Missouri's smart grid progress
Published In: Intelligent Utility Magazine September/October 2009
IT'S REALLY NO REVELATION THAT SUSTAINABLE EFFORTS IN SMART GRID today are either ongoing or being planned and implemented. The initiatives are happening not only in globally prominent geographies, but also in some regions where they're astonishingly less advertised.
Like every worthwhile pursuit, however, it doesn't matter whether implementation is high profile or low key. Some of the lesser-known efforts, in fact, have yielded some of the most tangible results. And nowhere is this stealth smart grid movement better illustrated than in the U.S. midsection.
Consider, for example, Missouri. The state's electric utilities include operating subsidiaries of large investor-owned companies-such as Kansas City Power & Light (KCP&L), which is part of Great Plains Energy Inc., and AmerenUE, which belongs to Ameren Corp.-along with smaller investor-owned utilities, such as Empire District Electric Co., and numerous taxpayer-backed municipal utilities and independent rural electric cooperatives.
Recognizing and analyzing Missouri's smart grid plans and developments-current and future-first requires a discussion of precisely what one might actually be looking for.
''People refer to Missouri as not having picked up on smart grid,'' said Warren Wood, president of the Missouri Energy Development Association, with membership encompassing Missouri's investor-owned utilities. ''As an engineer who works with the state's industrial community and regulated utilities-and I also call on some municipals-I sort of take a step back when I hear that.''
Wood cites numerous distribution and transmission advances in Missouri. ''I work with our utilities in terms of their storm recovery efforts and outage restoration-and how they track their duration and frequency of outages by customer,'' said Wood. ''They have the intelligence in the system now, such that if a tree knocks down a line, they get these signals from the different meters.
''They have the intelligence in their system to say, 'the fact that all these things said there's a problem-at the same time-makes us think the issue's probably right here,' which has been very helpful on restoration time. So we're already seeing tremendous benefits in terms of interaction with storm recovery and outage recovery, and in overall reliability with real-time monitoring of the transmission and distribution system load.
''To say it's not an intelligent or smart grid, I think, is selling what is there very short. And it gives people the wrong impression. The question is, when we talk about upgrading from what we have now to what's coming: what is the smart grid? I can talk to five different people and get five different answers.''
Indeed, a specific definition for smart grid can be elusive, yet the positive prospects that accompany implementation of its various elements are not lost on those vitally concerned every day with fundamental energy issues.
''Obviously, the smart grid means a lot of things to a lot of different people,'' said Jeff Davis, a commissioner on the Missouri Public Service Commission, overseeing the state's regulated utilities. ''I don't think there is any one consistent definition, but you can look at all the different aspects.''
It's especially important to try to reach consensus on a smart grid definition when engaging in legislative approaches.
''We don't really know what a smart grid is, other than it is smarter than what we have now, which just means it can do more things than the grid can do now,'' said Missouri state representative Ed Emery, chairman of the House Utilities Committee.
''The biggest battle in the legislative process is the battle-to the degree that's possible in a regulated industry-to keep the free market driving it,'' Emery said. ''And that is to legislate as little as possible how the smart grid is put into place, to focus our attention on what government is currently doing that is making it harder for companies to upgrade the network, or to figure out what questions are not answered, like who's responsible for particular transmission issues.''
TERRITORY + COOPERATION
Transmission, in fact, dominates the bigger-picture smart grid landscape in Missouri. Glance at a map of the continental United States and try to imagine any contiguous economic enterprise that doesn't have vital interests in Missouri, a central geographic linchpin. To effectively engage in east-west commerce across the United States, one often has to navigate Missouri.
It's similar with electricity. East to west, transmission across Missouri focuses attention on the critical reality that major regional transmission organizations are situated on opposite extremes: the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, of which Ameren is a member on the eastern edge of the state, and the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), of which KCP&L and Empire are members on the western edge.
And in between, cross-state transmission capability is largely the bailiwick of the coops. ''That's the interesting thing, if you really want to have a discussion about transmission in Missouri,'' said Davis. ''The coops built a system back in the late 1970s/early 1980s and that is really the backbone of our transmission system in the state,'' said Davis.
So as to transmission across Missouri, cooperation among electric utilities-of every size and configuration-is an issue of paramount significance.
''Missouri doesn't have defined service territories between cooperatives and investor-owned utilities,'' said Mike Palmer, vice president of commercial operations at Empire. ''It's pretty common around the state. The coop might be on one side of the road and we might be on the other-it's very intermingled.''
Palmer sees cooperation among Missouri's electric utilities as an everyday occurrence. ''We all work together,'' Palmer said. ''It's just quite a mosaic system in Missouri.''
Cumulatively, Missouri utilities are powered more than 80 percent by coal, which is at least a partial explanation for the state's comparatively low electric rates. Empire, with a slightly lesser reliance on coal, mixes in considerable percentages of renewable energy, notably wind from two Kansas wind farm contracts, but also some hydro in an arrangement with the Green River Dam Authority.
Electric utility performance in Missouri is augmented by operations of several municipal organizations, including the state's largest municipal taxpayer-supported utility, City Utilities of Springfield (CU), another SPP member.
''Lots of the things we have in place today I would consider to be smart grid applications,'' said Gary Gibson, director of distribution at CU. ''I think most people in the general public, when they think smart grid, they're thinking smart meters and things inside the house. But I look at it as really the overall big picture. It's getting all these things-generation, transmission, distribution and the customers-to integrate together.''
Advances with which CU is experimenting in Springfield are local wind power and solar. ''These are little demonstration projects-just to see what the statistics are as far as the sun shining and the wind blowing,'' Gibson said. ''And we're continuing to look at other smart grid options-like smart metering and a demand response-type program, which we don't have right now in Springfield, but we're strongly considering.''
Gibson and his municipal utility colleagues, closely observing political and regulatory developments, believe that they're prepared for a future that remains foggily uncertain, but must, in the end, encourage progress on a variety of smart grid fronts.
''Everything's got to work together if we're going to have an energy solution-and energy that is still affordable for our customers,'' Gibson said. ''And being a municipal, I think we're really in tune with that. Who we answer to are our neighbors, and we need to make sure that we keep energy costs low for them, but also that we do the right thing from the environmental side.''
By no means does a greater environmental consciousness appear to have been lost on Missourians.
''We do have a renewable portfolio standard that was adopted on the November ballot last year,'' said Commissioner Davis. ''And we're certainly going to need smart grid technology to help us integrate the wind and the solar onto our system.''
Missourians view it as a system that's reliable and growing, appropriately and responsibly mixing in the forward thinking and innovative aspects.