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Urban revitalization and grid modernization?

Kansas City Power & Light wants to do it all. 

KCP&L, as the utility is known, is working with local stakeholders to modernize a significant part of its urban grid, revitalize the city's urban core and engage customers and community for a more sustainable local economy. 

A successful outcome would benefit not only Kansas City, Missouri, but myriad utilities and urban cores around the country. After all, this is a Smart Grid Regional Demonstration Project with a price tag of $50 million, with $23.9 million coming from a stimulus grant. So KCP&L, like other utilities engaged in such pilot projects, must do its work transparently and in a manner that can be replicated elsewhere.

(You may recall we featured KCP&L in Intelligent Utility magazine's "Smart Grid As Economic Development.") 

I spoke recently with KCP&L's Bill Menge, director of smart grid, who described the project's drivers, challenges and the lessons learned so far.

"From a technical standpoint, this is a true, end-to-end smart grid solution," Menge told me. "Almost anything you'd say, `hey, that's smart grid,' is part of our demonstration project."

The focus is on a 150-block urban core in midtown Kansas City designated as the Green Impact Zone, as well as an area that wraps around the Green Impact Zone, which is known as the Blue Zone. The affected customers, about 14,000, are largely residential, though some businesses are involved.

The project area consists of 14 circuits connected to KCP&L's Midtown Substation, which serves a 140 megawatt load, critical to downtown Kansas City, MO, of which Green and Blue Zones are just a part. 

"A big driver for us is `proof of concept' for business cases for what we want to do moving forward," Menge told me. 

And the utility would like to improve reliability indices for customers, defer capital investments, particularly at the Midtown Substation, and to learn how various components work or don't work together. 

"We're trying to see how tools and education can help folks understand how they use energy, how it gets delivered to them, what drives the cost of energy, and how they can use tools and knowledge to manage their energy use and have an impact on their bill," Menge said. 

The customer-facing work has been ongoing since 2010, when KCP&L began outreach efforts to inner city residents to explain the project and the tools that would be made available to residents, such as smart meters, home energy web portals and in-home displays of energy use information. Initial efforts were accompanied by a high-touch process of meeting with residents in various settings to raise awareness of the potential benefits of participating in the project. 

Installing advanced metering infrastructure and designing the project's system also began in 2010 and was completed last year. Beginning last year and extending into this year is the project's deployment phase, which addresses substation upgrades, advanced distribution automation and installation of a distribution management system. 

On the customer side, work continues on distributed energy resource deployments of customer devices, rooftop solar photovoltaic installations and a Distributed Energy Resource Management system (DERM). Time-of-use rate pilots began in May and will run through September 2014, with an "aggressive" spread between $.06 per kWh off-peak and $.36 per kWh on-peak, which is 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. 

"It's geared toward shifting usage," Menge said. "It's a fairly narrow-band window with a significant change in price. We're testing two hypotheses: First, how do people respond to time-of-use prices. And second, do people perform better with the tools we're providing or without the tools?"

Themes that run behind all these project details include systems integration and interoperability and cyber- and physical security, Menge added. 

For those of us who eagerly await the outcomes based on real data, patience is in order. The data collection, reporting and analysis comes in 2013-2014.

The project addresses an impressive array of technology. Under "SmartGeneration," KCP&L will test energy storage, demand response, solar photovoltaics and Volt/VAr optimization. Under "SmartEndUse" the utility will test Web portal usage, the effects of in-home displays, digital thermostats, TOU pricing, electric vehicle charging and home area networks. "SmartDistribution" and "SmartBuilding" efforts also include broad  arrays of technology.  

As much as I'd like to jump ahead to see how it all turned out, though, just implementing the pilot so far has delivered a number of lessons learned to KCP&L and the project team. 

"We're striving towards build things on the emerging standards from the NISTIR standards," Menge said. "That's one of our greatest challenges as we approach pulling the trigger on a final design. If those standards aren't ready or available or nobody makes anything based on that standard, then we have to pull back from those standards. But we're really pushing for off-the-shelf products that can plug-and-play in our system."

Dealing with vendors in a period of uncertainty regarding standards development has been a challenge, I noted to Menge. Any advice for fellow utilities undergoing a similar process? 

"Having good requirements up front is the best plan, but that's been very challenging for us because we're trying to build requirements on standards," Menge told me. "It's hard to tell a vendor to build to a standard that isn't written yet. And it's hard for a vendor to give me a price. We all agree we're going to try to do that, but when you get down to the brass tacks, the vendor says `I'm not sure I can do that' or the standard still doesn't exist, well, solid requirements help. If you were proceeding with upgrades across the enterprise, you may not take some of the risks we're taking in this pilot project." 

Some early learnings have a familiar ring to them. 

"One of the things we mention frequently in team meetings is `Plan B,'" Menge said. "What if `Plan A' doesn't work or doesn't go well? Call it contingency planning—there are lots of fancy ways to say it. Can we undo something if necessary?

"Remember," Menge added, "this is a demonstration project—a big part of this is learning."

Phil Carson 
Intelligent Utility Daily














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