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Investing Wisely in Infrastructure

We must take a data-driven, knowledge-based approach and ensure we install systems that will stand the test of time.

Some things just stick with you. A decade ago, I was at a bar discussing the siting of transmission with Jose Delgado, former CEO of American Transmission Co. He stated that in Wisconsin, load growth could be met by building new transmission or upgrading existing transmission to address constraints. He also said the state could address energy needs by adding local generation near the load. Demand response was yet another solution.

I recall former PJM CEO Terry Boston telling me that PJM canceled planned transmission to feed load centers because demand response that was bid into the grid had reduced the peak load. At the same time, PJM had approved adding new transmission to bring power into the PJM service territory from wind zones.

Now we are seeing this same trend moving down into the distribution realm. Witness the state of New York touting its Reforming the Energy Vision, which promises to shake up the roles of traditional distribution companies as independent distribution system operators are formed.

With overhead transmission becoming increasingly difficult to site in highly populated areas, one finds electric underground transmission competing with gas transmission. Utilities either can bring in bulk power from remote sources or generate electricity from natural gas. Today we are seeing gas companies buying electric companies, and we are seeing electric companies buying gas companies as the energy marketplace continues to evolve.

I spent much of my early career looking for more effective, more reliable, lower-cost underground solutions, and today we have tremendous opportunities to expand our underground network. We know overhead hard costs are lower than underground hard costs, but often, comparing overhead versus underground is moot if we are not able to site overhead.

In the past few decades, we have seen significant quality and technology advances in both overhead and underground systems. This allows our delivery system investments to compete favorably with other options.

A good case in point for overhead lines is the development of low-sag conductors, which enable utilities to transmit more power down existing corridors. And we now have sensing and control systems that also enable us to get more out of the existing systems.

We have seen a lot of progress in underground as well. Southern California Edison is installing a 500-kV circuit in the Chino Hills area, and we have seen advances in the quality of our cables and splices, and in ducting and cable installation. Today it isn’t enough that we are technically on our game. We also need access to timely regulatory and legislative information and insights if we are to make quality decisions on our transmission and distribution investments.

I’ve always liked working with Dow, as it takes a bigger-picture approach to transmission and distribution. For instance, T&D World editors moderated a Dow-hosted roundtable where we gathered up top utility executives to discuss emerging T&D strategies and technologies. We followed up with a series of webinars looking at the regulatory and technology drivers for intelligent undergrounding.

For the past couple years, Dow has been working with a coalition of companies now called the Power Delivery Intelligence Initiative (PDi2). This group is dedicated to developing the platform to provide data-driven decisions when investing in infrastructure. Our industry needs tools and knowledge to fight those who push us into buying inferior products and services, which we know will bite us down the road. We also need to quit focusing on first costs and look at overall life-cycle costs.

PDi2 plans to address cost analysis related to building new and rehabilitating existing power infrastructure. This will require that we collect and use data to provide an objective means to evaluate power infrastructure investments that look at total life-cycle costs, whether overhead or underground. PDi2 has created several initial objectives:

  • Develop common methods by which delivery systems can be evaluated from both a utility and public value perspective. • Educate stakeholders on all technology and construction options to determine the most viable, reliable and cost-effective solution for the installation of transmission and distribution systems when evaluated via life-cycle cost analysis.
  • Communicate the methodology to utilities, individual state utility commissions and other influencers.
  • Help utilities justify investment decisions based on data-driven life-cycle cost analysis.

PDi2 members include materials suppliers, cable makers and engineering firms, and they are actively seeking additional members. Check them out at www.pdi2.org.

If we are to invest wisely in our infrastructure, we must take a data-driven, knowledge-based approach. But we also must work with all shareholders to ensure we install systems that will stand the test of time.

TAGS: Distribution
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