T&D World Magazine

National Grid with Customers and City to Energize Worcester with Smart Grid Pilot

National Grid, its customers, the City of Worcester and a diverse cross-section of other key groups and individuals have pooled their knowledge and creative energy to help develop a revised smart grid pilot proposal that will energize Worcester by creating greater energy efficiency, greater choice for customers in how they use energy, increased electric system reliability and a cleaner environment. In its next-generation smart grid pilot proposal that was recently filed for approval with the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU), the pilot also is intended to improve service to customers and sets a path toward achieving the Commonwealth’s clean energy policies.

The proposal features three key areas that mark a departure from National Grid’s original filing, which was submitted in 2009 and withdrawn in early 2011 to incorporate important insights and upcoming opportunities. First, National Grid has engaged customers and other key parties in new and creative ways through a Green to Growth Summit that the company co-hosted with the city in September 2011. Elements of the pilot were co-created based on what customers and the community said it wanted and expected, as opposed to a standardized approach that has been used in other smart grid pilots. Second, National Grid updated the pilot to include the very latest technologies that were not available in 2009. Finally, the new pilot carries a significantly lower cost and a shorter delivery schedule.

While the cost of the pilot has been reduced, many important features of the initial pilot have been retained, including the Worcester location, the scope and scale of the 15,000 customers, dynamic pricing options that will help customers save energy and money, energy savings goals of a minimum five percent for each participant and advanced technology to operate an integrated grid communications system with increased reliability and efficiency.

Customer engagement

The proposal marks a dramatic shift for National Grid, which serves as a collaborative partner in the development of this proposal, taking a “listen, test and learn” approach. The proposal is a culmination of year-long customer engagement effort.

The Green to Growth Summit, a two-day forum attended by a diverse group of 300 residential and commercial customers, government officials and other individuals, gave a voice to customers and provided the city and National Grid with invaluable insights into customers’ vision with respect to the future of energy delivery in their city as well as a wealth of information for development of the pilot.

National Grid now co-leads a community council that is looking to further develop several energy and sustainability opportunity areas that were identified during the summit. The company also has proposed the creation of a Sustainability Hub within the pilot area that will be used to showcase and provide a hands-on education center where customers and others can learn about emerging technology and solutions to help with day-to-day energy needs.

“We’ve learned that collaboration works best, which is why our pilot engages customers in a very different way from most utility programs,” said Marcy Reed, president of National Grid, Massachusetts. “That means our customers are part of the solution and not simply end-users of product offerings we create, and they will continue to be included and heard as we work together toward greater energy efficiency and helping to protect the environment."

Next-generation technology

The pilot will enable customers to pioneer the use of some of the latest advances in smart grid and information technologies, and includes innovative experiments designed to test ways to improve reliability and system responsiveness.

Cloud computing – a central feature of the pilot – will enable National Grid to house and manage customer energy data in a highly efficient and secure way. It also will deliver cost savings by eliminating the need to build the information technology infrastructure that otherwise would be needed to handle this vast amount of information.

State-of-the-art metering systems that provide the latest technology and security will be used. As part of an innovative partnership with the smart meter vendor, National Grid will be able to install 5,000 of the meters before the pilot is approved, thereby helping to build and maintain momentum and customer engagement, while enabling National Grid to obtain baseline energy data that will more accurately inform participants’ energy savings once the pilot is fully implemented. Because of this partnership, National Grid has been able to reduce the overall cost of meters for the pilot by roughly a third.

Innovative grid experiments

National Grid will utilize the latest technology on the grid to improve reliability and system responsiveness. These experiments include testing remote power outage sensors that enable crews to be dispatched directly to the source of the problem and restore power more quickly; systems that better indentify which customers are affected during storms, thereby improving restoration times; technology that allows National Grid to better understand the condition and lifespan of individual pieces of equipment, which will improve reliability and enable better and more cost-effective system planning.

National Grid will also conduct other experiments in conjunction with the pilot, leveraging existing opportunities to integrate renewable resources, integrate electric vehicle charging stations and connect energy storage to an existing renewable projects across the city.

The new pilot is expected to cost approximately $44 million, a reduction of more than 20 percent from the 2009 proposal. National Grid has requested to launch the 18-month pilot in June 2012, beginning with the customer survey, followed by technology installation and deployment and the creation of the Sustainability Hub by 2013. The pilot will conclude with a three-month evaluation period.

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