Where's the Beef?

About a year ago, we covered some of the initiatives of the smart grid that came out of the Energy Independence and Securities Act of 2007 (EISA), which was funded last year with more than $3.4 billion of stimulus money from the America Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 (ARRA). Like EISA, which devoted a significant amount of the act to the smart grid, energy efficiency and power quality, the ARRA mentions energy efficiency and infrastructure in its objectives.

Under the ARRA, utilities have proposed and have been awarded $3.4 billion over 80 projects, which covers a little more than 40 percent of the total project costs of nearly $8.2 billion. Smart meters seem to be the easiest way to get such money, even though a significant reason from the utility’s perspective for installing them is to allow for variable time-of-day rate structures, or “dynamic pricing programs” as some of the project descriptions refer to it. Approximately 80 percent of awards were for programs involving the installation of 16 million smart meters, along with the secure communications infrastructure required to make them operate properly.

The very distant runner-up in both award and project dollars were for 10 programs to install 600 phasor measurement units (PMUs), also referred to as synchrophasors. The most common method for determining the stability and quality of the electric grid is by monitoring the voltage. Most of us in the industry remember looking at the rms voltage plots of the series of sags that lead to the cascading interruptions and eventual blackout in the Northeastern part of the United States and Canada in August 2003. Unfortunately these were an indication of problems already occurring in the system, rather than a predictor. Frequency is a bit more of an indicator.

According to the U.S./Canada Power System Outage Task Force’s final report on the blackout, “If persistent under-frequency occurs, at least one control area somewhere is ‘leaning on the grid’, meaning that it is taking unscheduled electricity from the grid, which both depresses system frequency and creates unscheduled power flows ... a change in load or generation of 1,000 MW would cause a frequency change of about ±0.031 Hz.” However, “there were no significant or unusual frequency oscillations in the Eastern Interconnection on August 14 prior to 16:09 EDT compared to prior days, and frequency was well within the bounds of safe operating practices. System frequency variation was not a cause or precursor of the initiation of the blackout. But once the cascade began, the large frequency swings that occurred early on became a principal means by which the blackout spread across a wide area.”

Instead, the use of the phase angle relationship between various interconnect parts of the grid is a better indication of stability. This is where the PMUs come into play. Phase angle is the derivative of the frequency or, in less geek speak, the rate at which the phase angle of the voltage changes as it goes through the 360 degrees of a sine wave is the frequency. If the voltage phase angles at one location and another aren’t in sync, there is a potential power flow issue, which would be detected by a PMU. However, PMU projects totaled just 4 percent of smart meter projects, making it clear that the priorities of the projects awarded funding were not toward grid stability and security, despite that one of the five goals of Title XIII Smart Grid portion of EISA is “to facilitate the integration of advanced technologies in existing electric networks to improve system performance, power flow control, and reliability.”

What about energy efficiency getting its fair share of the funding? Nearly all of the awards were to electric utilities, from municipals to cooperatives to investor-owned to independent system operators (ISOs), not manufacturers. True, the meter manufacturers are estimated to receive about 50–70 percent of those project costs, but little money went directly to any manufacturers of energy-efficient equipment.

One award was given to an appliance manufacturer for $19 million to “support the manufacturing of smart appliances to accelerate the commercialization of residential appliances capable of communicating over a home network with other smart technologies.”

There is the point of view that, whenever you measure something, it tends to improve, so there are those who believe smart meters will reduce electrical usage; but that isn’t energy efficiency.

Remember Clara Peller’s “Where’s the beef” inquiry in the fast-food TV commercial? Perhaps we should write those in the government in charge of spending our tax dollars and ask, “Why the pork?” We need to get focused and put the money behind all of the goals of the EISA, or it won’t be a smart grid; it will be just some poorer electricity consumers, both in quality and cost of supply.

BINGHAM, a contributing editor for power quality, can be reached at 732.287.3680.

About the Author

Richard P. Bingham

Power Quality Columnist
Richard P. Bingham, a contributing editor for power quality, can be reached at 732.287.3680.

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