National Grid updates smart grid,
DR pilot plans for Worcester, Mass
January 3, 2012

A 15,000-meter smart grid pilot in Worcester, Mass, will cost $44.6 million, about $12 million less than National Grid's original 2009 estimate, the utility said in an updated proposal submitted last week with the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU).  Though largely unchanged from the original, the expanded pilot improves customer engagement plans and includes technology that emerged since the utility first filed its proposal in 2009.

          The DPU should rule on the proposal by June 22 so National Grid can bring the pilot into operation by 2013, the utility requested.  AMI installation for about 5,000 meters will start before such approval to expedite the deployment process, it said.

          National Grid was not available to comment yesterday.

          The delay between the initial and final proposals let National Grid implement a more advanced program with the latest technology, the new proposal said.  For example, it now will use AMI with the latest in open architecture, security and interoperability compared with the models originally slated for installation, it said.

          A cost-sharing agreement with an unnamed vendor let National Grid buy the meters at 2/3 the cost the vendor normally charges, Cheri Warren, a National Grid VP, said in written testimony submitted to the DPU.

          The utility will install 65 advanced distribution automation switches on 11 feeders, down from 17 feeders in the 2009 proposal, Warren said.  The five distribution substations in the pilot area also will be automated, she said.  It firm will deploy 47 overhead capacitor banks with centralized communication and local control to help manage customer voltage more efficiently, she said.

          Monitors for 16 transformers and 16 feeders at "critical locations" in the pilot area will reveal more accurate real-time data that lets the utility run the system closer to full capacity, she said.

          The pilot will now use "cloud computing" -- hosted data storage on an external system -- for managing data, it said.  That means National Grid can avoid the costs of building and running those systems as it proposed in 2009.

          Cloud computing technology was not market ready when National Grid made its initial filing in 2009, Warren told us in September.

          "The company has determined that there are two immediate advantages to cloud computing for the 2012 pilot," Warren said in testimony.  "First, up-front costs are estimated to be substantially less.  Second, it affords a greater level of easy scalability." Cloud computing "represents an elegant solution to the lack of scale in a pilot project," she added.

          Residential customers will break into four levels of participation, Warren said.  Level one customers will get internet and phone access to meter data and energy-saving tips from National Grid.  Level two gets an in-home display that lets them partake in DR events.

          Level three gets an in-home display, automated HVAC units and smart thermostats to let them join a direct-load control program and level four gets everything from level three plus load-controlling devices.

          Small C&I customers will join Level two category and get circuit-level monitoring technology, Warren said.

          National Grid will keep the same critical peak pricing, peak time rebate and hourly pricing programs it floated in 2009, Warren noted.  The Green2Growth conference held in September in Worcester showed "how customers are increasingly aware of new opportunities to manage their energy consumption," and these pricing programs will let customers take charge of their energy use, the utility said.

          Commonwealth law requires such programs to aim for 5% reduction in peak and average load for program participants, it added.


                Shifts in load studied


          "National Grid hopes to gain a better understanding of large-scale consumer shifting of loads from one period to another as well as the impact from general reductions in use that may occur with the implementation of rates and customer tools in this 2012 pilot," the utility said.

          The utility plans to run four "experiments" with advanced distribution technology, it said.  Those tests will decide how real-time data can aid fault restoration, system reliability and future system planning, operations and investment, it said.

          The tests include an advanced recloser technology experiment, a single-phase recloser tripping experiment, a single-phase capacitor switching experiment and a remote fault indication experiment.  A recloser reestablishes and electric circuit.

          The advanced recloser technology restricts the amount of fault energy during reclosing and that could lessen equipment damage during switching, Warren said.  The single-phase recloser tripping test would cut system interruption through automation, she added.

          The single-phase capacitor switching at two distribution feeders could curb peak demand, "allowing released capacity to potentially defer some infrastructure investments," she said.  Twenty new faulted circuit indicators will come with two-way communications and a "distance to fault" capability to help field crews locate faults faster, she said.

          National Grid pulled its initial smart grid proposal in February since the DPU questioned the utility's consumer engagement and project evaluation plans.  Utilities and the DPU cannot discuss already-submitted plans, thus National Grid had to withdraw the project to properly resolve commission concerns.


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