New York outlines new ways to compensate distributed solar users as it looks beyond net metering

Author: Matthew Bandyk    Published:  12/11/19  Utility Dive

Dive Brief:

  • The New York Department of Public Service (DPS) on Monday released recommendations on new ways to compensate residential and small commercial distributed solar users as the state works to move past net metering, proposing a one-year extension for “mass market” net metering eligibility.
  • The New York DPS staff recommended in the white paper to continue net metering for new distributed energy customers starting in 2021, but also charge them somewhere between $0.69 and $1.09 per kW based on their solar array’s capacity.
  • The New York DPS staff did not endorse a proposal from a group of New York utilities, including Consolidated Edison, National Grid and Rochester Gas and Electric, to replace net metering with charges based on customer demand.

Dive Insight:

In order to give the distributed solar industry time to adjust to changes, the white paper recommends that the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) extend the deadline for “mass market” customers to be eligible for net metering from Jan. 1, 2020 to Jan. 1, 2021. The secretary of the PSC is likely to agree to extend that deadline, Solar Energy Industries Association Senior Director of State Affairs for the Northeast Dave Gahl told Utility Dive.

Previously, New York regulators said that after the end of this year they would start cutting back on the full retail rate that new rooftop solar users receive for exporting their excess energy to the grid under net metering.

The “mass market” definition includes residential customers as well as smaller commercial customers like small businesses. The New York PSC is separately dealing with compensation for larger distributed energy users, and earlier this year made changes to the Value of Distributed Energy Resources tariff.

“We are relieved to see the Department of Public Service Staff’s request to extend the deadline from 2020 to 2021 for moving small residential and commercial solar projects to a new compensation mechanism for their local, clean power,” Vote Solar Senior Director, Northeast Sean Garren said in an email to Utility Dive. “The Value of Distributed Energy Resources tariff is too complicated and dynamic at the moment to be suitable for family or small commercially owned projects, and there is no other solution beyond existing net metering that has been thoroughly investigated and publicly vetted.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D, and the state legislature have set an ambitious goal of 6 GW of distributed solar in New York by 2025, and the charge on solar arrays proposed by the white paper represents a “conservative” approach away from net metering while not placing a burden on solar installations that would make that goal harder to achieve, according to Gahl.

The white paper calls its proposed charge on solar arrays “relatively minor” compared to the cost that rooftop solar users shift onto customers who do not have solar installations.

The solar industry still has questions about the economic impact of the charge, however.

“How will the size of the charge affect the solar industry? Does it affect companies’ sizing of their projects?” Gahl said, adding that the potential effects will be evaluated over the coming months. The white paper estimates that the charge would have a 3.6% to 7.8% impact on the simple payback of a solar system.

The DPS had asked for suggestions from stakeholders on a new tariff for smaller distributed energy customers, and a group of major New York utilities proposed rate designs based on different charges for levels of customer demand. The white paper, however, said that rates with “demand-based price signals” don’t provide customers with enough data to understand how to size distributed energy projects under that kind of rate design.

Gahl called the utility rate design proposal “unworkable.”

“Customers don’t know when they are going to hit maximum demand,” he said.

A community-led plan for climate justice

Author: Tom Steyer   Published: 12/9/2019      TOM 20/20

Tom 2020 Logo
I use the term “climate justice” a lot, Ronald, and I wanted to take a moment to tell you why.
Climate justice acknowledges that the people hit first and worst by the climate crisis are not the ones causing it. The worst of America’s pollution has been placed disproportionately by the fossil fuel industry into communities of color.
Big corporations continue to treat low-income communities, communities of color, and vulnerable rural communities as dumping grounds for their environmental waste for greater profit — and they’ve been allowed to get away with it.
American land-use and environmental policies have historically been intentionally racist and discriminatory, and continue to result in environmental and health inequity. Add your name if you agree that justice needs to be front and center as we work toward a sustainable future.
Climate change directly affects so many of the other challenges we face as a country. Our access to health care, affordable housing, and job opportunities are changing with our environment. For many, coping with those changes puts them at a serious disadvantage.
Regardless of who you’re voting for, you’re living on this planet and you’re going to feel the effects of the climate crisis. And if we’re going to address this crisis and create a healthy country, we have to start by recognizing that it’s hurting low-income communities and communities of color more than others.
Climate justice is central to my strategy to preserve our planet, address historic inequities, and grow our economy in a way that serves the American people instead of corporations. Read more about why I advocate for climate justice here, and join the conversation.
Yours in the fight,

On day one as president, Tom will declare the climate crisis a national emergency. This means he will take immediate action to tackle the climate crisis and begin investing in local community plans to address the issue.

Battery prices fall nearly 50% in 3 years, spurring more electr

Author: Matthew Bandvk            Publishd: 12/3/2019           Utility Dive

2019 was the year electric cars grew up

Author: Micheal Coren     

Tell Congress to extend the federal EV tax credit

Electric cars had their biggest year ever in 2019, even as storm clouds gathered over their future. The numbers were huge. Automakers committed $225 billion to electrification in the coming years. Electric vehicles (EVs) grabbed 2.2% of the global vehicle market over the first 10 months of 2019 as a slew of new models hit the road. Ford, which has yet to sell an all-electric vehicle, showed off the upcoming electric Mustang Mach-E (a crossover SUV) and an electric F-150 pick-up. Tesla, of course, shocked everyone by turning a profit and previewing a strange future with its “cybertruck,” potentially the Hummer for Millenials.

But it wasn’t all rainbows. Outside of China and Norway, where car buyers enjoy generous incentives, the market is still driven by early adopters rather than the mainstream. EV sales for the year have been sluggish. While some states such as California have seen EVs capture 8% of new sales (all-electric and plug-in hybrid), the rest of the country has not yet caught on. After doubling between 2017 and 2018, EV market share in the US had crept up from 1.6% last March to 1.8% a year later (pdf).

That hasn’t slowed automakers’ ambitions. They’re betting it’s better to get ahead of the now-inevitable shift to EVs than play catch up to established rivals and Tesla. But if demand fails to pick up the big bet may mean consolidation and bankruptcy for some.

Here are the highlights from 2019.

EVs sold even as the car market dipped. The Model 3 can claim most of the credit.

The year started off strong for electric cars. After selling a record 361,000 EVs in 2018, automakers foresaw a robust 2019. Yet for carmakers not named Tesla, sales sputtered out mid-year. Sales for the three dozen or so other EV models on the market declined by an about 20% in 2019 compared to a year earlier, while Tesla’s Model 3 sales tripled between January and September. Tesla represented an astonishing 78% of US EV sales as of October, estimated CleanTechnica, delivering about 123,000 Model 3s, and 30,000 Model S and Model X vehicles. But EVs proved to be a rare bright spot amid what appears to be a long-term decline in global auto sales now entering its third year, what industry analysts call “peak car.”

Tesla proved unstoppable, so far.

The naysayers are not done betting against Tesla CEO Elon Musk. But Tesla’s profitable quarter, surging Model 3 sales, the new Model Y, and the new Blade Runner-style pick-up truck mean its street cred and stock price are close to all-time highs. On Wall Street, its prospects are helped by a nearly complete China factory, plans for a European factory outside Berlin in Germany, the birthplace of the modern automobilea move weighted with symbolismand a cash stockpile totaling $5.3 billion, according to Sentieo. In 2019, Tesla barely escaped “production hell” after Model 3 production problems pushed Tesla within “single-digit weeks” of bankruptcy. Now it must replicate the feat with a new vehicle lineup starting with the Model Y.

VW, Ford, GM, and others are on Tesla’s tail

Legacy automakers have yet to build the equivalent of a Model 3: an affordable EV that people covet. But they’re spending billions of dollars to make it happen. “The whole market is moving toward electrification this year,” says Devin Lindsay of IHS Markit. While that transformation is still years (or perhaps decades) away, 2019 was the year they put money behind their talk, he says. Automakers and the suppliers collectively put $225 billion on the table for EV investments over the next five years. Volkswagen (VW) led the way with a $44 billion “electric offensive,” a promise to abandon the development of all new fossil fuel vehicles by 2026 and sell 40% EVs by 2030. Ford, after years of ambivalence, invested $500 million into electric truck startup Rivian on top of least $11 billion in new EV investments and launched the all-electric Mustang Mach-E SUV.

EVs are still for early adopters in the US

For now, internal combustion engines aren’t going anywhere, especially in the US. AlixPartners’ global survey of customer demand for EVs asked if buyers’ next car would be electric in 2018. The average share in countries like Germany, Japan, Norway, and the UK topped 40% and rose as high as 73% in China. But in the US, only 14% of potential buyers planned to go electric this year. EVs will only go mainstream in the US, GM notes, once range, ease of ownership, and cost are addressed.

Layoffs rocked the auto industry

The auto industry’s sprint to embrace electric and autonomous vehicles didn’t include all of its factories and workers. Softening global auto sales didn’t help. Daimler, the parent of Mercedes-Benz, cut at least 10,000 jobs including 10% of its management. Volkswagen’s Audi announced 10% of its global workforce, 9,500 employees, would be let go by 2025. Ford made two rounds of steep job cuts this summer totaling more than 15,000.  Nissan made similar reductions. The bloodletting probably isn’t over yet: Bloomberg predicts at least 80,000 more auto jobs will be cut in the coming years.

Incentives began to phase out

Price is still a primary consideration for most car buyers, and incentives are still needed to attract buyers in most markets. In Norway, for example, generous incentives have pushed EV market share close to 60%. However, China pulled back on the incentives fueling its red-hot EV market. The UK did the same. In the US, tax-breaks awarded for manufacturers’ first 200,000 EVs have begun to phase out: Tesla and GM both crossed that threshold this year (credits phase out over time), and others will soon follow. The Trump Administration has proposed eliminating all incentives enacted during the Obama administration from renewable energy to EVs. “We pay a lot of attention to what any president says,” said Dan Turton, vice president for North American policy at General Motors, speaking to industry insiders after the announcement. “But this electrification movement is going forward anyway.”

Charging stations are outnumbering Tesla’s proprietary network in the US

For years, Tesla’s proprietary Supercharger system was the biggest one out there. But independent charging networks are catching up.  EVgo, Greenlots, EV Connect, and Electrify America are all in the business of building out thousands of new stations to mirror their gasoline counterparts (Ford partnered with some of them to make recharging similar to swiping your credit card at the pump). While the US remains far behind Europe and China, the number of public charging stations in the US has soared from just 506 at the end of 2010 to over 20,000 in May 2019, according to US Department of Energy (DoE) data. Tesla’s fast Supercharger network has 1,636 stations in addition to its destination charging stations (with many more on the way).

EV range has finally come in range

It turns out 300 miles of electric range is what it takes for most people to feel comfortable in an EV, notes GM President Mark Reuss. Almost 90% of EVs sold were the six models with the highest range (238 miles or more)—Tesla’s, the Chevrolet Bolt EV, the Hyundai Kona and the Kia Niro. EVs have been making strides in that direction since 2011. The range for top-selling EVs has risen about 20% annually since 2011. Today, the median EV range is more than 125 miles while the top end is 335 miles, according to the DoE to estimates. As automakers finally enter mass-production, expect that range to keep rising well after 2019.

Hello, e-trucks

Fleets discovered electric vehicles. Electric buses have long been a favorite of government agencies, but the private sector is realizing electric delivery trucks can save them money. The biggest news was Amazon’s order of 100,000 electric delivery vans from the Detroit startup Rivian, highlighting a year of big orders across EV classes for trucking and deliveries, says Tony Seba, co-founder of RethinkX, a Bay Area think tank. And it wasn’t just businesses. Electric pick-ups and sport trucks entered the limelight with Tesla’s Cybertruck, Rivian’s $69,000 Rivian R1T, and Ford’s all-electric F-150 prototype which towed 1 million pounds.

Auto shows went electric

It’s hard to know if EVs should make their debut at gadget-obsessed affairs like the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas or automotive shows showcasing vehicular power and performance. In 2019, the answer was both. While CES has long been a showroom for electric (and self-driving) cars for a while, this year the buzz at the world’s biggest auto shows from Tokyo to Los Angeles hovered around automakers’ EVs as they tried out new sizes (hulking SUVs) and concepts (e-scooters).

Karma’s SC2 electric concept car

Budget-conscious EVs joined the high-end

Better range, more refined styles, and zippier acceleration all hit the market at or below the median cost of a car in the US: Kia’s $34,000 e-Soul (280-mile range) and $38,500 Niro (239-mile range), and the $36,500 Hyundai Kona Electric (258-mile range). The budget offerings present rivals to the Chevy Bolt and the Model 3, and herald the day when affordable doesn’t mean underperforming. The new arrivals round out a luxury line-up such as Audi’s $74,800 e-tron, Porsche’s $103,800 Taycan and Tesla’s premium Model S and Model X starting around $75,000.

Build it and they will come?

Carmakers’ very, very ambitious EV sales targets started to outpace industry forecasters in 2019. “The transition to EVs is likely to be gradual, once again confounding the expectations of futurists,” J.P. Morgan asserted (pdf). The bank predicts by 2025 the global share for EVs will reach just 7.7% of the market, or 8.4 million vehicles.

Major automakers are banking on global sales growth far exceeding that mark. Nissan-Renault is aiming for 20% to 30% by 2025, while GM hopes to hit for 10%–15% of total sales by 2026 despite slower US growth. By 2030, VW plans to see EVs account for 40% of sales. Mercedes and BMW are close behind. “These companies are so invested, they can’t any longer say it’s going to take much, much longer,” says Sven Beiker, the founder of the consulting firm Silicon Valley Mobility and former BMW engineer. “Now they are part of the gang.”

But if overcapacity develops, automakers aren’t entirely out of luck. They can ship those vehicles to where demand exists. In the near term, that’s probably Europe and China. They can also curtail production since the number of EVs rolling off assembly lines remains relatively low: measured in the thousands, not millions.

But Lindsay of IHS Markit predicted hockey stick growth could arrive in the near future. While market forces alone suggest a gradual increase, a White House in 2020 (or 2025) that imposes stricter emissions controls on the transportation sector (as Obama promised) could drive exponential EV growth automakers are seeking.

Tech CEOs Visit Africa As ‘Source Of Innovation And Talent’

Author: Toby Shapshak            Published:  12/6/2019        Forbes

Tech giant CEOs have increasingly been visiting Africa.

Tech giant CEOs have increasingly been visiting Africa.  MAX CUVELLIER

As Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey demonstrated with his month-long trip in November, the importance of Africa for global companies keeps growing.

The increasingly frequent visits by high-level CEOs shows the importance of the continent, says Max Cuvellier, head of programmes at the GSM Association (GSMA) Mobile for Development (M4D).

Since 2015, the heads of the world’s biggest tech businesses have visited Africa. It started with Airbnb’s Brian Chesky and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella in 2015, with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg visiting Kenya and Nigeria in 2016. Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai came in 2017, while then Alphabet’s Sergey Brin visited the following year. Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma has come to Africa in 2017, twice in 2018 and again this year.

“What I like the most when I look at tech giant CEO visits is that they seem to recognise the potential of the continent not only as a market, but as a source of innovation and talent,” Cuvellier told me. “They dedicate more and more time on these trips to meeting local entrepreneurs, discussing emerging technologies with local experts and going to universities to interact with local students. Some might too quickly dismiss this as anecdotal, but when Jack Ma awards you with a prize (Temie Giwa-Tubosun of LifeBank in Nigeria last week) – or Jack Dorsey endorses you on social media as ‘the most incredible soul in all the world’ (Betelhem Dessie of iCog Labs in Ethiopia), I like to believe these things reflect positively not only on the individuals, but on the whole community.”

Cuvellier has created a map of these CEO visits which demonstrate “things are getting serious”.

Although it might be easy to dismiss the importance of these trips, especially as many people only see a few quotes or a handful of selfies with locals. The most popular article on Brian Chesky’s visit to South Africa in 2015 – the first visit recorded on the map – focuses on how short his visit was, says Cuvellier.

“But I do believe that the trips in themselves are an indication of growing interest in the continent from ‘tech giants’. Jack Ma is on his third visit to the continent since July 2017 and has now visited seven countries, Jack Dorsey just spent a full month in Africa.”

By comparison, in the same period the Chinese president only made one visit to Africa (visiting four countries in July 2018) and none by the American president.

“Most importantly, and beyond the visits, actual commitments are made: Google’s first AI lab in Africa (in Accra, Ghana) was announced by Sundar Pichai in June 2018 and was opened earlier this year; while Ethiopia and the Alibaba Group just inaugurated a global trade platform on Monday. I am hopeful the deals and the partnerships, not just the trips, will keep coming.”

He highlights that much of Africa’s innovation successes are based on the widespread adoption of mobile phones.

“These tech giants wouldn’t be looking at Africa if it weren’t for mobile technology,” says Cuvellier.

As of July 2019, the GSMA estimated there were 456-million unique mobile subscribers in sub-Saharan Africa alone, and it remains the fastest growing region globally (4.6% year-on-year). Some 52% of these mobile subscribers (239 million) use mobile internet on a regular basis.

Connectivity is also getting much better:  in 2019, 3G has overtaken 2G to become the leading mobile technology in the region.

“Mobile money – with 396-million registered mobile money accounts – provides access to financial services to many. Last but not least, the demographic bulge will result in large numbers of young consumers becoming adults and owning a mobile phone for the first time. They will account for the majority of new mobile subscribers and, as ‘digital natives’, will significantly influence mobile usage patterns in the future, not to mention they often are a key target of ‘tech giants’.”

The full list, according to Cuvellier, of tech CEO visits:

  • Brian Chesky, Airbnb (2015)
  • Satya Nadella, Microsoft (2015)
  • Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook (2016)
  • Sundar Pichai, Google (2017)
  • Jack Ma, Alibaba Group (2017, 2018*2, 2019)
  • Sergey Brin, Alphabet (2018)
  • Jack Dorsey, Twitter (2019).


Duke Energy SC Green Source Advantage (GSA) program

Author: Duke Energy Corporate   Published: 12/6/2019

Duke Energy Progress

Green Source Advantage: A proposed sustainability program for large business customers

South Carolina Program Status

In 2018, Duke Energy filed the Green Source Advantage (GSA) program with the Public Service Commission of South Carolina. GSA is specifically designed for South Carolina large business customers who wish to balance their energy consumption with renewable energy to meet their sustainability goals.

This summer, the South Carolina General Assembly passed the SC Energy Freedom Act, also referred to as Act 62, which established comprehensive renewable energy legislation for the state. The act created a pathway for utilities to offer new, voluntary renewable energy programs. The Public Service Commission of South Carolina is currently reviewing Duke Energy’s proposed Green Source Advantage program. Upon approval, the program will become available for customer participation.

More about the Proposed Program and Eligibility Requirements

  • Open to nonresidential customers with at least 1 megawatt (MW) of peak energy demand at a single location or an aggregated annual peak demand at multiple South Carolina service locations of 1 MW.
  • Total reserved program capacity is 150 MW (113 MW in the Duke Energy Carolinas region and 37 MW in the Duke Energy Progress region), available for 18 months following initial program approval.

Program updates will be posted here as they become available.

Stay Informed

Join our email list to receive important, up-to-date program notifications.

Senate Education Leaders Propose Bipartisan Solution to Simplify FAFSA for 20 Million Families and to Permanently Fund HBCUs and MSIs

Author: U.S._Department of Education    Published: 12/5/2019

US Senate

Legislation provides $255 million annually for HBCUs and Minority Serving Institutions, cuts up to 22 questions from the federal student aid application form, and eliminates bureaucratic verification nightmare for most students

WASHINGTON, December 3, 2019 — Senate Education Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Senators Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) today released a bipartisan amendment to the House-passed FUTURE Act to make permanent $255 million in annual funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions, simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for 20 million American families, and streamline income-driven repayment for nearly 8 million borrowers.

“It’s hard to think of a piece of legislation that would have more of a lasting impact on minority students and their families than this bill,” Senator Alexander said. “First, it provides permanent funding for HBCUs and other Minority Serving Institutions attended by over 2 million minority students. Second, it takes a big first step in simplifying the FAFSA for 20 million American families, including 8 million minority students, and eliminating the bureaucratic nightmare created by requiring students to give the federal government the same information twice.”

“While this funding should never have lapsed in the first place, I’m glad that we were able to reach a deal that provides minority-serving institutions with the certainty of funding they deserve—and I truly appreciate the work done on both sides of the aisle to get us to this point,” Senator Murray said. “By permanently extending funding for these valuable institutions and streamlining our student aid system, this deal is a win-win. Now, I look forward to continuing to work with my Republican colleagues on efforts to overhaul the Higher Education Act in a comprehensive, bipartisan way that does right by all students.”

“The FUTURE Act will provide much-needed long-term financial stability to our nation’s HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions,” Senator Scott said. “I am proud to support this bipartisan solution, which reauthorizes HBCU and MSI funding without putting taxpayers on the hook, and which takes a vital first step towards streamlining and simplifying the FAFSA form. This bill is a win for students, families, and taxpayers.”

“The permanent renewal of federal funding is a huge win for our nation’s minority-serving institutions, which have faced growing uncertainty and anxiety since their $255 million in annual funding expired in September,”Senator Jones said. “Instead of making tough decisions to cut programs and staff this holiday season, they can now count on permanent funding that will enable them to plan long-term and focus on their educational mission. With our proposal today, we also take an important first step toward simplifying our federal student aid application and helping more students achieve the dream of a college education. I thank my colleagues Senators Alexander and Murray for working to find a bipartisan compromise on two issues that are deeply important to the people we serve.”

“North Carolina is home to more HBCUs than any other state in the nation,” Senator Burr said. “The number one concern for HBCUs is unpredictable funding. This amendment alleviates that problem by providing certainty not just for two years, but for many years to come. I applaud Chairman Alexander for leading the effort to better preserve these historic learning institutions for current and future students.”

“HBCUs have played a critical role in helping to ensure that every American is able to access higher education,” Senator Coons said. “I’m honored to work with colleagues from both parties to permanently fund these incredibly important American institutions.”

Background on the Amendment:

  • Permanently reauthorizes and provides $255 million in annual mandatory funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other Minority Serving Institutions
  • Is fully paid for by including the FAFSA Act which passed the Senate unanimously last year and which:
    • Allows Providing Tax Information only Once—Students do not have to give their tax information to the federal government twice
    • Eliminates up to 22 Questions—Students give permission to the Department of Education to request tax return data already given to the Internal Revenue Service, which reduces the 108 questions on the FAFSA by up to 22 questions
    • Eliminates Verification Nightmare—For most students, eliminates so-called “verification” which is a bureaucratic nightmare that 5.5 million students go through annually to make sure the information they gave to the Department of Education is exactly the same as they gave to the IRS
    • Eliminates $6 Billion in Mistakes—According to the Department of Education, helps taxpayers by eliminating up to $6 billion each year in mistakes (both overpayments and underpayments) in Pell grants and student loans
    • Enables 7 million applicants who are currently unable to access their IRS data for their FAFSA to verify that they do not file taxes without requesting separate documentation from the IRS
    • Streamlines student loan repayment by eliminating burdensome annual paperwork for 7.7 million federal student loan borrowers on income-driven plans
  • According to the Congressional Budget Office, the FAFSA Act saves taxpayers $2.8 billion over ten years which will be used to pay for the permanent funding for HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions.

Marketplace Exchanges Offer Hemp Farmers Harvest-Saving Opportunities

Author: William Summer       Published:  12/4/2019        New Frontier Data


Passage of the 2018 Farm Bill and the rise of CBD as a nutritional supplement has led to a boom in hemp cultivation over the past year. According to the U.S. Hemp Market 2019 State Rankings Report, the acreage for licensed hemp cultivation has risen by 328%, from 112,163 acres in 2018 to 480,334 acres in 2019. Though the explosive growth in the hemp industry has been received positively, cultivators have run into a significant issue: Where do they sell the hemp they’ve grown?

Though cultivators can negotiate supply agreements with companies on a one-on-one basis, many have been left in a lurch looking for someplace to offload their excess biomass. Aiming to meet the needs of those cultivators, a multitude of online marketplace exchanges has emerged.

One example is PanXchange. Founded in 2011 by former Cargill commodities trader Julie Lerner, PanXchange was initially conceived to help facilitate trade in the international sugar market.

“I was trying to address what traders needed,” she said. “I built it as a trader, and when you do that you have to ask, ‘what does a broker do that you like and what do they do that they don’t like?’”

As the platform grew, Lerner began to add other commodities to the platform. In the lead up to the 2018 Farm Bill, she recognized hemp’s potential as a commodity, and began adapting the PanXchange platform for hemp before launching it this year.

Servicing 50 members, the PanXchange hemp marketplace styles itself as an institutional trading platform and employs a rigorous vetting process for its members. As part of that process, prospective members must provide their company’s articles of incorporation, two utility bills in the applicant’s name, proof of licensure, and three references.

“We want to know you’re actually a serious player in the market,” Lerner explained. “You can be a small farmer, but you need to show up and perform.”

In addition to the vetting, PanXchange weeds out bad marketplace actors by making the deals made on its platform legally binding. For the companies that overpromise and under-deliver, there is a third-party arbitration process in place to help settle disputes.

“If there is a bid, it is a potentially legally binding contract,” Lerner noted. “There’s no hints, no price fishing, no indications; these are firm market orders.”

Another marketplace that takes a hands-on approach to facilitating honest hemp transactions is Cannamerx. Founded by Diewald Claus, Cannamerx was originally founded as an online cannabis trading marketplace. However, as markets in both the U.S. and Canada began to unfold, Cannamerx added hemp to its platform.

So far, Cannamerx has around 50 members in the U.S., and over a dozen companies in Canada. Valuing honesty and transparency, Claus asserted that Cannamerx does its best to help mediate disputes between buyers and sellers. He cited an incident in which an inexperienced seller provided the buyer with a product that failed to meet its quality standards.

Instead of penalizing the seller, Cannamerx was able to negotiate a settlement, and the buyer purchased the product at a lower price.

“As a general rule, we assume goodwill on both sides,” says Claus, “but if there is evidence of malicious intent, legal or illegal, we remove them from the platform.”

While Claus is generally pleased with the development of Cannamerx, he notes that buying and selling hemp as a commodity is still very much in its infancy, though he hopes that the hemp platform will continue to help cultivators struggling to find a buyer.

“Lots of people want to sell, but there are too few people that want to buy. It’s a buyer’s market.”

Road to 100: How a demolished Kansas town became a model of DOE renewables resilience

Author:  Catherine Morehouse           Published:  12/4/2019           Deep Dive

The destruction wrought by a 2007 tornado gave the federal government an opportunity to build up a fully renewable town in a conservative part of the country.

This is the third of a four part series based on Utility Dive visits to cities that produce more renewable power than they consume. The first installment looks at Rock Port, Missouri, and the second looks at Georgetown, Texas.

GREENSBURG, KANSAS — On May 4, 2007, an almost two-mile wide tornado flattened the town, killing 12 people, decimating 95% of the town’s buildings and leaving the rest severely damaged.​ The mass force of the wipeout and the tragic destruction it left garnered national attention from the news media, Hollywood and the federal government, including the U.S. Department of Energy.

“The Department of Energy’s interest was twofold, I would say,”  former National Renewable Energy Laboratory Senior Project Leader, Lynn Billman, who led the DOE’s recovery efforts in Greensburg, told Utility Dive. “They saw it as an opportunity to demonstrate a fully high efficiency, fully renewable town from the ground up. And since Greensburg had been basically wiped by 90%-plus, they thought this would be an interesting experiment. … They were also interested to see what would happen in a conservative part of the country.”

Falling wind prices in the gusty state made renewable energy attractive from a cost perspective, but DOE’s involvement made the city’s sustainability ambitions even greater.

Rebuilding from the ground up

Greensburg’s tornado was ranked an EF5, meaning wind speeds reached over 200 miles per hour. The town of around 1,400 people dropped to a population of below 800 — where it remains today — in the years after the storm.

“We all lost everything. It didn’t matter your social economic status. We were all homeless,” former Mayor Bob Dixson told Utility Dive. “And so we had the opportunity in that first few weeks to start the process of thinking about rebuilding a town. And there was never a question of whether we were going to do it or not. It was just ‘How are we going to do it?'”

Greensburg, Kansas, from above before the tornado hit. |
Credit: City of Greensburg
The city after the tornado hit. |
Credit: City of Greensburg
Almost every building in the city was reduced to rubble after the storm. |
Credit: FEMA

Meanwhile, the wheels were already turning at the federal level. NREL hit the ground quickly, not wanting to lose their opportunity to demonstrate the value of efficiency and renewables. But people weren’t ready to listen quite yet.

“One of the lessons learned was that if the Department of Energy shows up a week after a natural disaster and says, ‘Hey, we’re here to help you with your energy,’ they are not going to be paid any attention to whatsoever because people are worried about getting emergency electricity, getting fresh water, finding a doctor and so on,” said Billman.

Within six weeks, the town was in conversations with power providers, anxious to get their power sorted out and ready to sign a long-term contract, according to Billman.

“And I said ‘Holy smokes,’ we’re going to lose an opportunity to influence a wind-powered system here if they’re going to commit to taking in the next 20 years worth of electricity,” she said.

But the city was then brought into conversations with developer John Deere Renewables — whose assets are now owned by Exelon — and turbine supplier Suzlon, seeking to site 10 turbines totaling 12.5 MW.

The city entered an agreement with the developers to site the wind. Greensburg consumes around one-fourth to one-third of that power at any given time, so the city is able to claim 100% renewables. The city gets the renewable energy credits and sells the excess power to the Kansas Power Pool, which has a peak load of 20% renewables. Energy costs are down $4,209 annually, according to DOE.

Greensburg’s 10 turbines, at 1.25 MW each. |
Credit: Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive

But the city did not stop at 100% renewable energy. Energy consumption itself is curtailed through “passive” solar installations, which soak up even more of the city’s energy, as well as ultra-efficient building design.

Insulation, ground-based heating and cooling pumps, as well as daylighting strategies to minimize lightbulb use are all easy drivers of efficiency used in the Greensburg case, according to an NREL report on the buildings’ performance. And some rubble from the storm was even reused — 75,000 of Greensburg city hall’s bricks are reclaimed from the rubble of the storm.

Credit: Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive
Credit: Kiowa County

Water also became central to the city’s plan, with emphasis on conservation and stormwater management. Native plant species now line sidewalks to mitigate stormwater runoffs and water is reused for irrigation and toilet flushing in some buildings.

“It did really launch stronger interest at Department of Energy in … the resiliency question about electric grids and about communities in view of natural disasters,” Billman said. The lab’s work in Greensburg influenced other natural disaster projects, including efforts in New York after Superstorm Sandy and other communities using a combination of federal and local funds, she said.

“Natural disaster response, natural disaster rebuilding, sustainable communities, all that kind of thing got a big shot in the arm from the successes at Greensburg.”

Selling wind and solar to an oil and gas town

Since and during the city’s rebuilding, Greensburg has gotten a lot of attention. Rebuilding the city became even more complicated when the Discovery Channel used the city to help launch its Planet Green channel through a series on Greensburg created by Leonardo DiCaprio.

The show was bringing in advertisers through product donations, which would prove advantageous for the city. But its Chamber of Commerce was “chomping at the bit to rebuild, rebuild, rebuild,” said Billman. Others in the town whose primary industries are agriculture, oil and gas were put off by the political message, said Dixson.

“People had to get past the thinking of 1968 powder blue, double knit bell bottom pants, with a tie-dyed shirt and hair down to the middle of your back, possibly on mind-altering chemicals, hugging a tree,” he said. “And on the high Plains, that’s what we perceive environmentalism to be because that’s what we saw in the news … For 50 years, nothing was ever talked about, about being good stewards of our environment, and at the same time being financial stewards.”

Ultimately, the financial practicality of a Hollywood partnership along with projected savings from reduced energy consumption and cheap power won over the town’s leadership. Framing the transition as a practical financial decision, rather than a purely carbon footprint-oriented one was huge, said Dixson and Billman.

“We also appealed to the sense, in a farming community, of relationship with the land, respect for resources, not wanting to waste things,” said Billman. The interest in wind was almost emotional, she said, in that there was a sense of strength drawn from the fact that wind would power, not destroy them.

The city has won dozens of awards and been recognized nationally for its sustainable rebuilding. |
Credit: Catherine Morehouse, Utility Dive

Since then, the city has won several awards for sustainability and green leadership, and city leaders involved in the rebuild have been asked for advice in cities across the country struggling to rebuild.

“I’ve had people ask me over the years when I’ve been out speaking ‘Wouldn’t it have been awful easy just to pack up the tents and leave?’ And I said, well, there’s two things wrong with that. Number one is it’s our home,” said Dixson. “And the other thing is, people would say, ‘Well, you’re just a small town in the middle of nowhere.’ And I said, ‘Well, you got that wrong too. We are in the middle of everywhere.'”

Exelon promotes Baltimore utility executive to post overseeing Pepco

Author:  Holden Wilen                Published:  12/5/2019           Baltimore Business Journal


Calvin Butler, previously CEO of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., has been named senior executive vice president of parent company Exelon Corp. and permanent CEO of Exelon Utilities

Exelon Corp. has tapped a Baltimore utility executive to oversee its utility operations, including D.C.-based Pepco.

Calvin Butler, who has been CEO of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. since 2014, has been named senior executive vice president of parent company Exelon and permanent CEO of Exelon Utilities. Butler had been serving in the role on an interim basis since Oct. 15.

Carim Khouzami, currently senior vice president and chief operating officer of Exelon Utilities, is succeeding Butler at BGE. Both appointments are effective immediately.

In his new role, Butler will oversee Exelon’s six local electric and gas companies — Pepco, Atlantic City Electric, BGE, ComEd, Delmarva Power and PECO. Butler will remain a resident of Baltimore and work out of Exelon’s D.C. offices, according to the company.

As CEO of BGE, Butler was responsible for implementing the utility’s strategic priorities, including its initiatives related to safety, reliability, customer service, innovation and diversity and inclusion.

Butler has become a prominent face in Baltimore and active community member since joining BGE after it was acquired by Chicago-based Exelon in 2012. He is the vice chairman of the Greater Baltimore Committee and a board member for the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation. Butler also serves on the board of governors for the Center Club. He was previously a director for the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond and a member of the Maryland Zoo’s board.

“Under Calvin’s leadership, BGE has made significant advancements in customer service and electric reliability, resulting in record customer satisfaction and solid financial results,” Exelon CEO Christopher Crane said in a statement. “His strong track record will be invaluable as we further our commitment to provide clean, affordable and reliable energy in the communities we

Khouzami has worked for BGE and Constellation Energy for 14 years. During that time he was chief integration officer for Exelon’s merger with Pepco Holdings Inc. in 2016. Prior, he was BGE’s CFO during its merger with Exelon and before that was executive director of investor relations for Constellation.

He previously held investment banking and financial analyst positions with Bear Stearns and Bank of America.

“Carim’s deep understanding of our business from his previous roles at BGE and across each of Exelon’s utilities is an asset not only to Exelon but to the communities that BGE serves,” Butler said in a statement. “He has led safety, operational, financial and customer-focused initiatives that are contributing to Exelon’s utilities setting new industry standards for exceptional performance. We are excited to continue building on this momentum for our customers, employees, and shareholders.”


Author: Emily Frias     Published: 12/4/2019     Chesapeake Climate Action Network

Chesapeake Climate Action Network

Be part of Maryland’s next big climate plan!
Join this exciting one-day conference with faith leaders,
labor activists, environmental groups, and more!

DECEMBER 14, 2019

Free entry, suggested donation to cover
lunch, snacks and space $25.
RSVP and more info:

Cosponsored by:

Maryland Climate Coalition, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Maryland League of
Conservation Voters, Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club, Interfaith Power & Light, Maryland
Legislative Coalition, 350 dot org, Howard County Sunrise, HoCo Climate Action, MoCo Students
for Climate, Climate Law & Policy Project, ClimateXChange, Maryland League of Women Voters,
Takoma Park Mobilization Environment Committee, Climate Reality Montgomery County, Elders
Climate Action, DoTheMostGood, Eastern Panhandle Green Coalition, Envision Frederick
County, Young Voices for the Planet, Friends of the Earth US

Rebuild Maryland: Climate Action Summit

Special Report: Special Report: Investing in Lithium Batteries

Author: Keith Kohl                  Published: 12/4/2019               Energy and Capital

Special Report: Special Report: Investing in Lithium Batteries

The only word to describe the lithium battery market today is mixed.

A look at a chart of the most recognizable names in the biz — Panasonic, LG Chem, Johnson Controls, Samsung, etc. — illustrates this perfectly:

Lithium Update SM

(Click Image to Enlarge)

Since the beginning of 2016, stocks in the battery sector have turned in performances ranging from negative 27% to positive 37%, and everywhere in between.

Indeed, the NASDAQ OMX Energy Storage Index (NASDAQ: GRNSTOR) was up 5.8% by February, 2017, leaning more to the up-side of the market than the middle ground.

And the main topic of battery conversation this year was wildly positive, despite the drawbacks from some of the major producers…

Of course the biggest name in the game has been Tesla, with its Japanese partner Panasonic. Together, the two constructed and have brought online the world’s first Gigafactory. The $5 billion factory will manufacture lithium batteries for Tesla’s line of electric vehicles and Powerwall systems.

This has sparked a new round of interest in electric vehicles. Most — if not all — of the world’s major car-makers are planning to roll out one or more EV’s in coming years. Most are due to be on the road by 2020.

Oddly enough, it’s not front-running Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) that’s getting the biggest boon out of this, but its partner, Panasonic. For three years running, the company has been the biggest supplier of EV batteries worldwide, a title it’s not likely to lose any time soon.

But one of the biggest deals in the sector was between LG Chem and General Motors’ Chevrolet, who teamed up to work on the car-marker’s first all-electric vehicle. The Chevy Volt is already one of the most popular choices in hybrid cars, and the upcoming Chevy Bolt may well take the EV spotlight from Tesla.

The Bolt and the Tesla Model 3 are both expected to be out in late 2017, and will have a similar battery capacities and price.

But not matter who wins, there’s no denying the amazing growth of the EV market, and consequently of the lithium battery market.

But these positives are only part of the story…

As is happening with solar, the growth of any industry means some competitors will fail.

Across the cleantech space, international conglomerates are merging and acquiring their way into the space. And as I see it, that means two things…

#1 Commoditization

It’s a long word, but a simple concept.

In the early days of any industry, there are many competitors. And it’s human nature to try to pick who the winner will be. But as the industry matures, products become more and more similar until there are few discernible differences — that is, the product becomes a commodity.

In many cases, it’s not the product’s but the manufacturer’s ability to cut costs and increase profits that determines who the winner will be. And that can sometimes be a matter of who can make the most in the cheapest way possible.

Tesla’s may be the biggest factory around, but many companies produce from megafactories whose capacity is booming with demand:

lithium demand

Inevitably, only the best companies will survive the next wave of acquisitions and mergers.

Computers and televisions are the prime examples of this phenomenon: The product becoming a commodity is why Chinese-owned Lenovo now makes ThinkPads instead of IBM. It’s the same reason LG Chem now owns Zenith, which pioneered remote controls and HDTV.

Now the same thing is happening in batteries. And it’s not in the least because business is bad.

The lithium battery market is expected to grow monumentally. Navigant Research estimates that the automotive battery market will grow from just $7.8 billion in 2015 to $30.6 billion by 2024! Utility scale energy storage will add another $8.44 billion annually.

And that’s not even counting the usual suspects: mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and other rechargeable household devices.

As this happens, the selling price is falling. And that’s what is hurting companies.

Selling prices for lithium ion batteries today range from $250 to below $190 per kilowatt-hour, down from the average of $500-$600/kWh just a few years ago. That’s expected to fall below $100/kWh within the next six years.

Those who can’t stay profitable as prices fall will fail. Take, for example, the story of Seeo.

The startup was founded in 2007, and aimed to improve upon a nano-structured battery design originally developed at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

But Seeo quickly found out how competitive and costly the lithium battery industry really is. High cash burn and low success rate made it ripe for buying.

Bosch bought the company out in late 2015. And it wasn’t because Seeo’s ideas were bad; in fact, its solid-state battery design was an extremely valuable one.

The startup just couldn’t afford to keep it up alone. And now its research — and its profits — fly under the banner of Robert Bosch LLC.

#2 Resource Scarcity

The M&A action isn’t just going on in the battery production segment: miners of the most important ingredient are in the game as well.

Two of the top holdings in the Global X Lithium (NYSE: LIT) ETF — FMC Corp. (NYSE: FMC) and Sociedad Quimica y Minera De Chile S.A., better known as SQM (NYSE: SQM) — are each up more than 40% on the year.

Lithium by End Use 2017

Currently, about 39% of produced lithium goes to making batteries. With the lithium battery market slated to grow at over 22.8% annually, it will begin to put a strain on lithium supply, and send prices higher.

In fact, prices are already rising. In 2009, lithium carbonate hit $5,000 per tonne; today, it can be sold for over $20,000/tonne.

Companies with high production and high-quality product are winning out here. Lithium mining has quickly become the place to be, with even oil majors buying up-and-coming lithium players.

As the lithium battery market continues to mature — which will include continued consolidation — it seems the smartest way to play it is through the international manufacturers and miners with access to the best resources. Don’t get caught betting on an unproven entrant into this highly competitive market!

Energy and Capital, Copyright © 2019, Angel Publishing LLC. All rights reserved. 111 Market Place #720 Baltimore, MD 21202. The content of this site may not be redistributed without the express written consent of Angel Publishing. Individual editorials, articles and essays appearing on this site may be republished, but only with full attribution of both the author and Energy and Capital as well as a link to Your privacy is important to us — we will never rent or sell your e-mail or personal information. Please read our Privacy Policy. No statement or expression of opinion, or any other matter herein, directly or indirectly, is an offer or the solicitation of an offer to buy or sell the securities or financial instruments mentioned. While we believe the sources of information to be reliable, we in no way represent or guarantee the accuracy of the statements made herein. Energy and Capital does not provide individual investment counseling, act as an investment advisor, or individually advocate the purchase or sale of any security or investment. The publisher, editors and consultants of Angel Publishing may actively trade in the investments discussed in this publication. They may have substantial positions in the securities recommended and may increase or decrease such positions without notice. Neither the publisher nor the editors are registered investment advisors. Subscribers should not view this publication as offering personalized legal or investment counseling. Investments recommended in this publication should be made only after consulting with your investment advisor and only after reviewing the prospectus or financial statements of the company in question.

Protect our right to go solar in D.C.

Author: Yesenia Rivera     Published: 12/4/19         Solar United Neighbors

An unelected board is denying permits to install solar panels.

The Historic Preservation Review Board has issued new guidelines for solar installations on historic district buildings. These guidelines are a step in the right direction. But there’s more work to be done.

We need the Board to explicitly allow solar installations on front facing roofs. Further, they should not put restrictions on solar that increase the cost of the system or reduce its efficiency to the point where it not economically feasible. D.C. has committed to generating 100% renewable energy, but we’ll never get there as long as roadblocks to solar like this exist.

The Board will discuss these new guidelines at its December 19 meeting. This is our opportunity to demonstrate solar’s strong support in the District. Please join us.

Historic Preservation Review Board meeting

Thursday, December 19
9 a.m.
One Judiciary Square
Room 220 South
441 4th Street, NW
Washington, D.C., 20001
Click here to RSVP

Senate approves energy secretary nominee who pledged support for baseload power

Author: Kavya Balaraman        Published 12/3/19 Update        Utility Dive

UPDATE: Dec. 3, 2019:  The senate approved the nomination of Dan Brouillette with a 70-15 vote on Monday.

BRIEF DHL brings electric delivery vehicle pilot to US

Author:  Matt Leonard            Published:  12/3/19                Utility Dive

Dive Brief:

  • DHL will bring its zero-emissions StreetScooter electric vehicles to the U.S. market beginning in 2020, according to Reuters. The plans to pilot the vehicles in the U.S. were mentioned in an October press release.
  • The delivery vehicles will be tested in two cities — one on the west coast and one on the east coast — beginning next year. Full-scale deployment could come in 2022 or 2023, DHL told Reuters.
  • In September, DHL announced plans to enter the Chinese market, saying the country was primed to be the largest electric vehicle market in the world.

Dive Insight:

DHL’s plans to enter the U.S. with StreetScooter follow Amazon’s announcement that it placed an order for 100,000 electric delivery vans from manufacturer Rivian.

This is a trend among logistics providers. UPS has more than 10,000“alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles” in its fleet and FedEx has2,554 electric vehicles in service.

In 2017, DHL announced plans to reduce its logistics-related emissions tozero by 2050. It has deployed more than 9,000 StreetScooters in the European market, according to its 2018 corporate responsibility reportreleased this past May.

“We continuously upgrade our conventional vehicles in accordance with the latest emissions standards,” DHL said in the report. “By optimizing our pick-up and delivery routes, we also help reduce emissions and improve air quality in urban areas.”

DHL purchased StreetScooter in 2014 and the subsidiary remains unprofitable, according to Reuters.

“StreetScooter continues and will continue to be a very important delivery vehicle provider for us,” Deutsche Post AG CFO Melanie Kreis said on themost recent earnings call last month.

Follow Matt Leonard on Twitter



Author:          Published:  11/20/2019


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New money: Green banks and green bonds are bringing billions to utilities for the energy transition

Author:        Published: 11/19/2019                  Utility Deep

The financial mechanisms are bringing investors to renewables and distributed energy as utilities, co-ops and munis move away from uneconomic legacy assets.

Hundreds of billions of dollars in untapped new money can finance the U.S. power system’s transition away from legacy fossil assets to renewables and distributed generation.

Utilities like Duke Energy and Xcel Energy have issued billions in green bonds to fund renewables development. Green banks in New York, Connecticut and other states are backing investments in distributed resources and energy efficiency. It appears much more institutional money wants in on the green opportunity.

“Green bonds are a capital-raising mechanism that a wide range of institutions could use to raise capital,” Coalition for Green Capital Executive Director Jeff Schub told Utility Dive. “A green bank is an institution [capitalized by public funds] that invests capital in clean energy projects. [They] are complementary, capital raising and capital deploying.”

Together, they can attract hundreds of billions in institutional and financial market money to fund utility investments in large-scale renewables and public sector investments in local distributed generation. They can also work together to support utility transitions away from high-cost legacy generation to lower-cost “green” generation, stakeholders told Utility Dive.

How Utilities Can Win the War for Talent

Author: West Monroe                     Published: 11/26/19                   Utility Dive

2019 Industry Research Report: How Utilities Can Win the War for Talent

Custom content for West Monroe Partners by Utility Dive’s Brand Studio

Today’s utilities are facing numerous challenges to attract and retain the talent they need for the future. According to West Monroe Partners and Utility Dive Brand Studio’s 2019 Industry Survey Report, a mere 6% of leaders believe their utility is performing “excellently” at recruiting young technical talent. The report also states that nearly half of leaders (48%) fear that their recruiting may not be enough to meet future needs.

Our new survey report provides an overview of the eye-opening discoveries we found, and what it means for utility companies that want to get ahead of the competition.

Read this report to learn more about:

  • Opportunities to attract young employees
  • How utility executives prioritize the employee experience
  • Shifting a utility’s workplace culture to one that attracts and retain the talent they need to achieve transformation goals


Copyright 2019 Industry Dive

How does AI improve grid performance? No one fully understands and that’s limiting its use

Author:          Published: 11/14/2019          Utility Dive

“For 75% of what utilities are doing, outside of maybe forecasting or managing capacity, AI is at the infancy stage and there is no real use case.”

Just as power system operators are mastering data analytics to optimize hardware efficiencies, they are discovering how the complexities of artificial intelligence tools can do far more, and how to choose which to use.

With deployment of advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and smart sensor-equipped hardware, system operators are capturing unprecedented levels of data. Cloud computing and massive computational capabilities are allowing data analytics

AI is a form of computer science that would make power system management fully autonomous in real time, researchers and private sector providers of power system services told Utility Dive. ML is a part of AI that passes human-supervised data analytics through preset or learned rules about the system to inform AI of normal and abnormal operational conditions.

“[D]ata management falls into ‘crawl, walk, and run’ categories, and most utilities are crawling in their use of data right now. AI for data management would be ‘running.'”

Kevin Walsh

Transmission and Distribution Principal, OSIsoft

“Knowing when to use data analytics and when to use machine learning and AI are the fundamental questions utilities are asking,” GE Digital VP for Data and Analytics Matt Schnugg told Utility Dive. Continuing to use an approach “that has been good enough for years” has merit, but new tools and capabilities may justify “turning to data scientists and cloud computing” and there are “parameters” for knowing how to choose between them.

The sheer volume of data is beginning to exceed human capabilities, but system operators often don’t have the technology to deploy demonstrated AI and ML solutions for power flow management, researchers told Utility Dive. The mathematics of solutions are not yet fully understood, they acknowledged. The next big question may be whether system operators will risk ML and AI for results humans cannot yet provide or understand.

When data analytics is enough

The value of putting power system data to work is increasingly evident. It has saved system operators time and customers money. And it is providing predictive infrastructure maintenance, which can reduce the growing frequency and duration of service interruptions and help avoid major unintended cascading blackouts.

“Utilities have billions of dollars invested in hard assets and they use data to manage those assets,” Kevin Walsh, transmission and distribution principal for data management specialist OSIsoft, told Utility Dive. “But data management falls into ‘crawl, walk and run’ categories, and most utilities are crawling in their use of data right now. AI for data management would be ‘running.'”

Data management providers like OSIsoft help utilities assimilate data “and make it available across the enterprise to enable intelligent decisions based on what is actually happening in the field,” Walsh said. “For 75% of what utilities are doing, outside of maybe forecasting or managing capacity, AI is at the infancy stage and there is no real use case.”

“AI and machine learning shops are too often looking for problems to solve rather than addressing the very specific problems that utilities face and showing how machine learning might be the right solution.”

Joshua Wong

CEO, Opus One Solutions

A data stream anomaly spotted by OSIsoft’s PI System data analytics allowed the Alectra, Texas, municipal utility to defer a $3 million transformer replacement with a $100,000 transformer repair, he noted. Duke Energy and Sempra Energy use PI analytics for predictive maintenance. Data analytics “does most of what utilities need” without the costs and complexities of AI and ML, he said.

to make these investments pay off for customers. But it may take machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) to address new power grid complexities.

“AI and machine learning are the buzz with investors and the general public, but utilities’ key concern is what any analytics will bring to their operations,”Opus One Solutions CEO Joshua Wong agreed.

Opus One uses advanced physics and mathematical formulas that underlie the distribution system to build a “digital twin” of a utility’s system, Wong told Utility Dive. Largely through analytics software, the twin is used to model and inform utility system operations, planning and market and business model design.

The most common use of ML is for five-minutes-ahead to day-ahead algorithms that do load and generation forecasting, he said. Utilities’ legacy software technologies cannot run “the very large and interdependent data sets needed for the entire grid’s power flow,” but forecasting requires only learning forward “from a single point in history without a lot of dependent phenomena.”

Better algorithms can be built with a combination of AI tools and data analytics that correlate real data and learning, Wong said. “Machine learning’s greatest impact will be in making correlations that teach the algorithm to understand how the voltage here affects the voltage there.” Those correlations will enable “optimizing grid operations like dispatching battery storage or managing electric vehicle charging,” said Wong.

Utility pilots and research simulations are beginning to show automation can already optimize some of those operations.

Credit: OSIsoft

Toward automation

In the first pilot for what could eventually be an autonomous grid, Helia Technologies and Colorado electric cooperative Holy Cross Energy (HCE) are testing ML’s battery dispatch capabilities.

Four houses on the HCE system are equipped with multiple distributed resources, including batteries. A Helia controller is predicting the batteries’ actual charge-discharge potential instead of the vendors’ rated capabilities, Helia CEO Francisco Marocz told Utility Dive. That allows the houses to support optimal system power flow for HCE.

A similar pilot testing ML‘s ability to optimize battery dispatch proved successful for Colorado’s United Power, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association Analytics Research Program Manager David Pinney told Utility Dive. “The machine learning algorithm was able to forecast the co-op’s optimal dispatch of the various energy storage applications three days ahead.”

Duke Energy is “beginning to use machine learning capabilities, especially in the areas of data analysis and predictive analytics,” Duke spokesperson Jeff Brooks told Utility Dive in an email. There is still human supervision in Duke’s remote switches and reclosers that enable reconfiguring and rerouting in response to outages, but some of it is done with “scripted algorithms and processes.”

“Breakthroughs in computational and data processing capabilities make it possible for algorithms to learn through interactions with the grid environment.”

 Qiuhua Huang

Research Engineer, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Over the next three to five years, Duke data scientists plan to “develop and deploy” AI and ML that will more fully automate analytics, outage management and power flow, Brooks said.

Transmission system operators have been slower to move toward automation, but DOE-funded national lab research is now focused on ML algorithms that train neural networks to process system data, researchers told Utility Dive.

Neural networks are sets of algorithms designed to recognize and order patterns in analyzed data and ML can train them to assist transmission system operators facing sudden large voltage fluctuations, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) research engineer Qiuhua Huang told Utility Dive. In early-stage simulations, algorithms responded in milliseconds to prevent voltage instability and cascading outages.

“Breakthroughs in computational and data processing capabilities make it possible for algorithms to learn through interactions with the grid environment,” he said. “ML observes historic and real time data and learns to produce good outcomes in a way that seems beyond human intuition.”

ML is being used to train a different type of neural network to respond to a transmission line failure caused by a demand spike, weather event or cyberattack, Argonne National Laboratory research scientist Kibaek Kim told Utility Dive. In simulations, it has responded 12 times faster than human operators do today and adjusted the voltages “automatically from the trained model.”

The goal is to take system operators “out of the loop” and leave “the decisions from end to end” to AI, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) research scientist Yingchen Zhang told Utility Dive. It will take time and trials because, unlike an easily discarded ML-selected Netflix movie choice, “the wrong power system decision could cause a blackout across the system and that is not acceptable.”

The need for trials to validate reliability is a major reason ML and AI have seen little deployment, Kim said. Another is that, as Wong noted, utilities and system operators do not yet have the hardware and software to use them, although that is being resolved with new cost-effective access to cloud computing, he said.

More significantly, utilities are reluctant because researchers “do not fully understand the underlying mathematics” of the neural networks and “why they work so well,” Kim said. “The understanding will come, but I don’t know when.”

Until then, an algorithm could encounter something unknown and respond incorrectly, he said.

It is clear ML works the way it was designed “because input provided to the algorithm is learned and performs as intended,” PNNL’s Huang said. “But arguably we don’t know exactly how a neural network selects from the inputs and comes to the final decision because there is so much complicated processing to reach that decision.”

Research is now directed at the question, he added. The likely explanation is that neural networks are using “a totally different way of interpreting these equations with some higher-level logic.”

While the question is being answered, power system operators must decide how to proceed.

How to choose what to use

Deciding whether ML and AI are needed to address operations long addressed with data analytics depends on two factors, GE Digital’s Schnugg said. One is who the system operator is, and the other is what problem the operator wants to address.

ML algorithms “tend to have the most impact when modeling events that have occurred many times, rather than Black Swan events without a data pattern.”

Matt Schnugg

VP for Data and Analytics, GE Digital

Guidelines for making the decision “are not canonical,” but “there are parameters for when it is best to use AI and machine learning,” he said. “First, you have to have a tremendous amount of data cleaned and ready for the algorithm to be trained and built. That is just table stakes. Access to the cloud is usually the most cost-effective way to have that.”

Second, ML algorithms “tend to have the most impact when modeling events that have occurred many times, rather than Black Swan events without a data pattern,” he said. GE’s new Storm Readiness application is built on the history of repeated outages from storms. “Storm readiness is the output of the model. The more outages there are to study, the more accurate the model can be.”

Third, modeling must pass the ‘yeah, no, duh test’ by solving a real problem, Schnugg said. “ML is not needed to predict the sun will rise tomorrow, but if a decision about something very data-rich that occurs repeatedly could lead to appreciably better performance, it is worthy of using AI and ML to build a predictive model.”

There are two definitions for “better performance,” he added. “It can be a more accurate prediction, or it can be saving time while achieving the same accuracy. An ML-based predictive model that automates a process or a series of decisions that would take a human much longer adds tremendous value.”

In GE’s new Storm Readiness product, ML algorithms build and train a neural network to learn the system’s weather and performance data history. It can then predict 72 hours in advance where the storm will hit the system and what resources will be needed to address its impacts.

In contrast, its new Network Connectivity product relies entirely on traditional data analytics to manage transmission and distribution system assets. The objective is to optimize the utility’s business activities, from hardware maintenance to truck rolls.

The GE Effective Inertia application is a hybrid tool that combines real timetransmission system data analytics and an ML-based load and generation forecasting algorithm. It anticipates fluctuations in system inertia 24 hours in advance from momentary supply-demand imbalances caused by rising levels of variable renewables, and informs cost-effective reserve procurements to stabilize the fluctuations.

The cloud has democratized access to data, and now it is the quality of the data and the quality of the question being asked that are most important,” Schnugg said. “ML and AI are only part of the value. The biggest value is helping the utility solve its problem.”


ENVIRONMENT A solar ‘doomsday?’ Solar industry faces possible shutdown following PSC vote

Author: Sammy Fretwell               Published: 11/19/2019        The State

Solar farms have popped up across the Carolinas TDOMINICK@THESTATE.COM

For the second time in two years, a decision by South Carolina leaders threatens to cripple a major segment of the emerging solar power industry, sun energy boosters said Tuesday.

The S.C. Public Service Commission, in a much-awaited decision, sided with major utilities last week in setting the rates power companies must pay solar firms for energy.

The rates for Duke Energy and Dominion Energy are so low that industrial-scale solar developers won’t be able to get financing to continue building sun farms in South Carolina — and that could set back efforts to stabilize people’s utility bills, industry officials and conservationists said.

Utilities dispute predictions of the solar industry’s demise, but sun power backers said the public should pay close attention to the PSC’s actions. In addition to the vote on rates, the commission said utilities don’t need to provide long-term contracts to solar farm developers, a decision that also makes financing difficult, according to the state’s solar industry.

The rates will be the lowest in the country, and the contract lengths among the least attractive in the Southeast, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a national trade group.

“A solar ‘doomsday’ scenario just happened,’’ the Conservation Voters of South Carolina said in an afternoon email to its supporters and the media.

The PSC’s decision put customers of Duke and Dominion in the middle of a battle over solar energy’s future in the state.

Solar farm developers say attractive rates and long-term contracts would help the industry expand in South Carolina and force utilities to buy more solar energy.

That, in turn, would potentially reduce the state’s reliance on traditional forms of energy like coal, nuclear and natural gas. If utilities increase their use of solar power, customers would be less likely to see spikes in their utility bills from rising costs like those associated with coal and natural gas plants, sun farm developers say. Solar power also benefits the environment because it doesn’t release greenhouse gases like coal plants or create waste like nuclear reactors.

“By adopting exceedingly low rates to be paid by Duke and Dominion for independent solar power, and refusing to require contracts longer than ten years, the PSC has made it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for new solar projects to be financed and built,’’ according to a statement from the S.C. Solar Business Alliance, whose members include companies developing solar farms.

John Tynan, director of the Conservation Voters of South Carolina, said the Public Service Commission “basically decided to shut down solar competition and keep the utilities monopoly status quo.’’

But utilities dispute those assessments, saying the solar industry is doing fine in South Carolina. Utilities contend that providing higher rates to solar companies for power produced on sun farms would hurt customers. They say they would simply pass along costs to hundreds of thousands of customers in South Carolina. Duke and Dominion provide energy to most of the state.

Duke spokesman Ryan Mosier said his company “largely agrees with the commission’s ruling’’ on the rate solar energy companies would receive for solar power they produce.

“The solar industry continues to expand in the South, and we see no reason why that shouldn’t continue,’’ Mosier said in an email. “In the past, solar adapted to current market conditions and prospered. Duke Energy sees solar as a growing and important part of our overall energy mix.’’ Dominion said it is still evaluating Friday’s PSC ruling, but the company released a statement saying it supports adding more renewable energy to provide power.

Solar farms have popped up across South Carolina in recent years as the business and political climate for solar has improved. But solar companies in the past were getting better rates and contract terms from power companies than they are now being offered, critics say.

Southern Current, one of the state’s more prominent industrial-scale solar farm developers, has since 2017 announced plans for more than $800 million in investment by constructing 700 megawatts of new solar. The company employs about 100 full-time workers in South Carolina, said Hamilton Davis, the company’s director of regulatory affairs.

Last week’s PSC decision is the second since 2018 to threaten the solar industry. In 2018, the state Legislature failed to approve a bill that would have lifted a state-imposed cap on the expansion of rooftop solar after influential utilities persuaded lawmakers to kill the bill on a technicality. The Legislature’s failure to remove the cap threatened to grind the home solar industry to a halt.

Negotiations among Duke, Dominion and solar power advocates kept the industry going until the Legislature in 2019 approved the expansive Energy Freedom Act.

The 2019 law lifted the cap, while also setting a minimum 10-year contract length for solar energy projects that were in the works. But it said the PSC should also reexamine many solar issues, including the contract lengths and rates to be paid by utilities to solar farm companies in the future. That led to hearings at the PSC last month over solar rates and contract lengths.

The seven-member PSC voted Friday for the lower rates and to keep contract lengths at 10 years, with only Commissioner Justin Williams dissenting.

Rates approved by the PSC actually dropped some of the rates Duke and Dominion had been required to pay solar developers for many of their projects, according to the solar industry.

The drop in rates is complicated, but it boils down basically to this: Dominion’s solar rate for sun farm developers dropped from three cents to two cents per kilowatt hour, according to the S.C. Solar Alliance. Duke’s solar rate drops from 4.5 cents to three cents, the alliance and Duke Energy said Tuesday. The solar industry was seeking rates of around four cents.

PSC commissioners defended their ruling last week, saying it was the best decision they could make in the long-running dispute between major power companies and sun energy backers. Commissioner Swain Whitfield said he was sympathetic to the arguments for solar, but remained unpersuaded.

Commissioners expressed reservations about making utilities pay high rates for solar-farm produced energy. They also said solar companies had not made a good case for longer-term contracts.

“The record is completely without supporting evidence for terms and conditions that would allow us to establish longer contract terms at this time,’’ Whitfield said.

Commissioner Williams said the S.C. Energy Freedom Act that passed earlier this year was intended to help the solar industry. He questioned whether the commission was following the intent of the law in not setting longer-term contracts.

“I’m concerned by that because I recall hearing much testimony regarding the inability of solar companies to receive financing for contract terms that were shorter in length, such as the 10 year contract term.’’

How South Carolina utilities provide energy has been under the microscope since state-owned Santee Cooper and SCE&G — later purchased by Dominion — walked away from a twin nuclear reactor project they were building in Fairfield County. The companies had spent about $9 billion at the time they quit the construction project in 2017, citing high costs and problems with contractor Westinghouse.

Since then, solar energy boosters have seized the opportunity to promote power production from the sun. Only a fraction of the state’s energy production comes from solar power.

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