allows them to market themselves and their electric vehicles as even more environmentally friendly.

“The electric-car story is good — it’s better than internal combustion from an environmental point of view — but electric cars powered by solar: That’s kind of nirvana from an environmental perspective,” said Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book.

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