There are Stranger Things Than The Power to Communicate There are Stranger Things Than The Power to Communicate

For well over a hundred years humans have been using electricity to enable communication. First we used the electricity with the telegraph, then the telephone, and we progressed, radio, television, shortly after computers, email, internet, and smartphones.

Humans are social creatures and we need to communicate. We did it before wide spread use of electricity, and now with it’s application we are literally communicating with each other across the globe within seconds. Not only around the globe, but off of it. With electricity we are able to communicate with the men and women on the International space station. Let’s not kid ourselves electricity is the great enabler of the 20th century. It will only expand our horizons, but holds secrets to possibly communicate beyond our own realm of existence.

That’s crazy talk! No, that’s a strange thing, or Stranger Things. In Netflix’s hit original series, we find a small band of boys trying to find a lost friend; a down on his luck cop trying to solve a missing child case and a crazed mother speaking to her lost son through Christmas lights. Lets’ think about it for a minute…if you are trapped in an extra dimensional backwards world with a Demogorgon, you simply have to call ma through the Christmas lights. It’ll make her so happy to hear from you…or so crazy.

Military scientists used large amounts of power (via electricity) to keep a portal open, only to lose a number of soldiers and scientists to another dimensional predator. With poor Will taken to the dark backwards upside-down dimension, destined to become no more than an appetizer for the mighty Demogorgon. Fortunately, it was that same portal that allowed the Sheriff and his mother to enter the backwards-upside down plane of existence, find Will, bring him back to his friends and family. While Eleven a young waffle-loving girl, with potentially enough mental power to challenge professor Xavier himself, takes on the Demogorgon and wins.

With the next season coming this summer, we are left to ponder how Eleven will return to her friends, through might of mind or through massive use of electrical power. What challenges will they face, man-made, extra-planar, but more importantly what will they use to communicate to each other. Bringing it home, how will we communicate in the future? Will we, as humans, be able to break theoretical dimensions and communicate with the inhabits that live, breath and eat there?  How will Stranger Things season 2 feed our imaginations?

While excitedly counting down to the quickly approaching season 2 of Stranger Things, I just might pull out my Christmas lights and toast some waffles…I just need to plug them in…or do I.

 

Visualization: Sourced data from IEA Key World Energy Statistics 2016 and World Bank Open Data Source.

Canada is a leader in electricity generation, producing some of the cleanest and most affordable power in the world. Hitting this “sweet spot”, balancing environmental leadership with affordability, is not easy. In fact, only two developed countries manage to crack the top quartile for greenhouse gas-free (GHG) electricity generation while remaining in the bottom quartile for residential rates, Canada and Norway.

In 2015, Canadian residential prices for electricity sat at 10.72 cents/kwh and just under 80% of its electricity was produced GHG-free. In 2017, that number is now over 80% as Canada continues to take traditional coal assets offline. A significant portion of Canada’s electricity is also renewable, coming primarily from Hydro generation. However, Canada also relies on nuclear power as another important source of non-GHG emitting electricity. Norway, who edges out Canada for the top spot, relies almost exclusively on hydro generation.

The two countries have another important divergence, population size. Our population is much larger than Norway’s. In fact, in the top emissions quartile only France has a larger population than Canada and, although their electricity related GHG emissions are lower, their domestic electricity rates are much higher. The closest countries to Canada in terms of population are United Kingdom and Germany, both of whom have significantly higher GHG emissions and rates.

 

What does the future hold?

As part of an ambitious climate agenda, Canada has committed to increasing its GHG-free power generation to 90% by 2030. Can we do so and retain that coveted balance between environmental leadership and cost? Can Canada overtake Norway as the cleanest and most affordable electricity producing country in the world?  Some interesting questions indeed.

Canada’s greatest challenge, one shared by countries around the world, will be infrastructure renewal. In 2010, the Conference Board of Canada estimated that by 2030 Canada would need to invest $350 million in infrastructure to maintain our current system. More recently, a draft report estimated that the price tag to meet Canada’s most recent climate targets increases to $1.6 billion. These costs necessarily impact rates, in order to maintain that balance Canada will need to be creative in its approaches to investments and infrastructure.

I am looking forward to seeing the new data when it becomes available. I believe Canada will continue to lead the world in reliability, sustainability and affordability, but may be precariously close to the edge of the top quartile as we renew our infrastructure. I am also interested in seeing how the rest of the world shifts following the groundbreaking Paris Climate Agreement and global push for a cleaner future.

 

The CEA Analytics program collects and hosts reams of reliability data for each of its programs – (Bulk Electricity System, Service Continuity, Equipment Reliability Information System (Generation and Transmission). Members of these programs enter their own data via a web application, create reports and/or analyze the data – all they need is their password.

This process has become pretty easy for our members, a result of hard-work, time and effort over the past 7 years or so.  In this blog post, I’ll explain what the scenario looked like in 2009, and how it evolved into the (relatively) seamless and convenient data exchange procedure in place today.

In 2009, CEA Analytics (then called Benchmarking) stored data using a system called Natural/ADABAS. Members sent their data in spreadsheets, or in some cases on CDs, to CEA for input by staff.  Along with this manual data input came a fair amount of testing and validation, which was required to ensure data quality.

Discussions had been taking place with the Generation ERIS committee about migrating to a new tool, a web application that would allow the members to input their own data and to run on-the-fly reports – without the need to wait for the official annual report. The data collected for the Generation ERIS program is extensive, as it covers the state of each generating unit for each of the 8760 hours in a year (8784 for a leap year). For example, is the unit online? Is it running at maximum capacity or derated? Is it offline – if so, why? And so on. Each possibility has its own code, and again, these generating units are tracked to the minute.

The committee had to decide what they wanted from this tool — for example, dashboards, scorecards, and reports. This process was part of the “requirements gathering,” a standard practice when developing applications – where the end users communicate their needs to the developer, often through an intermediary. By this time, a development company had been engaged to create the product. The Analytics team acted as the intermediaries through the requirements process, then testing, debugging, more testing and finally, release to the committee. Documentation was prepared by the developer, and then re-worked into a less technical, more user-friendly guide for the committee’s manual.

This process was repeated for the Service Continuity, Transmission ERIS, and BES Committees. Within a few years, all Analytics members had access to their own committee’s online tool where they may input their utility’s data as well as access committee data in the form of online reports, dashboards and other options. Data quality is checked automatically, and questionable data is highlighted for further investigation.

Each committee has found tremendous value in their upgraded applications. With the enhanced capabilities of data entry and reporting comes the desire for even more features and reporting options. These improvements are continuously examined and revised and brought into the tools constrained only by budget, time and technology. New ideas are always on the horizon.

CEA Analytics presents training webinars of the online applications at least once a year, and reviews them with new members. The next step is to develop videos that will be viewable at any time by members.

This is just a snapshot of what goes on – Behind The Scenes at CEA Analytics.

The Canadian Electricity Association would like to introduce our newest Corporate Partner, ARCOS, we look forward to working with them as we continue to advance Canada’s electricity sector!

ARCOS is the North American leader in delivering innovative resource management software to help utilities of all sizes: plan for and respond to outages, gas leaks, restore service, and report in real-time on restoration. With ARCOS, utilities and power generation plants reduce risk and save time and money by automating emergency response and crew management. 130 utilities in North America, including the 25 largest, rely on ARCOS solution to manage both blue sky and storm events.

Recently, ARCOS has developed a scalable and efficient solution package and program specifically for cooperatives and municipal utilities, this solution improves reliability, response times, restoration and safety.

ARCOS has customers across the United States and Canada and is focused on helping utilities respond, restore and report on both large and events.  Learn about ARCOS at www.arcos-inc.com.

Electricity has been called the great enabler of modern society. From the alarm that wakes us up in the morning to the traffic lights that guide us to work and home again, electricity is central to our lives. So much so that we often forget it is there at all. We just know it will be, literally at the flick of a switch. In a word: indispensable.

Some argue that we take electricity too much for granted. Perhaps. But, the flip side of this coin is that this unquestioning reliance is the sector’s legacy. And our members are incredibly proud of this track record, and are committed to sustaining it every day. Every year, during the month of June, we recognize the crucial role that electricity plays in powering our work, our play and our future.

This year, CEA is kicking off NEM with the launch of its new website. We have redesigned sections on the sector’s clean energy leadership, its advocacy for innovation and sustainability as well as an educational section on the past, present and future of the industry. Also included are sections on CEA’s awards programs, publications and upcoming news and events. We may have a new look, but our commitment to providing safe, sustainable and reliable electricity to all Canadians remains.

To help celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, CEA will be releasing a cross-country video on the past and future of Canadian energy. The first video on Saskatchewan is already available on the NEM website. On June 5th, CEA and Plug n’ Drive will be opening applications for the Annual Electric Vehicle Awards to recognize those companies driving excellence the adoption and education of Electric Vehicles.

On June 28th, CEA will be partnering with iPolitics and Facebook to host a journalismLIVE event in Ottawa entitled Climate Action and Canadian Competitiveness: Can We Find Consensus. The event, which will be live-streamed over social and digital networks, aims to kick-start a Canadian dialogue on the benefits and challenges of building a long-term national clean energy strategy. Please join us for this important conversation.

Canadian electricity is among the cleanest in the world. We are leaders in GHG reduction, clean growth and job creation. Join us while we celebrate 150 of Canadian innovation, drive and excellence. To find out more about NEM and other CEA activities, visit our website. And stay abreast of our activities during the month of June by following us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter using hashtag #NEM2017.

Tap tap tap tap tap….

The sound of a woodpecker ranges in pleasantness depending on your location. In the woods? In your garden? You’re probably treating the woodpecker like a celebrity sighting and quickly snapping photos. In bed, trying to catch up on sleep? You’re probably cursing the small to mid-sized tree-dweller. And if you’re relying on your utility to provide you power, that’s a whole other story.

When we think of threats to electric power system reliability, we think big – storms, lightning, etc. Who knew that a family of birds could be such a threat to reliability? Woodpeckers cause a lot of damage to the distribution system due to their dependence on drilling for most aspects of their life – exploration, foraging, and nesting.

Holes from woodpeckers vary in size and number depending on the activity, and due to their territorial behaviour, they often return in subsequent years to create more. The damage caused by woodpeckers is also a double hitter because the holes create an entry point for other causes of wood pole failures – water, insects – as well as affecting the structural integrity of the pole.

86.7% of respondents to a Canadian Electricity Association (CEA) survey indicated that their utility experiences woodpecker damage. The consequences can be severe: loss of distribution assets, maintenance costs, not to mention threats to line crews and public safety.

It is difficult to deter woodpeckers away from utility poles, which make the perfect solitary nest or feeder – with lots of visibility. Habitat loss, a concern for many animals, may be pushing woodpeckers into more populated areas where utility poles provide an easy home. One possible solution is to leave old utility poles up next to replacements to capitalize on their territorial tendencies and encourage the birds to return to the older poles.

Finding a way to support these beautiful creatures while providing safe and reliable electricity is an ongoing conservation and reliability challenge. CEA’s Analytics program supports our members to facilitate important discussions, information sharing, and problem solving for our electricity system – and sometimes – the creatures who live along side us too.

Canada’s first beyond visual line of sight drone flight a success

Unmanned flight so recently seemed like a thing of futuristic movies and comic books. A few short years down the road and anyone can purchase a drone on the internet for a few hundred dollars. Although commonly known for their great panoramic selfies, small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS) are actually a milestone for aviation and have some real civil and commercial applications.

Today, sUAS’ are used to hunt hurricanes, providing data that could revolutionize how we detect major storms. They fight forest fires, capitalizing on their ability to be airborne in minutes and operate in harsh environments where manned aircraft simply cannot fly. In the United States, sUASs are used to protect wildlife and create detailed maps of protected lands. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police use them for search and rescue, covering large areas and difficult terrain day or night.

Last month, CEA Corporate Partner  Aeryon Labs made the next leap in unmanned flight technology when their SkyRanger became the first ever to successfully complete Transport Canada’s Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) flight trials. BVLOS flight, where the operator can no longer maintain visual contact with the aircraft, will not only multiply the applications of sUASs but also make their current application more feasible and cost-effective since the pilot won’t have to continuously adjust their location.

Canada is among the few nations to be running BVLOS trials worldwide, placing Transport Canada among the leaders in establishing standards and guidelines to ensure the safe and legal operation of sUAVs. With today’s capabilities being the things of dreams only a few years ago, no one knows what the future holds for unmanned flight – but it is a safe bet that Aeryon Labs and Canada will be at its leading edge.

Many of us take electricity for granted. Actually I’d go as far and say that almost 100% of us do. I know I do. I flick a switch and voila! Lights on. Amazing, magical even. With the birth of electricity we have some pretty amazing tools, the light-bulb for starters, the computer, smartphones, air conditioning,  electric trains, and best of all the television.  Now imagine a world without electricity. We’d be going to bed much earlier than we are now, no late-night TV shows, food would spoil much faster, ice blocks would still be carved from lakes and rivers and hauled to your business or home. Mortality rates would be higher than they are today. Fundamentally we’d probably be moved back in innovation more than a century.  I shudder to think I would not see a single episode of Game of Thrones.

Lets put a twist on it for a minute, imagine electricity in Westaros, the world in Game of Thrones. What could it do? What would the people be doing, what would we see?

Well now…what would we see indeed…(Spoiler alerts), with electricity…

Let’s start with Tyrion Lannister, everyone’s favourite character in the series. After being thrown in jail, he doesn’t have much to do except yell out, “Look at the wedding tape, look at the wedding tape, I didn’t do it!”

Image result for Tyrion Lannister in jail

 

Arya Stark, young, adventurous, vengeful, what does she do a with smart phone in hand, as she travels the countryside with the Hound she takes snapshots of the places she’s been and things she’s seen, and posts them on her ‘Facebook’. Snapshots, at King’s Landing, the Inn, at Harrenhall, and eventually Riverrun, and then finally off to Braavos.  Finally she posts her collection of selfies and the ‘list’ to the cloud and slaps on a fancy tune, “Missing You” by John Waite.

Brienne of Tarth, our lady knight and Podrick Payne, Tyrion’s squire, start their quest by throwing their gear in the back of a lime green electric vehicle. Jump-in and drive off to Riverrun, doing donuts and wheelies on the less travelled roads having the time of their lives.

And finally thanks to electricity a new best seller hits King’s Landing book stores. “How I lost my Job to the Electric Chair, an Executioner’s Tale.”

I tell you now, the next Game of Thrones couldn’t come sooner. Thanks to electricity I will get to watch it. Simple pleasure, guilty pleasure?

When using the term “renewable revolution”, many conjure up images of the French Revolution, when an entire social and political system was upended in under ten years. While technological revolutions can sometimes occur rapidly (i.e. the Internet Revolution), more often they are much slower. Such is the case with the Industrial Revolution that arguably began with Abraham Darby’s pioneering use of coke to smelt iron ore in 1709, and lasted as late as Henry Ford’s Mass-production of the Model T in 1908. That’s almost 200 years! While comparing the industrial revolution to the “renewable revolution” may not be an apples-to-apples comparison, the point is that the best technical analysis available and the political realities of our time both strongly suggest that we are not a French Revolution away from the completion of the “great renewable revolution”, where all energy is renewable and no one is tethered down by that “old-fashioned” grid.

 

 

Figure 1: Unsubsidized Levelized Cost of Energy Comparison for Various Generation Technologies, Source: Lazard 2016

The demand for government action to accelerate the “renewable revolution” does not consider the fact that some renewable energy sources are currently economically competitive with conventional generation technologies such as coal and natural gas. This brings into question the need for subsidies at all. For instance, Lazard’s December 2016 Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE1) Analysis places unsubsidized wind generation in the U.S. at between $32/MWh and $62/MWh, lower than all conventional generation technologies measured (Figure 1).  The primary takeaway? Wind at good locations and proper scales, produces lower cost energy than the most competitive forms of fossil-fueled generation.

Despite the apparent cost-efficiency of alternative energy sources, such as wind, we are not yet ready to fully supplant conventional energy generation technologies with alternative resources.  Accompanying Lazard’s 2016 analysis was a study of unsubsidized LCOE for energy storage. The study found that: “Even though alternative energy is increasingly cost-competitive and storage technology holds great promise, alternative energy systems alone will not be capable of meeting the baseload generation needs of a developed economy for the foreseeable future.” Testament to this are Lazard’s findings that the lowest LCOE range for Lithium-Ion battery storage, which was that at the transmission grid scale (notice the word grid), ranged from $267/MWh to $561/MWh, almost 10 times higher than the LCOE of wind energy. Taken together, intermittent renewable generation paired with energy storage, produces costs of energy far outside of the range of conventional sources such as hydro and natural gas.

Lazard’s 2016 analysis suggests many things, one of the most important being that renewable technologies are changing the energy landscape. However, it does not assert that the grid is soon to be a thing of the past, which some assume to be an inherent feature of the renewable revolution before us. In fact, most technical analysis, especially when paired with environmental considerations, points to the grid being our only hope of meeting continental GHG commitments. For instance, the Brattle Group recently noted that changes in the energy landscape will lead to declining demand for electricity in the U.S. from current sources, but at the same time, only the widespread electrification of sectors, such as heating and transportation, would allow the US to reach GHG reduction goals. This widespread electrification can only be economically (and technically) achieved in the near future using utility scale projects and utilizing locational advantages enabled by transmission and distribution systems.

 

 

Figure 2: GHG Emissions Reductions Under Various Electrification Scenarios, Source: 2016 Analysis for the NREL by The Brattle Group
So, in closing, what am I calling for? I am calling for innovation in how we think about innovation. Pragmatic innovation calls for us to use the technology at our disposal, deploying it in the most efficient manner that we know while being mindful of possible cost increases that can arise from irrational exuberance for a French-style renewable energy revolution.

 

Advocating for the fracturing of the grid, and its reorganization into energy fiefdoms is counterproductive to the general goal of innovation. Indeed, an article in The Economist recently pointed out that it is the Ultra High Voltage Direct Current (UHVDC) system that allows China to cost-effectively produce and transport renewable energy from its frontier to its densely populated coastal regions. To be sure, the Lazard analysis does note that behind-the-meter energy generation/storage systems at factories, universities and hospitals are promising, but it is also careful to point out that the economic viability of these systems depends on local market structures and incentives. This is also the case with residential generation/storage systems that rely on subsidies, and importantly, the ability to sell power back onto the grid to be economical. Again, that word, “grid”!

I am not saying that we stop incubating innovation. Canada has many policy mechanisms that perform this role. What I advocate is for us to deploy the renewable technologies that HAVE matured, in the way that we KNOW they are currently best used. That means allowing the engineers and planners at our utilities (the best system for electricity provision that we have for the foreseeable future) to do their jobs and innovate where they see appropriate.

To assist our utilities in doing this will require new regulatory models. These regulatory models must be designed with innovation in mind, both in terms of technology, but also in terms of business. For instance, small residential solar with storage may be a cost-effective solution in certain circumstances, but in many cases these systems require large upfront payments that deter many private citizens. Why not, as in Vermont, allow our utilities to deploy these systems on loan? Why not allow utilities to experiment with rates that properly charge net-metering1 users for their increased use of the grid, or for the value of the power that they produce? Why don’t we, like in New York, start a conversation regarding how to work towards the regulated utility model of the future, as opposed to how to destroy it? To harken back to my French Revolution analogy, I say let’s recognize that the royal treasury is not empty, but let’s also realize that this does not preclude us from convening the Estates-General.

 


1 The ability of rooftop solar owners to sell power back to the grid, which is required in order to render many of these systems cost-effective