5.5 Million Smart Grid Stimulus to MGE Customers

Madison Gas and Electric (MGE) is receiving a $5.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. MGE will use the grant to install technologies to boost efficiency, enhance service and improve reliability for customers.

The stimulus grant will help fund the following projects, which will begin next month:

Advanced metering infrastructure

MGE will install meters capable of two-way communication for all large commercial and industrial customers. The equipment monitors and analyzes customers’ energy consumption patterns on an hourly, daily and seasonal basis. The information will be used to educate customers about their energy use and how they can conserve energy and lower emissions. The meters also will be used for outage notification and tracking power quality.

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles support

MGE will also install a network of up to 18 public and 25 residential charging stations for electric and electric hybrid vehicles in the Madison area. MGE will study the impacts of vehicle charging on the electric power grid and on home energy use and demand.  

Distribution management

MGE will also install new distribution/management capabilities. During an outage, MGE system operators will be able to quickly identify the best options for restoring and rerouting power to reduce outage times.

MGE generates and distributes electricity to 138,000 customers in Dane County, Wis., and purchases and distributes natural gas to 142,000 customers in seven south-central and western Wisconsin counties. MGE’s parent company is MGE Energy (Nasdaq: MGEE). The company’s roots in the Madison area date back more than 150 years.

For more info click here

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Making synthetic fuel with solar panels

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Cisco launches router , switch for smart grids

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Smart Grid provide energy to USPS

GridPoint says it has scored a deal to provide its energy management system to potentially 2,250 United States Postal Service locations in the U.S. USPS (United States Postal Service)  needs all the help it can get when it comes to reducing costs, and has been working on reducing energy use in its facilities by 30 percent by 2015. Using GridPoint’s energy management tools, USPS will be able to track, monitor and manage the energy consumption in its buildings.

A year ago GridPoint bought up stealthy Canadian energy management startup Lixar SRS, which had developed software to help businesses and consumers manage energy use. Lixar’s interface and design had gotten praise from its users, and at the time of the acquisition GridPoint said it would use the Lixar tool to “enhance its enterprise-class software.”

Buying up energy management players has become a bit of a trend for the larger smart grid infrastructure companies. Wireless network player Silver Spring Networks acquired Greenbox, and demand response company EnerNOC has bought up five various energy management startups.

For GridPoint, and these other smart grid firms, a contract like the one with USPS is a solid win. The organization has thousands of locations across the U.S., which means more sales, but also an interesting test bed to pilot the system at similar sites but with different geographies (energy consumption trends can be very regional). USPS has also been experimenting with green cars, and Bright Automotive, which makes a plug-in hybrid car called the IDEA, has a contract to retrofit a standard postal service fleet vehicle with its electric drive train and test the vehicle in Washington, D.C., for a year.

for more info click here

Smart Grid will be bigger than the Internet?

There a number of strong parallels between the arc of information technology and the current trajectory of the smart grid.  While cause and effect are debatable, the fact is that a lot of the people driving changes in the clean tech world have IT backgrounds. It may be true that to the man with a hammer, the entire world looks like a nail.

Disclosure: This is what we are trying to do at EcoFactor. We use the Internet to help consumers automatically manage their home energy use through a SaaS (software as a service) platform.  Our industry experience has given us a front-row seat for both the historical revolution in IT and the impending one in the smart grid, and we see some specific parallels between the two. We’re not alone, but many trends in clean tech really do look a lot like the IT revolution.

Trend #1: The Internet changes everything

Remember CompuServe? Prodigy? AOL? At the dawn of what became the Internet, their “walled gardens” defined the online experience for millions of users. Today, the idea that your service provider told you what you could do with your connection seems quaint.

We see a number of efforts now to fence in the smart grid — to define and limit what can be done and who can do it. But just as the World Wide Web made such finger-in-the-dyke efforts futile last time, the Internet ‘s furious pace of innovation will again overwhelm those kinds of defenses.

The smart grid will enable automated energy management, automated dynamic price response, and a host of innovations we can’t yet imagine. It will reward companies that find innovative ways of leveraging diverse data sources, devices and technologies. And if those applications aren’t welcomed inside the walled gardens, the applications will simply route around them.

Ironically, these Internet-based products won’t just benefit consumers, they will benefit utilities, energy retailers, and home service providers, too. Terabytes of new data will offer grid managers greatly increased visibility into demand — and not just yesterday’s, but tomorrow’s — all the way down to the individual home level.

Trend #2: Consumer value and ease-of-use will drive the market

At the beginning of the PC revolution, early adopters bought Osbornes and KayPros and Apple IIs because they were innovative and cool. But those users had to put up with awkward interfaces and the need for considerable effort and expertise to keep them running. As long as even basic word processing required a mastery of command line syntax, there could be no mainstream consumer adoption of PCs. Getting past that barrier required both improved technology and a shift in philosophy: market growth means insulating consumers from the bits and bytes. It also means offering new applications (like browsers) that effectively leverage the connected world.

Many consumer-facing smart grid offerings today are, in effect, all about the bits and bytes. Home energy dashboards and reporting tools ask customers to know, care about and pay attention to the details of their energy consumption, but provide no easy way for consumers to take action and benefit from them. DR solutions ask consumers to accept discomfort in order to address grid-level problems like peak demand.

Today, new solutions allow consumers to maintain complete control over the temperature in their homes and achieve significant cost savings without ever thinking about therms or kilowatt hours or setback schedules — from any device, or automatically, and with no device at all. Just as the iPod and iTunes let users focus on the music, the winning smart grid applications will let users focus on the results, not the process.

Trend #3: The entrance of big tech speeds market maturation

Most early PC makers — Kaypro, Osborne, Apple — were just PC makers. As long as it looked like a not-ready-for-prime-time niche market, the giants in adjacent industries stayed on the sidelines. Just as IBM’s entrance into the PC market took that industry to the next phase of its evolution, today’s IT giants like Microsoft, Google, and Cisco are indicating their own perception that the smart grid market is ready to sustain the behemoths. In a sense, they have brought us to the end of the beginning of the smart grid.

As with the PC revolution, the presence of these blue chip companies legitimizes the industry for potential customers, and that legitimacy benefits not just the blue chip players, but competitors large and small. That said, the fact that the grid gains from Google’s entrance does not necessarily mean that the opposite is also true.  Mainframe giant IBM could not translate that strength into long-term dominance of the PC market; there is no guarantee that the IT giants will dominate the smart grid. But their presence will almost certainly propel it forward.

What does it all mean?

The Internet, the growing importance of the user experience, and the entrance of large tech companies should all be seen as good omens for the future of the smart grid.  These trends will lead to better products and services, which will in turn drive consumer adoption. And consumer adoption will be the key to fulfilling the environmental and economic potential of the smart grid.

Knoxville, TN Upgrades Infrastructure with Smart Grid Technology

Knoxville Utilities Board (KUB), an electric, gas, water and wastewater service provider, will upgrade and enhance its existing network infrastructure with smart grid technology from Intergraph. With the Intergraph Smart Grid Operations Command-and-Control Center, KUB will consolidate and streamline network operations, leading to increased accuracy, efficiency and reliability.

The new smart grid solution will integrate Intergraph outage management system (OMS) and mobile workforce management (MWFM) technology with SCADA and alarm functionality to simplify the presentation of complex data and improve situational awareness for grid operators. It will be used to manage and control the electric distribution network, as well as dispatch work orders for the utility’s natural gas and water systems.

“As an existing user of Intergraph’s InService technology for outage and mobile workforce management, we had already experienced firsthand the efficiency benefits that can be achieved through the company’s geospatially-powered utilities solutions,” said Barry Jones, representative for KUB’s outage and mobile workforce system. “By upgrading to Intergraph’s InService 8.2, we will be adding smart grid functionality to our command-and-control infrastructure to more easily pinpoint problem areas on our network and remediate potential outages before they occur.”

In addition to integrating SCADA and alarm functionality into its grid, KUB will also work with Intergraph to develop a wall board display of its full electric distribution system that will dynamically depict outage information and additional network data. By incorporating all of these functions into a single user interface, KUB’s system operators will no longer have to rely on multiple displays to accomplish their tasks and keep the network up and running. The system will also prevent information overload during major storm situations.

“Intergraph is a leader in enabling utilities to quickly visualize the operational state of their networks, including abnormal device conditions and outage types and locations, and respond accordingly to eliminate outages and reduce outage time,” said Jay Stinson, vice president of Utilities & Communications at Intergraph. “By consolidating key grid functions into a single user interface, utilities like KUB can stay a step ahead of outages, work more efficiently and provide safer, more reliable service to customers.”

Further information can be found at Intergraph website and KUB website.

Smart Grid Revolution Starts With Big-Electron Storage

The paradigm of the “smart grid” has been embraced eagerly by everyone from staid old utilities to Silicon Valley venture capitalists, from startups and industrial giants to the Department of Energy, with its generous stimulus grants for the development. Why not? Who wouldn’t want to go from the ostensible dumb grid to a smart one? Easy sell.

Big opportunities for everyone in a transformative electric network: for consumers to make smarter energy decisions, vendors to sell smart hardware and software, utilities to optimize their assets and get green “cred,” and of course, for investors to facilitate and benefit from both real and frothy growth. Win-win all around. Bigger, greener, better, smarter.

So will the electric grid come to resemble the architecture of the Internet’s pervasive communications grid? It can and it will, but not entirely for the reasons proffered by smart grid cognoscenti. You need to know just two things–two macro trends–to know why the smart grid is coming, and will be a big secular trend. First is the rising use of electricity and collateral radical increase in its importance. Second are the technologies to make the grid smarter have come of age, and just in time.

First, the demand. More than 70% of U.S. energy is used for non-transportation purposes, with the majority (60%) of all non-transport needs being met with electrons. The use of energy in the form of electricity (measured in “barrels of oil equivalent” per year) has risen 75% in the past 30 years. The Energy Information Administration forecasts the trend continuing for another 30 years. Energy used for all other purposes (again, excluding cars, planes and trains, which for context use about 5 BBOE per year) has been essentially flat for three decades and will stay essentially flat, even as the U.S. economy has grown, and is forecast to grow.

Global spending on electric transport (transmission and distribution infrastructure) already runs about $100 billion annually, with the U.S. accounting for 20% of that market. It’s an easy bet on this macro; a lot more money will be spent on electric grids. That’s pretty much all you need to know to bet on this sector, but there’s more. Add to this trend the imperative to achieve more efficiency from the electric system, reliably and securely. This can only come from adding more smarts to the grid. Growth will be proportionally faster on new technologies to add smarts to the old.

New Platinum Could be Cheaper for More Efficient Fuel Cells

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the University of Houston are talking about a new form of platinum that might be helpful in making cheaper, more efficient fuel cells. This work has been published in the April 25th issue of Nature Chemistry.

The team is trying to modify the platinum’s reactivity. This step will enable the researchers to cut back the quantity of platinum required by 80 percent. They are also quite positive about minimizing the quantity by another 10 percent. This will reduce the overall cost of the fuel cells. Nilsson says, “I think with a factor of ten, we’ll have a home run.”

Fuel cells work much like batteries. An anode gives out electrons and a cathode collects those electrons thus forming a circuit. So what is the difference between a fuel cell and a battery? Fuel cells use hydrogen and oxygen to complete their energy-producing reactions. The by-product is water and heat.

What metal is chosen for cathode is extremely important. Because some of the metals can’t break the oxygen molecule into atoms. And some bind strongly with oxygen so the important reactions don’t take place. Scientists are trying to attain a balance so that the number of oxygen bonds broken is maximized and the oxygen atoms attach feebly to the catalyst. Platinum helps the scientist in attaining that balance. It breaks the oxygen bonds but does not fasten to the free oxygen atoms too powerfully.

What the Greentech Can Do for Electric Cars

Cheaper, longer-lasting, safer and smaller — those are the kinds of rechargeable batteries that could become available for electric cars if some of the research projects funded under the Department of Energy’s latest round of grants for high-risk, early-stage energy technologies deliver on their moonshot ambitions.

Of the more than $106 million in grants announced this week under the Energy Department’s ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy) program, nearly a third — some $34.6 million — has been allocated to 10 projects developing energy storage tech for plug-in vehicles. In addition, 13 projects working on electrofuels (converting hydrogen and carbon dioxide into motor fuel, for example), have garnered more than $41.2 million.

In the group of energy storage projects, a 6-year-old company called ReVolt Technology (a spin-off of one of the research institute SINTEF, Norway) won the largest award — just over $5 million — to work on zinc-air flow batteries that would enable plug-in vehicles to drive longer distances on a single charge. Sion Power Corp, founded in 1994 as a spin-off from Brookhaven National Lab, follows close behind with a $5 million grant to develop a lithium-sulfur battery that in theory could power an electric vehicle for more than 300 miles between charges.

Created in 2007, but left unfunded until the passage of last year’s Recovery Act, ARPA-E has $400 million to award over two years, and winning teams are required to share at least 10 percent of the project costs. Since the program is meant to support work on tech that other investors consider too risky, each of the awards represents something of a gamble.

Massachusetts-based battery maker A123Systems, which went public in September and scored a $249 million DOE grant last summer, has gotten in on two of the latest ARPA-E bets, as a partner on projects led by Applied Materials and MIT. Awarded grants of more than $4 million each, those projects will focus on developing a low-cost manufacturing process for lithium-ion batteries, and a new type of semi-solid rechargeable flow battery.

Other winners in this latest round of grants include startup Planar Energy (about $4 million), PolyPlus Technologies (nearly $5 million), MIT spin-off Pellion Technologies ($3.2 million), Recapping Inc. ($1 million) based in Menlo Park, Calif., and Missouri University of Science & Technology (nearly $1 million), working on a lithium-air battery.

While 10 projects focused on energy storage tech for transportation in this latest round, there’s only one automaker in the mix: Honda, which is partnering research into all-electron batteries (moving electrons rather than ions) led by Stanford University.

In the bigger picture, if even one of these research projects pans out it could disrupt the auto industry as we know it. That’s a big “if” however, and this research remains at an early enough stage that we likely won’t see the impact of it for years to come. As as CalCars.org founder Felix Kramer has put it to us, ARPA-E is “explicitly for long-term home runs,” rather than near-term solutions.

For the full list of awards and project descriptions, click here