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.

Smart meters aside, customer privacy is not a new concept to utilities, including those in California. However, on October 5, 2013, Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. signed into law AB-1274, now known as Title 1.81.4. Privacy of Customer Electrical or Natural Gas Usage Data. This law is not aimed at utilities, but at third parties which may have access to customer data as a result of doing business directly with the customer. The home area network (“HAN”) function of the smart meter allows customers to monitor their household energy consumption in real-time through a wireless device placed inside their homes. The CPUC views the HAN as a key step in providing customers with timely, actionable information to enable them to optimally manage or reduce their energy consumption and save money. Privacy policies for utilities have long been implemented.

A variety of HAN devices are becoming available in the marketplace and customers in California are able to choose and buy their own device that communicates with their smart meter through a wireless link. As a result, third party vendors of the customers’ choosing will have access to electrical and gas consumption data. A great example provided in the Senate Energy, Utilities And Communications Report states, “…the use of a HAN can show that a refrigerator is an energy hog and would result in the HAN company selling that information to a refrigerator manufacturer which could then market its product directly to the customer.”

The new law does not prohibit the sale of the data, but requires customer consent and disclosure of the secondary purpose. Here are a few key provisions of the new law:

  • Unless otherwise required or authorized by federal or state law, a business shall not share, disclose, or otherwise make accessible to any third party a customer’s data without obtaining the express consent of the customer and conspicuously disclosing to whom the disclosure will be made and how the data will be used.
  • A business that discloses data, with the express consent of the customer, pursuant to a contract with a nonaffiliated third party, shall require by contract that the third party implement and maintain reasonable security procedures and practices appropriate to the nature of the information, to protect the data from unauthorized access, destruction, use, modification, or disclosure.
  • A business shall take all reasonable steps to dispose, or arrange for the disposal, of customer data within its custody or control when the records are no longer to be retained by the business by (1) shredding, (2) erasing, or (3) otherwise modifying the data in those records to make it unreadable or undecipherable through any means.

Just in time for the first anticipated heat wave of the summer in the Philly area, North American Electric Reliability Corporation (“NERC”) released the 2013 Summer Reliability Assessment.

Prognosis: Stable with a chance of weather strain.

Good news: A majority of the areas in the NERC report are projecting sufficient resources to meet summer peak demands. Retirements and retrofits to meet future environmental regulations are not anticipated to cause reliability concerns this summer.

Wind and Solar Capacity resources are projected to increase over 2012’s amount. Solar and wind expected on-peak capacity projections for this year are 2,928 MW and 11,753 MW, respectively.

Bad news: Planning reserve margins for ERCOT are below the NERC Reference Margin Level. The Anticipated Reserve Margin for ERCOT is 12.88 percent for summer 2013. This is below the 13.75 percent target for ERCOT. Sustained extreme weather this summer could threaten supply adequacy.

Monitoring is necessary to manage potential drought conditions. Although all regions have indicated that no substantial operating impacts due to the drought are projected, NERC believes increasing drought conditions could give rise to localized challenge.

In California (WECC-CAMX Assessment Area), the planning reserve margin of 18.52 percent is above the NERC Reference Margin Level (15 percent) for the 2013 summer. However, reliability in southern California under extreme weather and adverse supply conditions remains a concern for NERC.

The 45-page report provides an independent assessment of the reliability of the bulk electricity supply and demand in North America for the period June 2013 through September 2013. The primary objective in providing this assessment is to identify areas of concern regarding the reliability of the North American bulk power system (“BPS”) and to make recommendations for remedial actions as needed.

Recent weather events here on the East Coast have highlighted how much we depend on digital technology and energy. As previously stated, I along with many others prepare for weather events by charging our gadgets, sometimes to the neglect of some basic measures like filling up our gas tanks. Yes, digital steals the show. We focus on digital, sometimes to the point of addiction, and ignore energy…until it is not there. There to power our digital gadgets, our cars, etc., energy is essential. It is the driving force behind everything we do. While it is convenient and sometimes merited to blame the energy companies, as individuals we can’t afford to take energy and our use of it for granted. We must develop an aptitude for how our use of energy impacts our energy future. Today I introduce two resources to help us develop digital and energy literacy.

Neustar has a great program powered by EverFi called My Digital Life. It is a school and, of course, an online curriculum designed to provide students with knowledge to leverage technology in a responsible way. Privacy, security, cyber-bullying, digital relationships and digital addiction are addressed. But it does not stop there. To power the next generation of leaders, many who may one day work at energy companies, the curiculum teaches digital skills such as maintaining a responsible social networking profile, blogging and evaluating online research sources for legitimacy. This is a wonderful product and Neustar provides it free of charge to schools in California, Kentucky and Virgina. I hope they launch an adult version as I know many who would benefit.

DOE released a guide, Energy Literacy: Essential Principles and Fundamental Concepts for Energy Education, that identifies seven Essential Principles and a set of Fundamental Concepts to support each principle. The guide focuses on essential energy issues relevant for all citizens K-Gray. It presents energy concepts that, if understood and applied, will help individuals and communities make informed energy decisions.

Today’s post also highlights the need for regulators to stay current as they address important cost recovery issues related to the smart grid. In a technology-driven information age, the measure for cost effectiveness may be different. Customer benefits may not mean an overall lower customer bill. I am sure I pay more for phone service today but I get many benefits, such as the abilty to type this blog and Facetime with my son.

I recently had the opportunity to interview the Chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, Robert F. Powelson, regarding his views on smart meter opt-outs and other issues affecting Pennsylvania’s energy future. Because I live and practice in Pennsylvania, I may be biased but I think Smart Grid Legal News readers will agree it is refreshing and rare to hear regulators like Chairman Powelson promote smart meters, energy efficiency and other practices that advance our energy future.

Evers: Chairman Powelson, thank you for taking the time to discuss smart meters with me. Why is it important for customers to have smart meters?

Powelson: Act 129 of 2008 has really paved the way for the rollout of smart meters, also referred to as Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), and the implementation of Act 129 continues to benefit Pennsylvania customers. As I see it, smart meter technology is a “win-win” situation for the Commonwealth – both electricity customers and electricity providers alike reap the benefits of advanced meters. 

Smart meters give customers greater control over their energy consumption by allowing them to measure their energy usage, monitor real-time electricity prices, and adjust their consumption and behavior in order to realize significant savings on monthly bills. Customers can even shut down appliances during peak periods or pre-program appliances and devices to operate only at predetermined (and lower cost) timeframes if they so choose.

Similarly, electricity providers also benefit from increased smart meter deployment. The two key concepts here are efficiency and reliability. AMI makes meter reading quicker and more efficient by eliminating the current practice of estimated meter readings. Additionally, with smart meters, utilities have the ability to monitor distribution networks to allow for the immediate detection of irregularities, which leads to drastically reduced response time in addressing outages. 

Finally, smart meters can help reduce both overall electricity use and peak demand use, leading to lower emissions from fossil power plants that will not have to generate as much power – a direct environmental benefit.

Evers: Chairman, across the country several states have implemented an opt-out process due to customers concerns about health and privacy. I am concerned about the impact of an opt-out process as people relocate in and out of homes with smart meters. I call it a smart meter mosaic. I joke that real estate disclosure forms will soon have to start indicating the home’s level of smartness. Seriously, I think the implementation and long-term management of such a process could eventually put upward pressure on rates for everyone. What are your views regarding a smart meter opt-out process?

Powelson: In May, I testified before the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Consumer Affairs Committee on a proposal to partially repeal Act 129 and permit smart meter “opt-out” programs in the Commonwealth. My testimony addressed two pieces of legislation – House Bill 2186, which would allow consumers to opt out of having smart meters installed at their premises, and House Bill 2188, which would require consumer consent in order to share information from electric meters with government agencies. These bills represent a significant step backward in policy, with the potential to negate all of the reductions already achieved under Act 129.

The proliferation of opt-out requirements for AMI deployment has the potential to cripple efforts to modernize grid technology. Maine has received a lot of attention regarding its AMI opt-out, and Central Maine Power (CMP) has considered, analyzed and provided substantial cost information relating to a variety of potential solutions or mitigation measures for customers seeking to opt out of CMP’s Smart Meter Program. CMP estimates these incremental infrastructure and support costs to be as high as $70 million over the life of the AMI project – and that is assuming only 1 to 2 percent of CMP customers opt out. At an opt-out level of 10 percent, these incremental costs grow to hundreds of millions of dollars – exceeding the costs of CMP’s advanced meter project.

While I appreciate that there are consumers who have security and privacy concerns with respect to AMI, the PUC, legislature, and Electric Distribution Companies (EDCs) may be able to help alleviate these concerns through increased education and outreach. It is worth noting that many EDCs and their customers have had AMI in place for years, namely PPL and PECO. Additionally, we are already facilitating the continued implementation of smart grid technology by establishing rules that more precisely address conduct in the areas of reliability, privacy and security. California and Ontario have undertaken similar efforts through a “Privacy by Design” rulebook, which was integral to customer support for advanced meter roll out.

In sum, opt-outs cause operational gaps that will lead to additional costs for companies and their customers, defeating the stated purposes of Act 129. Such a system reduces reliability for all customers, as well as the benefits of a completely modernized electric grid. Simply put, there is no compelling reason for an “opt-out” program.

Evers: Smart meters have received a lot of attention but there is so much more to the concept of smart grid. Beyond smart meters, what do you see as other benefits as utilities upgrade their systems?

Powelson: Nationally, billions of dollars are being invested in smart grid technology because of the many benefits to consumers and utilities, as well as the positive impact on the environment through increased energy efficiency. (By way of background, federal support for the development of smart meter systems began with the Energy Policy Act of 2005, was supplemented with passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, and funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 – which set aside $11 billion for the creation of a smart grid.)

For me it is not just about the technology. The most important objective is to better serve the needs of consumers and build stronger, more vibrant communities in which to live, work, and play. Smart meter and smart grid programs will be much more efficient in delivering electricity to homes and businesses; responding to outages and other emergencies; monitoring and seeking to curtail usage, especially during peak periods; preventing theft and fraud; and helping electric customers save dollars on their monthly bill. In short, the benefits to Pennsylvanians will continue to grow.

Evers: Recently many utilities have partnered with Opower and Facebook to allow customers to form teams for energy saving contests and compare energy usage with friends, hopefully creating positive peer pressure. Why are innovations like this important to our energy future?

Powelson: Any method of educating consumers and raising consumer awareness is vital. The real benefits will come when people start to realize that we are all in this together, and everyone contributing a little adds up to significant decreases in demand, which then puts a downward pressure on prices.

I particularly like this idea of comparing energy usage with neighbors and friends, as it dovetails nicely with the idea of “competition” in Pennsylvania’s electricity market. The more customers learn about competitive electricity providers, and the benefits and potential price savings available in the marketplace, the better. Increased dialogue that leads to decreased energy usage is exactly what we are looking for under Act 129.

Evers: Are there any other thoughts regarding Pennsylvania’s energy future you would like to share?

Powelson: Pennsylvania has really embraced a two-pronged approach in considering its energy future. On one hand, we are doing all that we can as regulators, providers, and consumers to comply with Act 129 and become more energy efficient. On the other hand, we are strengthening Pennsylvania’s competitive marketplace to increase competition among electric generation suppliers and produce better pricing and greater savings for the Commonwealth’s 5.6 million electric customers.

In addition to fulfilling its regulatory and oversight responsibilities, the Pennsylvania PUC will continue to educate consumers on the benefits of both energy efficiency and conservation, including smart meter technology, as well the advantages of shopping with competitive suppliers for their electric generation.

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s (NERC) 2012 Summer Reliability Assessment finds most of North America has sufficient resources available to meet summer peak demands, however, planning reserve margins in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) assessment area are projected to be below the NERC Reference Margin Level, the threshold by which resource adequacy is measured. In California, reserves are projected to be tight but manageable through the summer months.

With continued growth in peak demand and only a small amount of new generation coming online, resource adequacy levels in ERCOT have fallen below targets,” said John Moura, manager of Reliability Assessment at NERC. “If ERCOT experiences stressed system conditions or record-breaking electricity demand due to extreme and prolonged high temperatures, system operators will most likely rely on demand response and emergency operating procedures, which may include initiating rotating outages to maintain the reliability of the interconnection.

Texas is no stranger to rotating outages. Shortly before Super Bowl XLV, brownouts occurred when extreme cold weather hit the Southwest the first week of February 2011. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation released a staff report making recommendations to help prevent a recurrence of rolling blackouts and natural gas curtailments. Hopefully the lessons learned can help this situation. 

Despite the concerns in Texas and California, according to Mark Lauby, vice president and director of Reliability Assessment and Performance Analysis, NERC has reviewed the operating procedures and preparations in the assessment areas, and in most areas they appear to be sufficient to meet these challenges. Since summer 2011, capacity resources have grown across North America by approximately 12,310 megawatts, most notably within the SERC Reliability Corporation and the Northeast Power Coordinating Council areas. Compared to the 2011 projections, NERC-wide total peak demand forecast is 3,700 MW lower. The largest increase in peak demand is expected in ERCOT, where a 1.7 percent increase is projected.

Green Button is an industry-led effort that allows electricity customers to download their household or building energy-use data in a consumer- and computer-friendly format. PaPUC Chairman Powelson and Commissioner Witmer recently issued a statement encouraging Pennsylvania electric utilities not already involved to take part in this important initiative that empowers customers. Green-Button-enabled web and smartphone applications promise to help consumers choose the most economical rate plan for their use patterns. With this information at their fingertips, consumers would be enabled to make more informed decisions about their energy use and, when coupled with opportunities to take action, be empowered to more actively manage their energy use. Furthermore, making this information available in standardized file format will help spur innovative new consumer applications and devices. Here are just a few ways the Green Button might be put to use today:

  • Insight: entrepreneur-created web portals to analyze usage and provide actionable tips;
  • Heating and Cooling: customizing thermostats for savings and comfort;
  • Education: community and student energy efficiency competitions;
  • Retrofits: improved decision-support tools to facilitate energy efficiency retrofits;
  • Verification: measurement of structural energy efficiency investments;
  • Real Estate: energy costs for tenants and/or new home purchasers; and
  • Solar: optimizing the size of rooftop solar panels.

Currently, the following 15 utility providers formally support Green Button:

Data privacy has been an issue long before the smart grid became a commonly used term. With so much of our lives spent online and stored in clouds, data privacy is certainly something to be concerned about. Technology is a wonderful thing, yet it creates more data that needs to be managed and protected. There is a lot of talk about smart meter privacy issues. The data available from smart meters offers a wealth of opportunities for energy management and energy efficiency. Many tend to forget that utilities have always had to safeguard confidential customer account information. The sheer volume of data will no doubt present challenges for the utilities; however, with the introduction of Green Button, customers should also be reminded to safeguard their privacy.

Staysafeonline.org is promoting January 28, 2012 as Data Privacy Day. It is a great way to remind all of us to be responsible with our personal information. Several governors have promoted privacy by declaring January 28 Data Privacy Day in their states: Arizona, California, Ohio, West Virginia and Wisconsin. These states each have offices dedicated to privacy and/or Chief Privacy Officers. While not technically a privacy office, New York’s Consumer Protection Board provides consumers and businesses numerous privacy resources. Attorney Generals from many states also offer consumer-oriented privacy information on their web pages and lead privacy initiatives within their states.

For a lighter read but probably just as important, to celebrate Data Privacy Day author Matt Ivester is giving out free copies of his book lol…OMG! What Every Student Needs to Know About Online Reputation Management, Digital Citizenship and Cyberbullying, from January 27 -30, 2012. I plan to download a copy and read it with my 8th grader. You might also want to check out the recent post by Christine Hertzog of the Smart Grid Library Blog. She provides a fun test called Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader About Your Electricity Data Privacy?

Here are some general privacy laws you might want to know about:

Happy Data Privacy Day!