The Smart Grid and Hurricane Sandy: Challenges Still Ahead
Two years ago, Hurricane Sandy ravaged the eastern seaboard, causing $65 billion worth of damage to homes, infrastructure, and property. In this time of crisis, 8 million Americans were without power. According to the U.S. Government, this would have been a much larger number if smart grid upgrades had not been in place. Pepco, the utility serving much of Washington DC and Maryland, was working overtime to restore power to 130,000 homes in two days after the hurricane hit.
“Thanks to smart meters (two-way meters) installed in 425,000 homes, Pepco was notified by the meters' ‘no power’ signal that allowed it to quickly pinpoint where outages were in the network,” according a blog post from the Smart Grid government agency. “The signals arrived at their central monitoring post, allowing them to respond to customers quickly and effectively.”
This is just one example of how the smart grid is extremely effective in situations such as a natural disaster where access to power is limited to none.
"Such risks are going to persist and we'll see more and more extreme events, more variability will hit our systems and infrastructure," Massoud Amin, an IEEE senior member and a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Minnesota—where he also serves as director of the Technological Leadership Institute—told Intelligent Utility last January. "This brings a wider range of uncertainty to future events. This is both a local challenge and a regional and national opportunity to upgrade and harden the system."
Though the discussion surrounding the smart grid and disaster scenarios is still very much ongoing, one topic that’s being thrown around is how the grid could be upgraded further in order to prevent future blackouts. The biggest problem, however, may be the timeline.
“People have to realize that this is a process,” Stefanie Brand, director of New Jersey Division of the Rate Counsel, told NJ.com. “This is not something that’s going to be fixed overnight. These storms are something that are always going to be problematic. We can’t expect that if we spend ‘X’ amount of money that we’re never going to have outages in these storms again. It’s really a question of just trying to do the best we can to keep those numbers low and to keep our restoration times shorter.”
It’s time to upgrade the smart grid everywhere, but for places that are at risk for extreme weather events, it’s more important than ever. They’re not the only solution to better response, but they’re an absolutely crucial portion.
Ofwat allows retailers to raise prices from April
Retailers can recover a portion of excess bad debt by temporarily increasing prices from April 2022, according to an Ofwat statement.
The regulator confirmed its view that levels of bad debt costs across the business retail market are exceeding 2% of non-household revenue, thereby allowing "a temporary increase" in the maximum prices. Adjustments to price caps will apply for a minimum of two years to reduce the step changes in price that customers might experience.
Measures introduced since March 2020 to contain the spread of Covid-19 could lead to retailers facing higher levels of customer bad debt. Retailers’ abilities to respond to this are expected to be constrained by Ofwat strengthening protections for non-household customers during Covid-19 and the presence of price caps.
In April last year, Ofwat committed to provide additional regulatory protection if bad debt costs across the market exceeded 2% of non-household revenue.
Georgina Mills, Business Retail Market Director at Ofwat said: “These decisions aim to protect the interests of non-household customers in the short and longer term, including from the risk of systemic Retailer failure as the business retail market continues to feel the impacts of COVID-19. By implementing market-wide adjustments to price caps, we aim to minimise any additional costs for customers in the shorter term by promoting efficiency and supporting competition.”
There are also three areas where Ofwat has not reached definitive conclusions and is seeking further evidence and views from stakeholders:
- Pooling excess bad debt costs – Ofwat proposes that the recovery of excess bad debt costs is pooled across all non-household customers, via a uniform uplift to price caps.
- Keeping open the option of not pursuing a true up – For example if outturn bad debt costs are not materially higher than the 2% threshold.
- Undertaking the true up – If a 'true up' is required, Ofwat has set out how it expects this to work in practice.
Further consultation on the proposed adjustments to REC price caps can be expected by December.
"While it’s great that regulators are helping the industry deal with bad debt in the wake of the pandemic, raising prices only treats the symptoms. Instead, water companies should head upstream, using customer data to identify and rectify the causes of bad debt, stop it at source and help prevent it from occurring in the first place," she said.
"While recouping costs is a must, water companies shouldn’t just rely on the regulator. Data can help companies segment customers, identify and assist customers that are struggling financially, avoiding penalising the entire customer in tackling the cause of the issue."
United Utilities picks up pipeline award
A race-against-time plumbing job to connect four huge water pipes into the large Haweswater Aqueduct in Cumbria saw United Utilities awarded Utility Project of the Year by Pipeline Industries Guild.
The Hallbank project, near Kendal, was completed within a tight eight-day deadline, in a storm and during the second COVID lockdown last November – and with three hours to spare. Principal construction manager John Dawson said the project helped boost the resilience of water supplies across the North West.
“I think what made us stand out was the scale, the use of future technology and the fact that we were really just one team, working collaboratively for a common goal," he said.
Camus Energy secures $16m funding
Camus Energy, which provides advanced grid management technology, has secured $16 million in a Series A round, led by Park West Asset Management and joined by Congruent Ventures, Wave Capital and other investors, including an investor-owned utility. Camus will leverage the operating capital to expand its grid management software platform to meet growing demand from utilities across North America.
As local utilities look to save money and increase their use of clean energy by tapping into low-cost and low-carbon local resources, Camus' grid management platform provides connectivity between the utility's operations team, its grid-connected equipment and customer devices.