Wednesday, 15 February 2012

As modernization of the nation’s electric grid moves forward, consumers and businesses are experiencing fewer outages, faster power restoration when outages do occur, more efficient operations, and cost savings. Here are some of the latest examples of how Smart Grid Investment Grants from the Energy Department are helping the electric grid to better serve the American people.

Oklahoma Gas & Electric Company (OG&E) faces intense challenges from severe weather and an annual growth in electricity load of about 2 percent. Last month, it revealed preliminary results of its two-year demand response study showing a 48 percent reduction in electricity demand from customers with “smart” thermostats during peak periods. (Based on a notice received through the customer’s smart meter, the thermostat automatically reduces load by increasing the set temperature of the customer’s air conditioner so that it comes on less frequently during a peak period.) “These results clearly demonstrate that smart technology, coupled with dynamic pricing, enables customers to reduce their maximum peak energy use, which will help delay our need for building incremental generation until at least 2020,” said Ken Grant, managing director of customer solutions at OG&E. The company now plans to expand its Smart Hours program to an additional 40,000 residential and business customers. OG&E’s Smart Hours program helps consumers better manage their energy use by sending them advanced notice via phone, text or email about the next day’s peak price.
Idaho Power Company (IPC) is improving customer service, saving energy, and reducing operating costs with a comprehensive smart grid deployment that includes installing nearly 500,000 smart meters in customers’ homes and businesses across western and southern Idaho and eastern Oregon. Before the installation, IPC collected 6 million meter reads per year. IPC now collects 13 million meter reads per day. Besides now having more timely, accurate customer usage data, IPC has been able to eliminate 80 service vehicles and saved on fuel and maintenance costs because employees are no longer driving 1.6 million miles per year to read meters. IPC’s customers will see additional benefits as IPC also develops a modeling and forecasting tool for integrating renewables into the transmission system, and implements irrigation load control for agricultural customers.
In Tennessee, the Electric Power Board (EPB) of Chattanooga believes that it is on track to save local businesses and homeowners an estimated $40 million a year by reducing the duration of power outages. Studies from Berkeley Labs, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and others indicate that the impact of power outages on an area the size of Chattanooga can total more than $100 million per year. Chattanooga aims to cut that amount by 40 percent. Last September, following a storm that knocked out power to 59,000 homes and businesses, EPB determined that its smart grid technologies had prevented an additional 25,000 customers from either losing power completely (16,000 out of the 25,000 customers) or seeing any significant impact (9,000 customers experienced only a momentary interruption in power). Earlier in the year, EPB was able to restore power more quickly in the aftermath of the April 2011 storm that devastated the area. Companies new to the area have been citing the reliable electricity as a major factor in choosing Chattanooga as their destination for doing business. Smart grid technologies help reduce power outages by remotely detecting customer outages, isolating damaged sections of power lines and restoring power to customers more quickly. 
  Since June, the number of smart meters installed at homes and businesses has doubled to 10 million meters nationwide. The goal is to install an additional 5.5 million by 2015.
As the grid continues getting smarter, we must continue to ensure that it is protected against cyber attacks and develop resilient systems that can survive a cyber event with no loss of critical functions. For the SGIG program, all grant recipients were required to conduct a risk assessment and develop and implement cyber security plans to mitigate the risks. All 99 cyber security plans approved by the Energy Department addressed the Department’s requirements. 
 For years, the Energy Department has worked closely with private industry, federal partners, including the Department of Homeland Security, and other stakeholders on a number of cyber security fronts. The most recent example of this work – the cyber security maturity model initiative which will develop a tool that helps electric utilities assess their own cyber strengths and weaknesses and prioritize investments – is moving forward quickly. We will continue capitalizing on that momentum in the coming months.

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