Through September 2020: Trends in Estimated Load Impacts of COVID-19 Mitigation Policies on European and North American Electricity Consumption

As previously discussed in the first of this blog series on April 13, as lockdown policies are enacted to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the Itron Forecasting Team is leveraging publicly available hourly load data for most North American Independent System Operators (ISOs) and a select set of European countries to build a picture of the load impacts by region. To assess the load impact of COVID-19 mitigation strategies, actual loads when many of these policies began are compared to baseline loads without COVID-19 policy impacts.

Across Europe and North America, the biggest estimated load reductions occurred in April with an estimated reduction in average daily load between -12.3% and -7.2%.  In recent months, the combination of the relaxing of lockdown restrictions and hot weather has led to no apparent load impact in North America, but a continued small impact in Europe.

For a detailed summary of the estimated load impacts, go to the forecasting website to download the latest COVID-19 Load Impact memo.

The Itron Forecasting Team will continue to post updated summary blogs and corresponding memos on the trends.

Subscribe to our blog to be notified of new posts and contact us at forecasting@itron.com if you have further questions.

Estimated Daily Average Energy Impact Wedge


Demand Response During COVID-19 and Summer Heatwaves

Demand response – which consistently has its demise predicted – has not only played a significant, positive role in helping our electric utility clients maintain supply and demand in the last year, but has also awakened regulators across the country to its value as a reliable asset. Traditional demand response, defined as helping utilities reduce peak demand primarily during higher than average temperature days (excessive “cooling degree days”), has been used as a cost-effective, customer-focused incentive program service that limits air conditioning load throughout a service territory. Itron’s Distributed Energy Management (DEM) group is a leading provider of demand response services, with 29 active programs controlling over 2 million behind-the-meter devices.

With more people home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been major shifts in consumption by the customer sector, including a lot more residential consumption and of course, a lot less commercial building consumption. Here are a few insights provided by one of Itron’s partners, Pecan Street, in Austin, Texas.

  1. Total residential demand is up
  2. COVID-19 is changing the “Duck Curve” – reducing excess customer sell back of solar to the grid, because they are consuming more at home
  3. Electric vehicle (EV) charging is down, both at home and in public due to less commuting as well as a slowdown in EV car sales

While the aggregate load may be down, the shift from commercial to residential has grid impacts. This is the area of our focus and aligns with the shifting nature of where DEM is going – to be able to measure, monitor and orchestrate an increasing amount of Distributed Energy Resources (DER) behind the meter for distribution grid optimization. A case in point is with residential load impacts. Neighborhoods operate with older, less capable infrastructure – older transformers, smaller voltage lines, less automated substations and vis-à-vis commercial buildings that operate on newer, larger, more automated distribution infrastructure. Increasing load in residential neighborhoods can cause locational problems that can lead to service disruption and negative customer impact. They offer an opportunity for greater consumption analytics, more customer behind the meter DERs and more customer programs.

In addition to COVID-19 impacts, the changing nature of residential customer appliances and energy generation is also impacting the distribution grid, not completely, but often in individual neighborhoods, increasing challenges and risks for our utility clients. Electric vehicle service equipment (EVSE) will start proliferating in customer homes, creating the largest load in the home and in some cases, doubling the load for a single-family customer. That will have direct impact on secondary transformers.

Recently, our senior product manager and grid optimization expert, George Simons, wrote an article for T&D World on this very topic. If you haven’t read it, please do. It’s a great technical read for our utility customers and a nice way to introduce how Itron is planning to solve these challenges, while offering more value to their customers.

Itron’s product offering for demand response includes leveraging our analytics expertise to create greater insights, which can lead to better grid management. We have significant analytics capabilities that can work with our OpenWay Riva IoT solution (featuring distributed intelligence), networks software such as SensorIQ and Operations Optimizer, MetrixIDR and DER analytics. These analytics can leverage multiple data sets to provide insights to end use customers, but also in aggregate, to measure impacts to transformers and substations, enabling utilities to better manage locational supply and demand, address impacts to older, less equipped infrastructure and improve reliability and services to utility customers.


Reducing the Potential for Generation Redispatch

The pan-European electricity market enables competitive wholesale and retail exchange of electricity while ensuring the security of the electric grid. The market design supports both day-ahead and intraday electricity exchanges that require accurate electricity consumption and generation forecasts to ensure safe and cost-effective grid operations. The day-ahead market establishes an initial schedule of generation resources required to meet the anticipated day-ahead electricity consumption. The intraday market provides for electricity exchanges to clear current day energy imbalances. As a last resort, Transmission System Operators (TSOs) redispatch generation to relieve congestion bottlenecks and maintain system security.

Over the period of 2015 through 2019, the cost of Germany’s generation redispatch averaged a little under €1 billion per year. To help manage the cost of redispatch in the face of the rapid deployment of renewable generation, Germany’s Redispatch 2.0 guidelines allow German TSOs to throttle down grid-connected wind, solar, and combined heat and power generation if other redispatch options are more costly. To assess all possible redispatch options, German Distribution System Operators (DSOs) are required to submit to their respective Transmission System Operator (TSO) day-ahead and intraday forecasts of generation (> 100 KW) and consumption within their distribution system. The DSO forecasts are critical inputs to network models that redispatch grid and non-grid connected generation (for example, centralized dispatched load control) to meet consumption subject to transmission and distribution system operating constraints.

Day-ahead and intraday consumption forecasts are developed generally using techniques from two broad classes of load forecast frameworks:

  • Equation-based Approaches: Under this approach, parametrized equations are used to predict loads as a function of calendar (e.g., day-of-the-week, season, holidays, special event days), economic (e.g., operating schedules, employment levels), weather (e.g., temperature, humidity, wind speed, precipitation) and solar (sunrise/sunset times, observance of daylight savings, solar irradiance) conditions. Historical load data are combined with historical measurements of explanatory variables or features to estimate the parameters of the equations. Once the parameters are estimated, forecasted calendar, economic, weather and solar conditions are passed into the equations to form the load forecast. Techniques that fall into this class are multivariate regression, advanced neural networks, and support vector regression, among others.
  • Classification-based Approaches: Under this approach, historical load data are classified based on calendar, economic, weather and solar conditions. Days with similar conditions as the forecast day are then averaged to form the load forecast. Techniques that fall into this class are Gradient Boost, Random Forests, and Like Day Lookup, among others.

A useful way of thinking of a load forecast is to look at it as an average of historical load data under similar calendar, economic, weather and solar conditions as the day being forecasted. From the perspective of an event like COVID-19, the challenge is that the historical data upon which the load forecasts are constructed are not under the same economic conditions as those prevailing under lockdown mandates imposed by countries to curb the spread of COVID-19. Although lockdown policies vary across Europe, in general, the policies have led to school closures and reduced operations or closures of non-essential businesses. Many other businesses have a large portion of their employees working remotely from home. The net effect is a shift of weekday electricity consumption from the nonresidential sector to the residential sector. For DSOs and TSOs operating in countries with lockdown mandates in place, there has been an evolution of the system load shape toward a residential load pattern. Day-ahead and intraday load forecast frameworks that do not adapt to the shift in load patterns will realize an erosion of forecast performance. This adds pressure on system operators to continually evaluate their generation dispatch plans to ensure all energy imbalances are cleared.

Dr. Frank Monforte, Director of Forecasting Solutions at Itron, recently wrote a white paper that presents a framework for improving day-ahead and intraday consumption forecasts in the face of existing COVID-19 lockdown mitigation policies, as well as when the lockdown policies are relaxed to allow for a re-opening of Europe’s economies. Historical hourly load data for 10 countries spanning the pan-European electric grid is used to demonstrate how load consumption patterns have changed because of COVID-19 lockdowns. The analysis of the data suggests how existing load forecasting frameworks can be adapted to prevent erosion of forecast performance. Download a copy today!


Providing Resourceful Solutions to Protect Our Most Precious Resource

We may live on a planet that has 71% of its land mass covered in water, but that doesn’t mean it is easily accessible, let alone drinkable. Water is not an infinite resource, and for many communities across the globe, easy access to water is a constant challenge.

It is estimated that approximately one-third of all water produced by drinking water treatment utilities globally either does not make it to customers or is not properly billed – this is what we call non-revenue water (NRW) loss. We need to do better.

At Itron, we are determined to help our utility and municipality customers make every drop of water count, providing modern water solutions for an industry in transition. Whatever the drivers are for creating easier and more affordable access to water resources — whether that’s overcoming climate-induced water scarcity, combating aging infrastructure or facing an increasing population in urban areas — utilities with as little as 20,000 or fewer endpoints are finding new hope for cost-effective solutions. With this solution, they can ensure water is available and accessible for their communities while helping keep costs low.

By combining our smart devices, intelligently connected industrial IoT networks and analytics solutions, Itron helps our customers gain actionable understanding of water metering and use, water distribution, water leakage and more. Leak detection technology and analytics also support revenue protection for utilities, while smart water technology brings intelligence and action to the very edge of the distribution network. This type of intelligent connectivity helps identify real losses in the distribution system and proactively address them before a leak becomes larger or causes substantial damage to surrounding infrastructure.

Learn more about Itron’s water solutions and revenue protection technology during our virtual Itron Utility Week (IUW), coming up Oct. 27 – 29. Attendees will be able to dig in on a range of topics spanning across four themed tracks: Applications, Outcomes and Services; Multi-purpose Network Solutions; Mobile and Measurement Solutions; and Data Management. Specifically, for those interested in water management, join our sessions focusing on “Reducing Non-Revenue Water through Leak Detection” and “Panel: 3D ROI for Streetlights + Smart Community Applications.”

Want to know more about IUW 2020? Visit www.itron.com/iuw to learn about our virtual content, or watch this video as an introduction to our one-of-a-kind event. Registration is free for Itron customers, partners and prospects.

Stay tuned for additional blogs throughout the next few weeks as we prepare to kick off #IUW20!


Five Ways to Make the Most of Your Virtual IUW Experience

With the safety of our customers and employees in mind, Itron Utility Week (IUW) will be a completely virtual experience this year. Although we are disappointed that we won’t be able to see your smiling faces in person, virtual events have unique advantages.

To help you make the most of IUW 2020, hosted Oct. 27 – 29, we have put together a list of tips to maximize your virtual experience.

  1. Set the Vibe: Even though we cannot enjoy IUW 2020 together in person at a fabulous location far away from home, you can still make the event feel special and set the tone for a refreshing experience. Give yourself time before the event starts (8 a.m. Pacific each day) to make a cup of coffee or tea, clear off your desk and get comfortable. If possible, ensure minimal interruptions by informing your at-home colleagues or family that you will be attending an incredible event for the next few hours. During the event, you can even share your set up with us by posting a photo to social media and using hashtag #MyIUW.
  2. Dress for the Occasion: Several studies have shown that the clothes you wear actually prime your brain to function differently. To ensure you are ready to take in everything IUW has to offer, wear something that makes you feel confident, put together and ready to tackle industry challenges with us and your peers.
  3. Interact with Others: The IUW team has been working hard to put together breakout sessions and engagement tools such as Q&A and surveys to ensure that you can interact with other attendees during the event. Please take advantage of these tools and don’t be afraid to ask questions during breakout sessions—almost all have time allotted for Q&A.
  4. Be Present: With a virtual event, it is easy to get distracted by email, your phone, your pets or even snacks calling your name from the kitchen. Ensure that you soak up every thoughtful insight during IUW by minimizing distractions and staying focused. For some, this may even mean keeping your hands busy.
  5. Get Social: We want to hear your thoughts and takeaways during the event, so follow @ItronInc on Twitter and use #IUW20 when tweeting about the event. Each day, we will be announcing the top influencers using the #IUW20 hashtag on Twitter, so get social for your chance to be on the leaderboard. We also created a LinkedIn event page, where you can have discussions with other event attendees and network.

We cannot wait for our very first virtual IUW! If you haven’t already, be sure to register today at no cost to you.


If It Were Not for the Data, Everything Would Be Great

I recently developed a set of 15-minute load forecast models when I noticed something odd in the pattern of the MAPEs (Mean Absolute Percent Errors) from interval to interval. After unsuccessfully trying a few of my usual tactics to resolve the problem, I presented the following figure to one of my colleagues:

Not wanting to let the proverbial cat out of the bag myself, I said, “Do you see what I see?” After a moment of reflection, he indeed saw what I saw: the MAPE of every fourth interval jumps up. That is not cool at all.

Here is a bit of background. This set of models is highly auto-regressive. That is, each model uses lagged loads from the prior four intervals as driver variables (as well as the typical calendar and weather variables). The model for 1 a.m., for instance, depends upon loads from 12:45 a.m., 12:30 a.m., 12:15 a.m. and midnight. This is a common approach for very short-term forecasting. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I have used this same approach many times without incident.

In an effort to identify and to ameliorate the problem, I tried a few things. I had thought that the weather data might not be aligned correctly with the load data. I removed all of the coincident weather variables and re-worked the models so they all have the same specification (except for the relevant lagged-loads) with the same time-of-day weather variables. When that failed to resolve the problem, I was sufficiently convinced that the weather was not the issue. I also tried manipulating the lagged intervals, excluding the fourth lag (i.e., the 1-hour back) variable and other similar inclusions and exclusions of various lags. That too proved to be like an empty apple bag – entirely fruitless.

This is not the data for an individual customer or even a small municipality. In fact, the data is for a transmission grid, accounting for the electricity consumption of millions of customers. After some deeper contemplation, consultation and reflection, we decided that this is not the way real load data behaves! There is no reason that models at the top of the hour should be systematically worse than models from the :45- minute mark or the :15- minute mark. This data was clearly not measured, but rather, it was constructed. Further, it was constructed in such a way as to create a bias in the resulting values. This is not obvious when observing the load data itself or even when viewing the ramp-rates (i.e. the interval-to-interval deltas).

We dug deep into our mental archives for a solution, where we found our old friends Savitzky and Golay. (Let me tell you: those guys knew how to rock!) I will leave it to you to review their work. Essentially, their idea is to apply a smoothing algorithm to the data. In this case, we applied a 5-period centered polynomial weighted average. Our goal is to identify the ‘signal’ in the data and not to be distracted by the “noise.”

The following figure displays one day of 15-minute data that is both smoothed (in blue) and raw (in red). A few observations are circled to illustrate that the smoothed data cuts through the center of the noise in the raw data, thereby creating a less volatile series.

The 5-period centered smoothing algorithm is generalized as:

Where:

  • i = interval. In this case, there are 96 intervals per day because the data has a 15-minute frequency.
  • -3, 12, and 17 are the “convolution coefficients” as derived by Savitsky and Golay.

The following is an example for the 12 p.m. interval:

I will spare you the details of the mechanical processes we used in MetrixND and MetrixIDR to perform these calculations and I will cut directly to the climactic fight scene. We ran the identical models, but this time the data had first been smoothed. The following figure presents the MAPEs from the original models in blue and the new models with smoothed data in orange. There are two salient points:

  1. The dramatically higher MAPEs at the top of the hour are largely eliminated by smoothing the data.
  2. The models with the smoothed data are systematically better than the original models, as evidenced by the orange bars being lower than the blue bars for the same intervals. In fact, the average MAPE for the 96 intervals was reduced from 0.50% to 0.27%. Cutting the average MAPE in half is no small feat.


Many of the changes we make in models tend to have marginal impacts. Further, the changes often have the effect of improving some intervals while degrading other intervals. I rarely see changes in models that are both dramatic and systematic. When those two criteria are met, I declare victory.

What can we learn from this? First, we can use the models themselves to inform us about the data. Remember, it was the pattern in the MAPEs that led us down this road. Second, we cannot necessarily trust the data itself. The numbers are not provided by a ‘data fairy’ who magically and lovingly delivers pristine data to us under our pillows while we sleep. In most cases, we do not know the story behind the collection or calculation of the data. We must be vigilant and skeptical. Further, we can use the tools at our disposal to address many of the issues that we face.


IUW 2020: Empowering Innovation

At Itron Utility Week – whether we’re meeting in person or getting together virtually (such are the times) – we unlock and empower innovation to drive the industry forward. Innovation starts with people, and that is why each year, we gather industry experts, colleagues and thought leaders together for a conference unlike any other.

Due to COVID-19, and with the safety of our customers and employees in mind, we will be hosting the first-ever virtual Itron Utility Week. From Oct. 27 – 29, we will gather virtually to learn from one another and open the door to endless possibilities through innovation for utilities and cities around the world.

This year’s virtual event will feature 20 breakout sessions led by industry peers, insightful keynotes, engaging executive panels, the Excellence in Resourcefulness and Itron Innovator Awards, and access to Itron’s first virtual Knowledge Center, which showcases many of our solutions and partner offerings.

  • Paula Gold-Williams, president and CEO of CPS Energy, and Tom Deitrich, president and CEO of Itron, will kick things off with an opening keynote and fireside chat about innovation and community partnership.
  • During our Women in Utilities session, Kimberly Britton, CEO of EPIcenter, will moderate a panel of female leaders at the forefront of our industry to discuss topics such as leading in a time of crisis, the reality of working from home and how to best manage competing demands.
  • Our Big Picture Session focusing on “Creating Agile Communities Leveraging Smart City and Utility Infrastructure,” featuring city, utility and industry experts, is a discussion you won’t want to miss.
  • Our motivational keynote, Michael C. Bush, will share insights from his research on the Best Companies to Work For lists and how companies can better innovate.
  • Nicki Palmer, chief product development officer, and Verizon will wrap things up with a closing keynote focusing on the evolution of utility and municipal networks.

Attendees will also be able to dig in on a range of topics spanning across four themed tracks: applications, outcomes and services; multi-purpose network solutions; mobile and measurement solutions; and data management.

Want to know more? Visit www.itron.com/iuw to learn about our virtual content, or watch this video as an introduction to our one-of-a-kind event. Registration is free for Itron customers, partners and prospects.

Stay tuned for additional blogs throughout the next few weeks as we prepare to kick off IUW 2020!


Through August 2020: Trends in Estimated Load Impacts of COVID-19 Mitigation Policies on European and North American Electricity Consumption

March through August 2020

As discussed in the first of this blog series on April 13, lockdown policies were enacted globally to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. The Itron Forecasting Team is leveraging publicly available hourly load data for most North American Independent System Operators (ISOs) and a select set of European countries to build a picture of the load impacts by region as a result of these lockdown policies. To assess the load impact of COVID-19 mitigation strategies, actual loads when many of these policies began are compared to baseline loads without COVID-19 policy impacts.

Across Europe and North America, the biggest estimated load reductions occurred in April with an estimated reduction in average daily load between -12.3% and -7.2%. In recent months, the combination of the relaxing of lockdown restrictions and hot weather has led to no apparent load impact in North America, but a continued small impact in Europe.

For a detailed summary of the estimated load impacts, go to the forecasting website to download the latest COVID-19 Load Impact memo.

The Itron Forecasting Team will continue to post updated summary blogs and corresponding memos on these trends.

Subscribe to our blog to be notified of new posts, and contact us at forecasting@itron.com if you have further questions.


Celebrating Breakthrough Innovations with the Itron Developer Program – Submit Your Nomination Today

For many years, the model for innovation in our industry was based on a reactive case-by-case basis. A utility or city would recognize a need and then source partners in search of a solution. In creating our Partner Enablement Team and the Itron Developer Program, Itron’s mission is to drive proactive development of solutions in anticipation of industry challenges much earlier in the process. We do this by providing access to necessary enabling technology and support resources for developers and customers alike. We also invest in recruiting best-in-breed solution providers to join the Itron ecosystem.

Embracing an open approach to developer enablement, the Itron Developer Program drives rapid innovation by equipping developers with the resources they need to bring solutions to market. Providing developers with access to tools, a rich library of data streams, communications modules and intelligent edge devices through an open platform, the Itron Developer Program creates an environment where utilities, cities and developers can collaborate to enable a vibrant ecosystem of solutions.

With this new approach to innovation, many Itron customers are creating and deploying breakthrough solutions to improve resource efficiencies, enhance safety or connect communities. The second annual Itron Innovator Award will recognize one of these innovative utilities or cities that has taken advantage of a partner-created solution or the developer program itself. Nominate an Itron customer here and learn more about the Itron Developer Program here.


Delivering Intelligent Connectivity to Prepare for the Next Decade

From aging infrastructure and coping with natural disasters, to an increased desire to incorporate renewables and optimize the network, utilities and communities continue to adapt to the macro effects in play today. Now more than ever, we have a collective opportunity to find new ways to innovate and demonstrate resiliency through technology.

In the midst of these times, the pace of analytical and technological advancement has continued to increase, and there are early indications that the impacts of the pandemic may be positive for the energy sector in the long-term. Utilities and cities are seeing first-hand the importance of employing modern communication networks and technologies like distributed intelligence to help understand and respond to unpredictable conditions.

To explore these trends, Itron recently collaborated with Zpryme to ask leading utilities and cities around the world about the role that Industrial IoT (IIoT) and other networking technologies will play in their modernization strategies.

Here are the top five trends we found:

  1. 72% of respondents report that improving grid resiliency is the main driving force behind digital modernization of network infrastructure.
  2. 64% prefer RF mesh networks for traditional grid applications like AMI. Public cellular is expected to complement mesh as availability expands.
  3. 90% of utilities and cities agree they will need advanced networks for IIoT applications, but only 28% feel they are currently ready.
  4. More than 50% of respondents expect that IIoT networks will enable faster, more responsive grids and improved data-driven decision making through capabilities like distributed intelligence, which features peer-to-peer collaboration between edge devices.
  5. New advancements in IIoT technology are enabling more real-time visibility and control for highly integrated use cases like DER's and EV's. Now is the time for utilities and cities to innovate new commercial models and take the next steps in digital transformation strategies.

With an intelligently connected IIoT network, communities can be equipped to better understand, prepare and respond to unforeseen events. A network that is designed to leverage the right combinations of many communications technologies – such as RF mesh, Wi-Fi, cellular, fiber and PLC –optimizes performance, improves security and is more cost-effective to support a diverse range of use cases in energy, water and smart cities.

Download our Top 5 Network Trends Infographic or dive deeper into our research in our new interactive infographic regarding utilities’ and cities’ network vision and investment strategies for the next decade.

 


Annual Energy Forecasting Survey Results

Itron’s forecasting group has compiled the results of their Annual Energy Survey to assess industry growth expectations and forecast accuracy for electricity and natural gas.

Survey participants will receive the summary report, however, our next Brown Bag event on Sept. 15 is your chance to hear about the results.

To register for this session, go to www.itron.com/forecastingworkhops.


Introducing the First-Ever Virtual Itron Utility Week 2020

Every October, I look forward to traveling to a beautiful U.S. location for Itron’s premier, customer-focused event, Itron Utility Week. Our event brings together smart city and utility leaders from across the globe to share insights and solutions to address pressing challenges and create opportunity – together. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to face the reality that we could not move forward with the in-person event we had planned in San Antonio, Texas. It was not safe for our employees or for our customers. However, we also know how this event creates invaluable insights for both our company and the industry – and that for us to move forward, we needed to get a little creative.

With the safety of attendees in mind, we have decided to host the first-ever virtual Itron Utility Week. Together, we will gather virtually to learn from one another, share fresh perspectives and open the door to endless possibilities through innovation for utilities and cities around the world. Although we can’t completely replicate the full in-person experience, we will feature many of the same aspects of IUW that have made it such a success for our customers, partners and industry leaders year over year.

Beginning Oct. 27, we are looking forward to a virtual gathering, which will feature breakout sessions led by industry peers, insightful keynotes, engaging panels, the Excellence in Resourcefulness and Itron Innovator Awards, and access to Itron’s first virtual Knowledge Center, which showcases many of our solutions and partner offerings. Stay tuned for additional blogs focusing on this one-of-a-kind event.

The good news is you can attend Itron Utility Week from wherever you are, and admission is free! You won’t want to miss it! Learn more about #IUW20 here.