Is it necessary for utilities to "go digital"?

New technologies are fundamentally transforming the utility industry. As this transformation occurs, it is necessary for utilities to "go digital" and to take advantage of the massive amounts of data being produced. In leveraging data, companies can make faster, better decisions; improve operational efficiency; and reinvent how they operate.

Discover how IBM is working with businesses to help develop digital strategies that leverage data to address the complex challenges companies are facing.

This executive summary contains insight from Paul Davis, Executive Partner, IBM and Bryan Sacks, Head of Work and Asset Optimization Solutions, IBM. It covers the following key takeaways:

  • ​Technology is driving fundamental change in the utilities industry.
  • Utilities need to go digital.
  • Mobility offers unrealized potential, especially for field workers.
  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning are technologies that are coming fast.

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Trump names Chatterjee FERC chair

President Trump designated Commissioner Neil Chatterjee to be the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The White House announcement on Wednesday ends weeks of speculation over the status of McIntyre, who has not made a public appearance since July and missed FERC's monthly meetings in September and October.

In a letter dated Oct. 22, the outgoing chairman wrote to President Trump, proposing that he "step aside from the position of chairman and its additional duties so that I can commit myself fully to my work as commissioner."

McIntyre's decision to stay on FERC will allow Republicans to preserve partisan parity on the five-person commission until GOP nominee Bernard McNamee is confirmed by the Senate. If he left FERC entirely, the commission would be left with two Democrats and a Republican chair.

The reshuffling will allow Chatterjee, a former staffer for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a second chance to leave his mark on FERC.

During his first stint with the gavel, Chatterjee oversaw FERC's initial response to the Department of Energy's proposed coal and nuclear bailout, filed in late Sept. 2017.

During debate over the plan, Chatterjee ruffled feathers at the commission for floating a short-term coal and nuclear subsidy proposal to the press before notifying fellow regulators and their staffs.

Though he eventually voted against the DOE's proposal, Chatterjee's presentation of that plan and subsequent comments defending it were unusual for a FERC regulator, who typically do not comment extensively on pending issues before the commission.

Chatterjee also received some criticism for social media posts mocking pipeline activists that disrupted a FERC meeting, particularly actor James Cromwell.

"Come at me bro!" Chatterjee wrote on Facebook in response to a post from Cromwell.

In recent months, however, Chatterjee has stayed away from controversy, instead focusing on pipeline cybersecurity and energy storage, two emerging areas of FERC concentration.

Chatterjee also said in July that he believes humans are causing climate change, though he has refrained from factoring greenhouse gas emissions into FERC decisions to the degree of his Democratic colleagues.

Chatterjee will take the reins at FERC amid concerns in the power sector that the commission — typically a nonpartisan policymaking body — is falling under the political influence of the Trump administration.

The concern centers on a figure he brought to the commission — Chief of Staff Anthony Pugliese.

The controversy began in July when Pugliese appeared on a podcast run by the right-wing media outlet Breitbart, denouncing New York Democrats for opposition to pipeline infrastructure in a manner unusual for FERC staffers.

Then, at a nuclear energy conference in August, Pugliese told the audience that FERC was working to identify power plants critical for national security — the first step in a leaked White House memo from the spring detailing bailout plans for coal and nuclear plants.

The power sector widely took the comments as an indication that FERC was working with the White House on the plan. Leading Congressional Democrats wrote a letter to FERC saying the comments "call into question the impartiality and independence of the Commission."

McIntyre defended Pugliese in the press, but the controversy deepened the next month when E&E News published emails from the chief of staff lauding far-right European politicians. A former Republican FERC staffer called for the chief of staff to step down.

Chatterjee appointed Pugliese to FERC during his time as acting chair but has repeatedly refused to answer questions about the controversy since it emerged this summer.

Besides political concerns, the new chairman will have a full slate of issues to address.

FERC is in the middle of a high-profile investigation into grid resilience it ordered when it rejected the DOE bailout plan in January. It also has pending dockets to reform the capacity markets in PJM and ISO-NE, as well as ongoing reviews of its natural gas pipeline policy and its implementation of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act, a key renewable energy law.

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Haunted Encounters of the Electrical Kind

Halloween is right around the corner, so as our treat to you, we've unearthed 10 scary stories based on allegedly true events and involving — what else? — electricity. 
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Battery Storage Becoming the Norm for Utilities

Even as recently as two years ago, utility-scale lithium-ion batteries were considered cutting edge technology, and just a few forward-thinking utilities were experimenting with the concept. These days, though, it seems there are few utilities that are not building, or at least not considering, the technology.

In some cases, batteries are being linked with solar generation (called solar+battery). In other cases, the batteries are part of microgrids, which can include solar and other sources of generation. Microgrids appeal to utilities for remote-location generation/storage, reducing or even eliminating the need for transmission or distribution wired systems through rough, isolated terrain. And in still other cases, battery projects are being designed and built as a way to store surplus generation from traditional baseload generation (such as coal) and make it available later when customer demand increases.

Last week, for example, Duke Energy announced plans to spend $500 million on battery storage over the next 15 years, increasing its current storage capacity 20-fold. Current projects include a 9-megawatt (MW) battery project in Rock Hill, N.C., and a 4-MW battery project (part of a solar-powered microgrid) in Hot Springs, N.C.

Up north, New York Power Authority (NYPA), which to date has never been involved in battery storage, just announced plans for a 20 MW battery project in the northern part of the state, largely because current transmission constraints in the utility's service territory often prevent energy from being delivered downstate.

"Storing renewable energy, by using a battery to absorb excess generation for later delivery through projects like this one, is a viable solution to this transmission constraint," states the NYPA press release.

NYPA also believes the project will help to kick-start energy storage adoption throughout the state, supporting Gov. Cuomo's Energy Storage Roadmap, a plan designed to achieve massive energy storage targets in the state, including construction of 1,500 MW of energy storage by 2025.

"The North Country Energy Storage Project will be a first-of-its-kind for the Power Authority," said Gil Quiniones, president and CEO of NYPA. "Developing, operating and optimizing a lithium-ion battery system of this size will help us advance energy storage development efforts at the Power Authority, as well as position us to lead storage adoption across the state."

Out west, Hawaiian Electric Cos. (Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric, and Hawaii Electric Light) just announced seven solar+storage projects on three islands, representing the largest infusion of renewable energy in the state's history. The seven solar projects, totaling 255 MW, will be connected to battery storage systems that will be able to capture up to four hours of electricity for later use. 

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Omaha's first snowfall of the season causes slick roads, over 50,000 power outages

Kids played board games by flashlight, folks threw extra logs into the fireplace and at least one couple camped out in the driveway in their heated RV.

The wet, heavy snow that blew through eastern Nebraska on Sunday left thousands without power, yet people remained connected as they shared images via Facebook of their return to what some jokingly described as "pioneer days."

For others, especially the elderly and ill, the loss of power created anxiety and worry as people tried to sort out what to eat and how to stay warm overnight.

At the peak of the storm Sunday afternoon, the Omaha Public Power District reported 57,000 outages, according to spokeswoman Jodi Baker. About 10 p.m., that number remained at 27,000, according to the utility's website.

By 7:45 a.m. Monday, the utility was reporting 4,900 without power, most of those in Douglas County. Virtually all — perhaps 99 percent — should have power restored by midnight Monday, Baker said.

OPPD called in nearly 100 personnel to help with repairs. Additionally, the Nebraska Public Power District sent in crews to assist OPPD with power restoration, said Mark Becker, NPPD spokesman.

Eight school buildings in the Westside Community Schools district remained without power on Sunday night, and were at risk of not holding classes on Monday. The district said it would announce by 6 a.m. Monday if any school buildings were canceling classes.

The outage forced some grocery stores to scramble to save what refrigerated and frozen foods they could.

The Hy-Vee at 5150 Center St. had a generator kick in after losing electricity about 1 p.m., but the generator wasn't enough to power all of its freezers and refrigerators, a manager there said Sunday night.

Workers spent the early afternoon moving food to powered backup storage units on trucks, and what didn't fit had to be thrown out, the manager said.

Electricity was restored there about 8 p.m., he said. He expected the store to be restocked Monday.

The storm set daily records for snowfall, said Scott Dergan, meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Omaha officially recorded 1.5 inches of snow, though some areas saw about 3 inches. Lincoln's official total was 3.5 inches. Before Sunday, Lincoln had never recorded snow on Oct. 14, and Omaha had seen only a trace on that date, Dergan said. Weather records date to the late 1800s.

It wasn't either city's earliest snow, he noted. Omaha's earliest snow was Sept. 29, 1985, when three-tenths of an inch fell.

The cold front that accompanied the storm was expected to usher in the season's first killing freeze, with lows forecast to drop into the upper 20s overnight. Delicate plants and flowers will disappear from the landscape, and the freeze may be enough to ease the misery of allergy sufferers.

A much nicer week is in store: Sunshine and highs in the 40s and 50s.

On Sunday, the sight of sagging trees, weighted down by the snow, and the random sounds of cracking of branches brought back memories of the Oct. 24-26, 1997, snowstorm that devastated trees in eastern Nebraska. In that storm, 13 inches of wet, heavy snow fell over two days, littering the ground with fallen trees, broken limbs and downed power poles and wires. At the peak of the 1997 storm, upward of 130,000 homes and businesses and about 300,000 people were without power — many for up to two weeks.

With that storm on their minds, a number of people headed outdoors Sunday to brush snow from their trees.

Omahan Vince Shay was among those. The sunset maple in front of his Dundee/Elmwood Park home still bears the scars from 1997.

"If you don't like interesting weather, you shouldn't live in Nebraska," Shay mused.

A block or two east, neurosurgeon Steve Doran took a chainsaw to a fallen maple branch.

"Not a good combination," he quipped as he cleared the branch from the driveway.

Sunday's storm brought the most outages OPPD has seen since June 2017, when storms bearing powerful straight-line winds and tornadoes caused 76,000 outages.

Other hazards from Sunday's storm included power lines starting fires after contacting trees in several locations, and tree limbs blocking roadways.

Many traffic lights were not working. By early afternoon, there had been enough fender-benders on snow-slickened streets that the Omaha Police Department stopped responding to minor property damage collisions.

The Nebraska State Patrol reported that it assisted more than 100 drivers on the state's roadways Sunday and responded to dozens of crashes.

Sunday's snow also caused cancellation of events and early closings. The "Support the Girls" breast cancer awareness event in Elkhorn was postponed to Saturday. Vala's Pumpkin Patch closed about 2 p.m. due to safety concerns.

"We were having some branches falling, and it was just unsafe to have people on the farm," Jan Vala said. "People were here having fun, but safety comes first."

The Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium announced that its "Spooktacular" was canceled. Guests who pre-purchased tickets for the event will be contacted by the zoo's marketing department.

The storm blanketed much of the state. In northwest Nebraska, 5 to 7 inches of snow was reported. The 3 inches that fell in Valentine was enough to set a daily record there, according to the weather service. The previous record had been a trace of snow.

Bitterly cold weather was forecast across much of western Nebraska, and the weather service warned that wind chills could drop below zero in some parts of the state by Monday morning.

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A field of soybeans, nearly ready for harvest, are blanketed in wet snow in Sarpy County, NE.
A man helps clean up a large branch blocking part of a street in Papillion, NE
Maple leaves droop under the weight of snow clinging to them in a Papillion, NE neighborhood Sunday - October 14
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