Camps have changed a lot since my childhood days of learning to swim at the Y. Somewhere between the increased competition for college admission and the universities’ quest to monetize all that empty space during the summer, parents have started spending a lot of money for “enrichment.” Admittedly, I have fallen prey. Recently, I sat down with my 10th grader to finalize his summer plans. I was amazed at his options. There are camps pre-college programs for all of his hobbies and every interest he didn’t know he had! One in particular caught my eye – Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has a Smart Grid Camp Pre-College Program! In this week-long program, students conduct a market experiment to learn about electricity pricing. Using a simulation tool, they will explore how the grid responds to loss of equipment, extreme power demands and other problems that might lead to blackouts. Students learn how the electric grid is being adapted to incorporate renewable sources of energy such as solar arrays and wind turbine farms. Working with RPI faculty and graduate students, high schoolers will learn about computer networks, cyber security and even tour power grid manufacturing or control facilities. Wow! This description is certainly deserving of the pre-college label. Unfortunately I will not be able to provide you with insider details. My interest in the smart grid has not rubbed off on my son. He selected a Gaming Academy and was not persuaded when I pointed out you need energy to power those games he will be designing.

Rensselaer also offers a Smart Lighting – Smart Power – Smart Systems Pre-College Program. It introduces high school students to lighting, power and sensor technologies and how they can be integrated into real world, sustainable and well-engineered Smart Systems. Students will be engaged in hands-on activities using the fundamentals of electronics and photonics to engineer solutions that address today’s social and environmental challenges. They will interact with engineers and scientists and participate in guided tours of high-tech manufacturing and/or research facilities. (Applications accepted until full.)

There are a variety of energy camps and pre-college programs across the country; some start as early as 3rd grade. This is good news. Optimizing the grid will require energy literacy. Like other transformations, children often lead the way. While it will not help with immediate needs, utilities should find developing the pipeline helpful to the looming talent shortage they face. Here’s a sampling of what is being offered:

  • Rethink Energy Florida hosts an Energy Ball to raise funds so that no kid is turned away from its Energy Camp for 3rd-6th graders. Campers make their own solar ovens.
  • The Touchstone Energy Camp in Indiana is just for 6th graders. A mixture of traditional camp, kids learn about electric distribution and go from rides in bucket trucks to horseback riding, swimming and archery.
  • The Green Energy Camp at the University of Washington-Seattle provides 6th-8th graders with a STEM approach to our energy future. Campers will build their own electricity-generating wind turbines and use math to measure the energy output of their designs and make them more efficient. (Waitlist available.)
  • The Shell Energy Venture Camp at LSU provides 9th-11th graders and teachers with the opportunity to learn about energy careers while having fun. They will perform hands-on experiments to explore the entire process of energy development; from how oil and natural gas are formed to the ways various types of energy are used. Campers will build a generator, a motor, a car, a windmill, a solar house and a robot! (Still accepting applications.)
  • University of Southern California/Chevron Frontiers of Energy Resources Summer Camp offers high school juniors and a few math and science teachers a preparatory, interactive training program focusing on various energy resources including fossil fuels, solar, biofuels, nuclear energy and information technologies for energy efficient operations
  • Also at USC, ExxonMobil sponsors the Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp providing activities, experiments, projects and field experiences for students entering 6th-8th grade in the fall of 2014. The camp promotes science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and supports historically underserved and underrepresented students with limited opportunities. Selected students attend this two week residential camp free of charge! (Deadline May 9, 2014.) This camp is offered at other schools throughout the US and includes mentoring from Dr. Bernard A. Harris, Jr., the first African-American to walk in space and camp founder.
  • Purdue University is home to the Duke Energy Academy. Purdue University has launched an Energy Academy to address the looming national crisis in the number and quality of students entering the STEM disciplines. Concerned that a decline in STEM-based education will impact our nation’s ability to lead the world in the energy sector, the Duke Energy Academy provides a week-long course in STEM-related energy topic areas of power generation, transportation, power transmission, energy efficiency and new research frontiers. After camp, students and teachers will be encouraged to launch energy clubs in their schools.
  • The Renewable Energy Camp at University of Wisconsin-Platteville is a week-long program that immerses 9th-12th graders in programming that provides insight into the dynamic field of renewable energy. Activities focus on practical applications of renewable energy in the field. Students will develop core knowledge of systems at the intersection of physics, chemistry, biology, materials science, electrical and mechanical engineering and agriculture. (Registration is currently open.)
  • Skyline College in San Bruno, California provides high school juniors and seniors an opportunity to earn two units of college credit for free at its Green Energy Camp. Students will learn valuable marketing and business skills as well as an overview of solar and energy efficiency products and services. The camp is part of the Energy Systems Technology Management program.

I am impressed. I can’t recall specifics about my high school summers but I am pretty sure I did not do anything nearly as academic. This list is not exhaustive. Next year I plan to do a similar post earlier in the year, ahead of application deadlines. However, thanks to DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, no one has to be left out this year. Parents and teachers can create their own energy camp experience utilizing this lesson plan. There are so many energy related camps and pre-college opportunities, I am confident we will have a powerful future.

Utilities and generators will find this recent decision by the Minnesota District Court interesting because the issues are similar to energy and environmental laws in other states. The plaintiffs include the State of North Dakota, the Industrial Commission of North Dakota, the Lignite Energy Council, Basin Electric Power Cooperative, the North American Coal Corporation, Great Northern Properties Limited Partnership, Missouri Basin Municipal Power Agency d/b/a Missouri River Energy Services, and Minnkota Power Cooperative, Inc. They filed suit against the Commissioners of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Commerce alleging that Minn. Stat. § 216H.03 violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution (Count I), the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution because the statute is preempted by the Clean Air Act and the Federal Power Act (Counts II and III, respectively), the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the U.S. Constitution (Count IV), and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (Count VI).

The statute at issue is Minnesota’s Next Generation Energy Act (“NGEA”). It establishes energy and environmental standards related to carbon dioxide emissions and seeks to limit increases in “statewide power sector carbon dioxide emissions,” stating:

Unless preempted by federal law, until a comprehensive and enforceable state law or rule pertaining to greenhouse gases that directly limits and substantially reduces, over time, statewide power sector carbon dioxide emissions is enacted and in effect, … no person shall:

  1. construct within the state a new large energy facility that would contribute to statewide power sector carbon dioxide emissions;
  2. import or commit to import from outside the state power from a new large energy facility that would contribute to statewide power sector carbon dioxide emissions; or
  3. enter into a new long-term power purchase agreement that would increase statewide power sector carbon dioxide emissions. For purposes of this section, a long-term power purchase agreement means an agreement to purchase 50 megawatts of capacity or more for a term exceeding five years.

In finding the law unconstitutional the Court emphasized that neither the parties, nor the Court, dispute that carbon dioxide emissions are a problem that this country needs to address.

The question here is not the environmental issue. The question is whether the Minnesota Legislature has the power, under the U.S. Constitution, to address that issue through the means articulated in Minn. Stat. § 216H.03. Because the Court finds that Minn. Stat. § 216H.03, subd. 3(2)–(3), violates the dormant Commerce Clause, the answer to that question is ‘no.’

Decision, Page 26

Providing me with flashbacks to first year Con Law, the court defines the dormant Commerce Clause as the negative implication of the Commerce Clause. States may not enact laws that discriminate against or unduly burden interstate commerce. The court then explained the three levels of analysis under the dormant Commerce Clause.

  • First, a state statute that has “an ‘extraterritorial reach,’ that is, … the statute has the practical effect of controlling conduct beyond the boundaries of the state,” is per se invalid. Cotto Waxo Co., 46 F.3d at 793 (citing Healy v. Beer Inst., Inc., 491 U.S. 324, 336 (1989)).
  • Second, a state statute that is discriminatory on its face, in practical effect, or in purpose is subject to strict scrutiny. Id. (citations omitted).
  • Third, a state statute that is not discriminatory, but indirectly burdens interstate commerce, is evaluated under the balancing test set forth in Pike v. Bruce Church, Inc., 397 U.S. 137, 142 (1970).

If you think this is not smart grid related think again. The court took the time to explain the unique nature of electricity, pointing out it is different from tangible products. Electricity cannot be shipped directly from Point A to Point B and MISO, the RTO for the utilities in this case, does not match buyers to sellers. Once electricity enters the grid, it is indistinguishable from the rest of the electricity in the grid. A North Dakota generation-and-transmission cooperative cannot ensure that the coal-generated electricity that it injects into the MISO grid is used only to serve its North Dakota members and not its Minnesota members. Consequentially, in order to ensure compliance with Minn. Stat. § 216H.03, subd. 3(2)– (3), out-of-state parties must conduct their out-of-state business according to Minnesota’s terms—i.e., engaging in no transactions involving power or capacity that would contribute to or increase Minnesota’s statewide power sector carbon dioxide emissions. This is the “paradigm” of extraterritorial legislation according to the court. Most likely there will be an appeal. Given the increase in interconnections and the growing RTO markets, this case will be watched by many.

AT&T, Cisco, GE, IBM and Intel recently announced the formation of the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC), an open membership group focused on breaking down the barriers of technology silos to support better access to big data with improved integration of the physical and digital worlds. The consortium will enable organizations to more easily connect and optimize assets, operations and data to drive agility and to unlock business value across all industrial sectors. The IIC’s charter will be to encourage innovation by:

  • Utilizing existing and creating new industry use cases and test beds for real-world applications;
  • Delivering best practices, reference architectures, case studies and standards requirements to ease deployment of connected technologies;
  • Influencing the global standards development process for Internet and industrial systems;
  • Facilitating open forums to share and exchange real-world ideas, practices, lessons and insights;
  • Building confidence around new and innovative approaches to security.

Like the smart grid, the Industrial Internet is the next frontier. It merges the physical with the digital to predict, control and create systems that produce better outcomes. Through the Industrial Internet, companies will shift from responding to events and will instead use connected machines, big data and analytics to predict and plan, resulting in large gains in industrial productivity, bottom line results and societal outcomes. Stay tuned for a more detailed analysis on how the Industrial Internet will benefit the energy industry.

The members of the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (“SGIP”) are working on standards, policies and guides to help modernize the electric power grid. Last month, the Smart Grid Cybersecurity Committee of SGIP released a helpful resource: A straight forward thirty page User’s Guide to help utilities navigate the previous released hefty 597 page Interagency Report (NISTIR) 7628, Guidelines for Smart Grid Cyber Security. Although not as lengthy as the main event, the User’s Guide contains practical suggestions utilities will find useful. The guide has its share of charts and graphs but I find the gray shaded boxes noteworthy. They serve as a jab in the side to remind utilities about information they may have overlooked while engrossed in the details. For example, on page nine of the report, the gray box says, “Every organization is unique, so portions of the NISTIR Logical Reference Model may not be directly applicable for every business process for every utility. Optionally, instead of solely using the NISTIR 7628 Logical Reference Model diagram, you may create a flowchart that identifies the way the different Actors interface with each other. This will help you conceptualize how the NISTIR 7628 Logical Reference Model aligns to your own organizational business processes.”

If there were doubts, these next few sentences will confirm I am an energy geek. While researching this post, I noticed the most beautiful prose regarding our electric grid on the homepage. It gives big kudos to the current grid while pushing towards the future… and it made me smile. Happy Friday!

Today’s electric power grid ranks as the single greatest engineering achievement of the 20th century. And tomorrow’s smart grid will be one of the greatest achievements of the 21st century. By linking information technologies with the electric power grid—to provide “electricity with a brain”—the smart grid promises many benefits, including increased energy efficiency, reduced carbon emissions, and improved power reliability.

– homepage.

As previously reported, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “Commission”) will hold a Commissioner-led technical conference on Tuesday, April 1, 2014. A full day is planned to discuss the impacts of recent cold weather events on the Regional Transmission Organizations/Independent System Operators (“RTOs/ISOs”) and actions taken to respond. After opening remarks, there will be a presentation from the Commission’s Office of Enforcement. The first panel will take up the remainder of the morning and will include informative presentations by RTOs/ISOs representatives:

  • Brad Bouillon, California Independent System Operator
  • Peter Brandien, ISO-New England
  • Richard Doying, Midcontinent Independent System Operator
  • Wes Yeomans, New York Independent System Operator
  • Michael Kormos, PJM Interconnection
  • Bruce Rew, Southwest Power Pool

These industry leaders will address several concerns including: (1) the steps it took to prepare for the cold weather events; (2) the operational conditions leading into the day-ahead; and (3) the operator actions taken to address events prior to day-ahead, day-ahead, and in real-time.

In the afternoon, a broad spectrum of stakeholders will discuss:  

  1. Experiences during the cold weather events: Describe experience and observations during the cold weather events, the information that was available to assist in preparation, and the actions taken in real-time to respond.
  2. Lessons learned: Explain the most important lesson(s) learned, particularly as relevant to regional electric market prices and performance, adequacy of infrastructure, fuel procurement and fuel diversity.  
  3. Policy implications: Share observations about changes that could be made to improve the performance of Commission-regulated markets during future extreme weather events.  

In addition to the above, Commissioner Philip Moeller would like the following question answered. Details regarding his expectations can be found here

For each power plant that ran this winter and that is expected to retire due to EPA regulations, what resources will replace it?

Following the conference, the Commission will take written public comments until May 15, 2014. The Supplemental Notice provides more details. The conference will run from 9:00 am – 5:15 pm and will be held at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 888 First Street, NE, Washington, DC 20426. Attendance is free open to the public. If attending, registration is requested.

Because the grid is so critical to all aspects of our society and economy, protecting its reliability and resilience is a core responsibility of everyone who works in the electric industry.

– Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) Acting Chairman Cheryl LaFleur

This month, FERC directed the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (“NERC”) to develop Reliability Standards requiring owners and operators of the Bulk-Power System to address risks due to physical security threats and vulnerabilities within 90 days. The Reliability Standards will require owners and operators of the Bulk-Power System to take at least three steps to protect physical security:

  1. Owners and operators must perform a risk assessment of their system to identify facilities that, if rendered inoperable or damaged, could have a critical impact on the operation of the interconnection through instability, uncontrolled separation, or cascading failures of the Bulk-Power System.
  2. Owners and operators of critical facilities must evaluate potential threats and vulnerabilities to those facilities.
  3. Owners and operators must develop and implement a security plan to address potential threats and vulnerabilities.

FERC recognizes that compliance with the Reliability Standards described above could contain sensitive or confidential information that, if released to the public, could jeopardize the reliable operation of the Bulk-Power System. As a result, NERC is also directed to include in the Reliability Standards a procedure that will ensure confidential treatment of sensitive or confidential information but still allow for the Commission, NERC and the Regional Entities to review and inspect any information that is needed to ensure compliance with the Reliability Standards.   

The industry understands the continuing need to address physical security and resilience. This latter point is critical because absolute protection from attack, physical or cyber, can never be promised. It is a risk embedded in our freedom. So a healthy ongoing focus on resilience is critical and grid owners and operators address these issues frequently if not daily. So I can’t help but wonder whether the recent media frenzy about Metcalf and a looming national blackout has FERC fighting back, not just with statements but this order.

According to a report released yesterday by Monitoring Analytics, LLC, the results of the energy, capacity and regulation markets in PJM were competitive, resulting in a good overall state of the market in PJM for 2013. Monitoring Analytics, LLC is the Independent Market Monitor for PJM and is also referred to as the Market Monitoring Unit (“MMU”). According to the report, the goal of a competitive power market is to provide power at the lowest possible price, consistent with cost and the MMU states that PJM markets generally met that goal in 2013 but there is room for improvement. As part of the market operator function, PJM coordinates and directs the operation of the transmission grid and plans transmission expansion improvements to maintain grid reliability. In 2013, PJM had total billings of $33.86 billion, up from $29.18 billion in 2012.

For those new to the industry or not familiar with PJM or Regional Transmission Organizations (“RTOs”) in general, the report is required reading. In addition to providing a great overview about PJM’s structure, such as Figure 1-1 below, it provides a great explanation of the many markets in PJM as well as key terms often used in the energy industry. For example, you will learn not only that PJM operates the following markets but what they mean:

  • Day-Ahead Energy Market,
  • Real-Time Energy Market,
  • Reliability Pricing Model (“RPM”) Capacity Market,
  • Regulation Market,
  • Synchronized Reserve Market,  
  • Day Ahead Scheduling Reserve (“DASR”) Market and
  • Long Term, Annual and Monthly Balance of Planning Period Auction Markets in Financial Transmission Rights (FTRs).

Energy geeks and those wanting details, this report does not disappoint. It is packed with enough data to dominate your reading list for a month. The extensive two volume report and media summary can be found on the Monitoring Analytics website. You can also read a related article on which extracts additional details from the in-depth report.

*Click the chart above to view it at a larger size.

The polar vortex made its presence known this winter and its impact on the electric and gas industry will be felt beyond the first day of spring. Bitter cold temperatures caused record-breaking demand for gas and electric, sending prices for these commodities to unprecedented peaks. It was brief but the wholesale price spikes in January affected everyone: utilities, suppliers, businesses and residential customers. As the bills rolled in, many were in shock wondering, “What just happened?” as they checked their invoices and contract provisions over and over and over again. To dig deeper into the answers, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“Commission”) is establishing a technical conference to explore the impacts of the recent cold weather events on the Regional Transmission Organizations/Independent System Operators (RTO/ISO) and discuss actions taken to respond to those impacts. The discussion will focus on the impact of cold weather events on operational planning and real-time operations, market prices and performance; regional infrastructure; the actions taken in response to those impacts; gas procurement; and lessons learned that can be shared between regions and applied in future events.

This Commission-led technical conference regarding the 2013-2014 Winter Operations and Market Performance in Regional Transmission Organizations and Independent System Operators will take place on April 1, 2014 beginning at 9:00 am and ending at approximately 5:00 pm.  The conference will be held at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 888 First Street, NE, Washington, DC 20426. Those interested in attending the technical conference are encouraged to register.

The Electric Power Research Institute (“EPRI”) has launched a three-phase initiative regarding distributed energy resources (“DER”) and grid integration. Phase I was completed this month with the release of The Integrated Grid, Realizing the Full Value of Central and Distributed Energy ResourcesIt is a concept paper designed to frame the issues necessary for consideration by stakeholders such as utilities, regulators, and customers, as well as distribution and DER vendors. DER includes forms of electric generation supply such as small natural gas-fueled generators, combined heat and power plants, electricity storage and solar photovoltaics (PV) on residential rooftops and in larger arrays. Typically, these generation sources must be connected to the distribution system. One of the most significant and important elements of the report is that it highlights a critical distinction between connection and integration. Being connected to the grid is not the same as being integrated into the grid.

In most service territories, the current distribution system was not designed to accommodate an expansive amount of DER while sustaining high levels of electric quality and reliability. Unlike centralized power plants, technical characteristics of certain types of DER, such as variability and intermittency, present challenges that must be addressed to facilitate long term grid integration. According to the report, in order to maintain established standards of quality and reliability, DER must be integrated into the planning and operation of the electric grid. To facilitate DER’s integration, the report presents a call to action in four key areas:

  1. Interconnection Rules and Communications Technologies and Standards
  2. Assessment and Deployment of Advanced Distribution and Reliability Technologies 
  3. Strategies for Integrating Distributed Energy Resources with Grid Planning and Operation
  4. Enabling Policy and Regulation

Phase II of the initiative will encompass a six-month project to develop a framework for assessing the costs and benefits of the combinations of technology that lead to a more integrated grid. Phase III will include demonstrations and modeling using the analytics and procedures developed in Phase II to provide comprehensive data and information to stakeholders, hopefully yielding successful and cost effective integration of DER.

With another round of storms expected to yet again pound most of the East Coast this weekend, let me remind everyone to acknowledge the first responders braving often dangerous conditions to restore and maintain your electricity. It has been a rough winter and many may feel like they are always losing power. However, this fact from the report reminds us that electricity is usually there when we need it:

Today’s power system has served society with average annual system reliability of 99.97% in the U.S., in terms of electricity availability.

– The Integrated Grid, Realizing the Full Value of Central and Distributed Energy Resources, page 9.

The PG&E Metcalf substation has been getting a lot of attention for an event that occurred nearly 10 months ago. Several media outlets have recently reported details about an April 2013 attack at the Metcalf substation where two manholes were entered and fiber cables cut, eliminating some 911 services, landline service to the substation and cell phone service. Shortly after 1 a.m., more than 100 rounds were fired at several transformers in the substation, causing cooling oil to leak and the transformers to overheat and shut down. To date, those responsible have not been found. PG&E is addressing the matter as explained in this video.

It appears that, in reaction to current media reports, Senators Wyden, Feinstein, Reid and Franken wrote a letter requesting that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) determine whether additional minimum standards regarding physical security at critical substations and other essential facilities are needed to assure the reliable operation of the bulk power system. Just yesterday, statements were issued by Commissioners Norris and Moeller. A detailed response by Acting Chairman LaFleur explains the landscape and that FERC will work with NERC to determine whether a mandatory reliability standard under section 215 of the Federal Power Act is needed to protect against physical attacks on our electrical infrastructure. This quote by Commissioner Norris provides grounding and a reminder that the risk is nothing new:

We have over 400,000 circuit miles of transmission in North America and 55,000 transmission substations. The vulnerability of our grid infrastructure to physical attack is a decades-old reality.