Category Archives: power grid

IBM software patch upgrades power grid to version 2.0

IBM software patch upgrades power grid to version 2.0 | ExtremeTech.

In the past 120 years, the world’s aging energy grid has not seen much innovation. Companies are still making implementation decisions based on principles that were developed in the grid’s infancy. As the world faces down a growing energy problem in the light of there now being almost 7 billion people walking the planet, companies are deciding that it is time to bring about some change to take advantage of modern technology to help with resource conservation. A consortium that includes IBM, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and other power companies has decided that a software update is the first major step to both regulate power consumption, and integrate new renewable energy technologies; “Grid 2.0? if you will. The consortium is getting ready to install the system across five states in the Pacific Northwest, after a successful trial run in Washington state last year.

The main idea behind the software platform is simple: Give the power companies the ability to control energy consumption at peak times by making small changes in each home that will equal big savings when looking at the zoomed-out, macro picture of the grid. This is accomplished by installing “smart” thermostats in the homes of customers who opt into the program. By giving these consumers rebates and different incentives, the providers increase adoption to help make the project viable. Simply put, the power company is able to remotely tweak your thermostat, ultimately reducing the energy your home is using. Taking a page out of the airline executives book that saved his company millions by taking away one olive in each salad it served during flight, the power providers seek to save energy by the volume of micro-changes it makes in smart thermostats since they are saving a large amount of energy overall.

In addition to consumption control, IBM is helping the consortium tie other energy sources such as wind and solar into the grid to store them for use during periods of high demand. Integration of renewable energy sources is a big part of the consortium’s overall plan for the future of the grid. On paper, this plan certainly looks like it could be a winner, but there are two large problems to overcome: First, dealing with Big Brother — second, dealing with infrastructure.

I’m afraid I can’t do that, Dave

George Orwell's 1984 (Big Brother)Let’s start with the most obvious problem there is with this plan, the idea that a “Big Brother” company is going to be able to take control of a user’s thermostat and other household appliances. There are some serious concerns that have been voiced with this idea. Exactly how much control will the company assert? If they make a change to your thermostat and you change it back, will the software reassert the temperature change? Could this lead to energy “caps” like consumers already have with home and mobile internet connections? It sure would be a bummer to hit a cap on one of the coldest days of the year and not be able to heat your home.

The consumer is said to benefit from this plan by enjoying a flat rate based on average consumption of the grid overall. At the end of a billing cycle, if a home has used significantly less than that average, the consumer will get a rebate. There is a problem here as well as companies could regulate the power usage so that users never fall below that point. This might sound overly cynical and rather “Skynet” in nature, but these possibilities are there, and a result would be subject to heavy governmental regulation that could bog down the process until it’s no longer viable. There would need to be some real transparency and an implementation of some sort of real-time information on the power usage of a home. The consumers have the right to see how the software run by their power company is regulating their homes. Google had a great project called Google Power Meter, now retired, which allowed users to see how much energy they were burning. Something like that is what is needed for this overhaul to work.

Supersize me

It can be argued that this is what is needed to help curb the high rate of energy consumption, especially in the US. Environmentalists hold that without this kind of plan in place, people will inherently wasteful because that is what they have been taught to do. They may have a point as many of the “dumb” thermostats in homes are left unset despite some having some intricate scheduling systems. The issue is that any kind of control asserted by a company might be looked upon as draconian in parts of the country used to expressing individual freedoms.

The other hurdle to leap over is the practical aspect of the power grid’s aging infrastructure. Simply put, some of it is ancient and costly to replace. It is a sound idea for this plan to start with software that will take advantage of existing infrastructure, because the cost of a complete overhaul would be staggering. Add in the fact that the software project was funded in large part by the economic Recovery Act of 2009 in the US, there is a looming question of who will pay. Where does the power company responsibility come in as far as the monetary side of an overhaul?

Wind farmThere are some logistical issues as well with the integration of renewable energy sources. Windmill farms are usually pretty distant from heavily populated areas, solar panel arrays the same. Getting the power from these sources to the consumer is an issue because the current wiring in use is “lossy,” wasting precious energy in transport. One has to think of the grid as a large factory system with supply and demand and logistical challenges that rival UPS. Any overhaul would require some research into carrying power over long distances without losing much volume.

Problems aside, this is as good of a plan as any out there at the moment to help reduce energy consumption. Make no mistake, this is a problem that we as a planet must face and work together on. We are in the infancy of the work that needs to be done. The exciting part is that through this kind of work comes great innovations that can carry over into other technology, bringing new advances in ways that have not be thought of yet. The pursuit to overcome the hurdles of this project will be nothing but positive on the whole. It will be exciting to see where this project goes.

Huge blackout takes down Southern California, Mexican border

Huge blackout hits Southern California, Mexican border | Reuters.

Traffic and pedestrians move through a powerless intersection following a power outage in Cardiff, California, September 8, 2011. REUTERS-Mike Blake

Traffic and pedestrians move through a powerless intersection following a power outage in Cardiff, California, September 8, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Blake

SAN DIEGO | Fri Sep 9, 2011 9:22am EDT

(Reuters) – A massive blackout caused by “human failure” left nearly 5 million people without power in parts of California, Arizona and Mexico on Thursday, and officials said many residents may be out of service for a day or more.

The outage, apparently triggered by an employee who carried out a procedure at a substation in Arizona, snarled traffic on Southern California freeways, knocked out water supplies in parts of San Diego County and Tijuana and sent some elderly residents to emergency rooms.

San Diego International Airport canceled all outbound flights, traffic came to a standstill as the city’s street lights quit and about 70 people had to be rescued by the city’s fire department from stalled elevators.

San Diego schools were ordered closed until Monday as utilities could not guarantee they would be able to turn on the lights in classrooms.

“There was a very major outage, a region-wide outage,” San Diego Gas and Electric President Mike Niggli said. “There’s no doubt this has never happened before to our system.”

But police in California’s second-largest city, located between Los Angeles and the Mexican border, reported no major problems, and hospitals successfully switched to backup power, the Scripps Health chain said.

‘HUMAN FAILURE’

The ill-fated procedure in Arizona first caused the failure of a high-power line supplying electricity to Southern California before unleashing a domino effect across the Southwest, officials said.

That in turn led to a blockage at California’s San Onofre nuclear energy plant, a second major source of power to the San Diego area, San Diego Gas and Electric said.

San Diego Gas and Electric said in a tweet that all 1.4 million of its customers in the San Diego area were without power. Blackouts also affected 3.5 million people in Baja California, according to local emergency services and state authorities.

The city of Yuma, Arizona, reported that more than 50,000 people had lost power.

“There appears to be two failures here — one is human failure and the other is a system failure. Both of those will be addressed,” said Damon Gross, a spokesman for Arizona utility APS.

By early evening, crews had restored service in the section of the line that triggered the massive event and had begun to restore power to parts of San Diego County.

Electricity returned late on Thursday to the central San Diego neighborhood of Normal Heights, where many families earlier in the evening had embraced the darkness by throwing outdoor barbecue parties on their front lawns.

By 11 p.m., San Diego Gas and Electric reported that power was restored to 165,000 customers in San Diego and Orange counties. But the utility warned that all power would not be restored overnight and urged customers to conserve energy.

‘LINES EVERYWHERE NOW’

Mexico’s Federal Electricity Commission said 180,000 customers had been brought back online in Baja California. The commission said it was making progress in getting power back on in state capital Mexicali, Ensenada and Rosarito.

Stuck without refrigeration, employees at the Cardiff Seaside Market, a grocery and specialty food store in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, north of San Diego, started grilling their inventory of fresh steaks and tuna in the parking lot and selling it cooked to passersby for cash.

Meanwhile, a line of about 50 customers waited at the front door for their turn to be led inside by a clerk to do their shopping in groups of two or three at a time.

“It’s real hectic, there’s lines everywhere now. But the customers are happy, everyone’s patient, everyone’s in a good mood, and we’re serving them as quickly as we can,” manager John Shamam, 33, said as he served up a plate of tuna.

Many of the Tweets from San Diego residents revolved around air conditioning. “I’m going to die of heat in this house with no AC!” wrote Ashleigh Marie. “What am I supposed to dooo.”

But San Diego resident Kiersten White tweeted that the power outage “makes me glad I don’t have air conditioning to begin with … nothing to miss!”

Other people were having a harder time. “Trapped outside of our rooms at the hotel,” tweeted Rob Myers, visiting from Washington.

Blackouts hit Mexico’s Northern Baja California state in the afternoon, knocking out power to hundreds of maquiladora export assembly plants in the sprawling industrial powerhouse of Tijuana, south of San Diego.

The blackouts knocked out stoplights at intersections across Tijuana, causing traffic snarl ups, and also cut power to hospitals and government offices. The border crossing at Otay Mesa was closed to all but pedestrian traffic.

 

****************************

Fri Sep 9, 2011 9:05am EDT

 * Blackout left nearly 5 million without power
 * San Onofre nuclear plant remains shut
 (Adds background, quotes)
 NEW YORK, Sept 9 (Reuters) - Power companies in Southern
California restored electricity to most customers by early
Friday after a massive blackout on Thursday left nearly 5
million people in parts of California, Arizona and Mexico in
the dark.
 Although the Sept. 8 outage, apparently caused by human
error, was just a tenth the size of the 2003 blackout that left
about 50 million people without power in the eastern United
States and Canada, it will surely rank as one of the biggest
blackouts in recent history - certainly one of the biggest
caused by human error.
 Sempra Energy's (SRE.N) San Diego Gas & Electric power
company said it restored power to its 1.4 million customers at
3:25 a.m. Western time on Friday.
 That was almost 12 hours after a major electric
transmission system outage in western Arizona and the loss of a
key connection with the 2,150-megawatt San Onofre nuclear power
plant in California resulted in the most widespread power
outage in the company's history, SDG&E said.
 Blackouts also affected 3.5 million people in Baja
California, according to local officials. [ID:nN1E78729HS]
 San Onofre, which is operated by Edison International's
(EIX.N) Southern California Edison, shut on Thursday and
remained out of service early Friday, according to the U.S.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
 "Restoring power in the aftermath of the loss of the entire
local grid serving San Diego and southern Orange counties was a
monumental task," David Geier, SDG&E vice president of electric
operations, said in a release.
 "The restoration process, however, has left our local power
grid very fragile and we are asking our customers to conserve
electricity throughout the day Friday," Geier said.
 SDG&E and the California ISO, which operates the power grid
for much of the state, said they would focus on maintaining and
ensuring the integrity of the local power system for the next
few days before determining the sequence of events that led to
the outage and establishing practices and procedures to ensure
that outages such as the Sept. 8 event are not repeated.
 "There appears to be two failures here -- one is human
failure and the other is a system failure. Both of those will
be addressed," said Damon Gross, a spokesman for Pinnacle West
Capital's (PNW.N) Arizona utility Arizona Public Service.
 (Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Alden Bentley)

Heat waves pushes Texas power grid to the limit

Heat waves pushes Texas power grid into red zone | Reuters.

HOUSTON | Thu Aug 4, 2011 4:56pm EDT

(Reuters) – The Texas power grid operator has scrambled this week to meet soaring electricity demand in the face of a brutal heat wave, and residents of the second most populous U.S. state are one power plant shut-down away from rolling blackouts.

Power demand for Electric Reliability Council of Texas, Inc, or ERCOT, which runs the power grid for most of the state, hit three consecutive records this week as Texans cranked up air conditioners to escape one of the hottest summers on record.

The grid operator on Thursday cut power to some big industrial users, and businesses and households face a repeat of the rolling blackouts they faced in February, when a bitter cold snap interrupted power supplies.

Though ERCOT has done a good job balancing supply and demand, “You always have to expect the unexpected can happen,” said Arshad Mansoor, senior vice president at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). “A unit can shut. The wind may not blow.”

It’s been a year of extreme weather for the Lone Star State, already suffering from the worst drought on record.

Ice storms in February crippled dozens of power plants, forcing ERCOT to impose rolling blackouts for hours as electric supplies dropped below demand for the juice.

Now a protracted heat wave with temperatures topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 Celsius) for several weeks in a row in many cities has stretched power supplies to the limit.

Power usage in ERCOT reached its highest level ever on Wednesday at 68,294 megawatts, almost 4 percent over last year’s peak.

The Texas grid faces at least one more day of extreme stress before temperatures cool a bit over the weekend. Temperatures in Houston, the state’s biggest city, should return to near normal levels in the upper 90s over the weekend, according to AccuWeather.com.

The state’s biggest power generators, including units of Energy Future Holdings, NRG Energy, Calpine Corp and others, have been running flat out to cash in real-time prices that have hit the $3,000/MWh cap in recent days.

But the state’s reserve margins have been running razor thin. On Wednesday ERCOT came within 50 megawatts of interrupting flows to industrial customers. That’s equal to the output of about 25 industrial-scale windmills.

One megawatt powers about 200 homes in Texas during hot weather when air conditioners are running for long periods.

More generation supplies would come in handy, but state power generators can’t be expected to prepare for every extreme, said Kent Saathoff, ERCOT’s vice president of system planning and operations.

“You have to determine if it is worth spending millions or billions to avoid a one in 10-year event,” Saathoff told reporters on Wednesday.

RECORD BREAKING PRICES

With record-breaking demand came record-breaking prices. Prices for Thursday power topped $400 per megawatt hour, the highest in at least a decade. Friday’s power prices approached $600.

Real-time prices also hit the $3,000 market cap over the past few days.

ERCOT has about 73,000 MW of natural gas, coal, oil, nuclear and wind generating facilities, but not all of that capacity is available all the time.

Texas has the most wind power in the country, but the wind does not blow during the summer. Ercot said it got about 2,000 MW from wind during the peak hour on Wednesday. Those wind farms can produce about 9,000 MW when all turbines are spinning.

Moreover, the ERCOT power grid is a virtual island with only a few small transmission links to neighboring electric grids, making it tough for Texas to pull energy from neighboring states in times of need.

Connecting Texas wires to the rest of the U.S. grid would cost at least as much as a state transmission investment program to carry Texas wind supplies to cities like Dallas and Houston, pegged at about $6 billion, Saathoff said.

(Additional reporting by Scott DiSavino in New York, editing by Chris Baltimore; Editing by David Gregorio)