Russ Vanos Featured in Meeting of the Minds- The Annual

Itron's Russ Vanos is a featured author in the most recent addition of The Annual, a Meeting of the Minds publication highlighting key blog posts published over the course of the last year.

Vanos' article, Economic Development Through Innovation, Collaboration & Smart Grid Technology explores how technology is playing a key role in the development of smarter cities.

Click here to view the full publication which includes a number of articles covering topics affecting cities from how to engage citizens using technology to ways to end the professional versus citizen divide.

Itron is a longtime supporter of Meeting of the Minds and is proud to be participating in their event taking place September 30-October 2 in Detroit. Click here to learn more about Meeting of the Minds Detroit.


Leveraging Advanced Metering Infrastructure to Improve Outage Response

Getting a handle on overall grid reliability and outage trends for the entire U.S. is challenging. Despite generally high reliability numbers, power outages are occurring more frequently with estimates noting that outages cost the U.S. economy $150 billion per year. They’re also affecting more people and lasting longer than just a decade ago. Generally speaking, this is due to a combination of underinvestment in the grid over the past quarter century, continually increasing demand for electricity among businesses and consumers, and the occurrence of more severe storms.

When it comes to electricity, the expectations of consumers and businesses for constant service and reliability are running higher than ever. But the fact is that below the supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) communication network and substation level, many utilities have little or no information about when individual residential customers and small businesses are out of power. By and large, utilities still rely on customer calls to pinpoint outages. And when it comes to restoration, many utilities have limited technology tools (if any) to verify that power has been restored at individual customer premises.

Certainly hardening the grid and making it more resilient is a long-term, multifaceted technical and economic challenge. However in the nearer term, there are less costly and proven steps utilities can take to address important parts of this growing challenge. One of the key opportunities is to leverage the capabilities of a smart meter system to increase system reliability, improve outage response and enhance customer satisfaction.

In its May 2013 report, “Improving Electric Grid Reliability and Resilience,” the Gridwise Alliance, a nationwide consortium of electric utilities, grid operators, smart grid technology companies, consultants and academic institutions, made specific recommendations in five areas to harden the grid and improve outage response. Key among the recommendations was utilizing the outage detection and monitoring capabilities of advanced metering infrastructure to facilitate power restoration and improve communication to customers.

Currently, just over 40 percent of the 150 million electricity meters in the U.S. are “smart,” meaning they have two-way communication to the utility via an installed communications network, advanced monitoring capabilities, as well as the ability to communicate with consumers and devices within the home. By 2015, over 50 percent of meters will be smart and the market will near saturation by the end of the decade. Though the greatest focus of these systems thus far has been on customer billing and related services, this grid intelligence network will prove a hugely valuable asset in improving reliability and outage response.
In addition to measuring consumption, smart meters also act as sensors that represent the equivalent of “nerve endings” for the grid. They can be used to identify potential reliability problems before they become an outage; quickly detect and communicate the scope of the outage, freeing the utility from reliance on customer calls to figure out exactly what’s going on. Sensor data can help optimize the dispatch and management of field resources to speed restoration times and help the utility provide customers with better information, such as positive acknowledgement to customers that the utility knows about the outage and deliver an accurate estimation of when power will be restored.

The ability of a smart meter to immediately signal an outage at the customer premise, as well as its ability to automatically verify when power is restored, adds an entirely new data stream and source of insight for outage management and restoration efforts. These capabilities, combined with voltage monitoring and the ability to “ping” meters over the network and from the field, provides utilities with new tools that have enabled a small, but growing number of utilities to transform outage response business processes. This in turn has helped them achieve significant improvements in outage detection and restoration times, improve reliability performance metrics and create a better customer experience.

Advanced metering infrastructure is able to improve reliability and outage management both in large-scale, storm-related outages as well as much smaller and localized or “nested” outages that occur for various reasons on the grid every day. And the data from these meters enhances both the utility’s ability to detect and localize the outage, but also speed restoration.

With regulatory and consumer attention focused on hardening the grid, utilities have a significant opportunity to leverage smart meter technology to:

  •  identify potential reliability problems before they become outages;
  • detect and localize outages much more quickly;
  • manage field services crews more efficiently to accelerate restoration; and
  • improve customer satisfaction by providing more accurate and timely information.

Those innovative utilities that have taken the initial steps on this path are already seeing compelling results at low incremental cost in addressing a challenge that impacts both the economy and people’s everyday lives every day: keeping the lights on.


Taking a Holistic Approach to Non-Revenue Water

Every day, between 10 and 30 percent of water pumped is lost or unaccounted for. Known as non-revenue water (NRW), this lost water costs utilities a lot – not only in water, but in energy.
A water utility’s energy expenditure can exceed 65 percent of its annual budget, according to Frost & Sullivan. The World Bank estimates that NRW costs utilities $14 billion annually worldwide.

The need to prevent non-revenue water losses and protect precious water resources has become increasingly important. An advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) system can be a fundamental component of any non-revenue water (NRW) detection program. Detecting and stopping distribution leaks allows water that would have otherwise been lost to be billed.

While many solutions exist to address NRW, no single product alone can solve the problem of NRW. It requires a comprehensive approach that addresses the issue from various angles, which could include acoustic leak detection, district metering, pressure management and tamper alerts. Each method leverages specific aspects of AMI technology to find leaks in different ways.

First, acoustic leak detection is an important way that utilities can identify and account for non-revenue water. A dynamic combination of acoustic leak sensors, AMI technology, and innovative data analysis software enables proactive leak mitigation. Using a communication module with an integrated acoustic leak sensor, water providers can collect and analyze vibration patterns from anywhere in the distribution system—significantly improving their ability to proactively maintain critical water infrastructure.

Proactive acoustic leak detection programs can also improve customer service. The acoustic sensors can detect customer-side leaks, allowing the utility to notify customers of potential leaks before they experience a high water bill or sustain damage to their property.

The second way in which utilities can identify NRW is by performing district metering analysis. By grouping and aggregating data stored in an analytic software application, district metering can be performed. This process consists of a few simple steps:

  1. Identify the meter or meters that feed water into the district (i.e. the “master meter”).
  2. Identify the group of meters in the district and aggregate the total consumption of these meters on an interval-by-interval basis. Accrue the aggregated consumption of the district into a virtual meter.
  3. Compare the net consumption of the master meter (the measured input to the district) with the metered consumption of the aggregated district (the measured consumption within the district) on a time-synchronized interval-by-interval basis. Any difference between the net consumption of the master meter and the aggregated consumption of the virtual meter is considered non-revenue water, which can include leaks.

NRW can result from a variety of factors, including leaks, theft, inaccurate metering and non-metered services such as fire hydrants. However, once the district metering analysis has been conducted and the analytics application has ranked the various districts according to severity, much more is known about where to look for leaks throughout the network than was known before the analysis was conducted – all accomplished without ever having to leave the office.
Pressure management is another effective way to control the amount of water lost in a system. A small reduction in pressure can mean a significant reduction in real losses through leaks. When activated during low demand periods such as late at night or early in the morning, pressure management won’t affect service levels and can reduce consumption in networks with no intermediate storage.

With a pressure management program, a utility’s distribution system is broken down into pressure zones. Pressure is monitored at the inlet, average zone point and the critical zone point. The average zone point is a location that exhibits the average pressure rate for the zone. The critical zone point is a location where pressure is the lowest, usually the highest elevation in the zone.

The reduction of pressure greatly reduces the amount of night flow when the system is quiet.

Lastly, utilities can leverage tampers to combat NRW. With some AMI systems, a tamper flag is sent whenever the connection between the meter and meter interface unit (MIU) is opened. More specifically, a communication module takes a consumption reading each hour, at the top of the hour, and places this reading into its memory. When this reading is taken, the module can detect if there is no connectivity to the meter register, and if this occurs, the communication module marks this account as having a potential tamper and includes a “tamper flag” with its next data transmission.

Through acoustic leak detection, district metering, pressure management, and tamper analysis, utilities can reduce NRW and thereby reduce the amount of water they have to pump and treat to meet current and future demand. This reduces the amount of energy required to pump the water, the amount of water lost and the amount of CO2 produced. In the end, it enables utilities to recover lost revenues and protect precious water resources, creating a sustainable future for their customers and their businesses.

This week our team will be at the American Water Works Association Conference in Boston. We hope you'll visit us in booth #1806 to learn more about these solutions.


Hybrid and Electric Cars: Implications for Electricity Usage

As of 2013, all electric vehicles are considerably more expensive than hybrid-electric vehicles, not to mention gasoline-powered cars.  However, the status quo is quickly changing as batteries are becoming cheaper and more efficient.  Range anxiety concerns are lessening as battery swapping, rapid charging stations such as the “Tesla Supercharger” and charging networks become more commonplace (currently, Estonia remains the only country with a nationwide network of charging stations).  With volatile oil prices and increasing gasoline prices, gasoline-powered cars are likely to share the road with more and more hybrid and all-electric vehicles in the future.

The changing composition of the vehicle fleet in coming decades is likely to have significant implications for the electric grid.  While Americans currently favor hybrid-electric vehicles with their long range and affordable prices, all-electric vehicles are likely to gain market share due to lower operating costs.  According to EPA estimates, fuel costs of all-electric vehicles are roughly half of average hybrids and they do not require oil changes or other routine maintenance common to hybrid-electric and gasoline-powered cars.

With the increasing share of all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, electricity grids will face some challenges.  The existing grid, in particular local transformers, may not have enough capacity to handle additional power requirements.  Overloading problems may arise when several vehicles in a neighborhood are plugged in at the same time and/or at the time of summer peak loads.  Grid upgrades may be costly.

Fortunately, utilities have options.  Variable time-of-use rates can provide an incentive for charging at night to alleviate some of the overloading problems.  A number of utilities across the country are exploring vehicle-to-grid systems that would allow parked vehicles to communicate with the electric grid to either deliver electricity back to the grid or throttle their charge rates.

The challenges of all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles create a strong incentive to begin accounting for the number of these vehicles in a utility’s service territory.  Tracking the numbers will not only be valuable in solving the grid related issues, but also in energy, sales, and peak demand forecasts.  These forecasts feed into budgets, transmission and resource plans and rate cases.  Even though the numbers are small today, this is the best time to develop procedures for counting and identifying sources that can provide an accurate count of vehicles.  Remember, econometric models require good historical data as a foundation for a solid forecast.


Connecting the Unconnected—Leveraging Technology to Improve the Way Cities are Designed, Built and Run


Achieving greater sustainability – in the economic, social and environmental realms– is possible when we connect people, process, data and things in new and amazing ways.

Amazing things happen when you connect the unconnected. A more seamless world is possible when the data streaming through and around our communities, our cities and our countries is connected. It means that we are making it possible to manage and organize our cities in more relevant and valuable ways.

Together with key customers and ecosystem partners we’re proving that utilizing the very best technologies and incorporating new business models does improve the way our cities are designed, built and run.

City planners and metropolitan officials are gathering new data and discovering new insights by deploying location-based services, together with geo-spatial capabilities. Such analysis is leading to improved long-term planning decisions. City officials get a comprehensive view of the city and are thus able to use the information to improve city planning.

Emerging technologies enable cities to address critical problems. For example, innovative solutions are now being used for parking and traffic management, lighting and street safety as well as water and waste management.

In each of these cases a shared and intelligent network infrastructure is being used by multiple agencies, citizens and contractors. At the same time, these technologies are enabling cities to provide citizens with access to a broad range of citywide services.

New and more advanced networks, wherever they meet the pressing needs, enable anytime, anywhere access for citizens. These networks increase citizen participation, stimulate local commerce, and provide an enabling framework within which innovations are plugged in, especially those that enable advanced management of city infrastructure.

Consider just a few of the lessons learned to date from numerous energy sector projects- smart grid projects are helping more than just utilities. They assist both city governments and city residents to decrease their levels of energy use and associated costs. From a consumer perspective, smart meters connected to a smart grid network create a two-way communication platform with utility providers, giving them insight into their energy usage and peak price times. This ultimately allows them to take advantage of the highest possible energy-cost savings. In the same vein, utilities are provided granular insight into regional energy demand and peak load through the network. This information allows utilities to deploy demand response to manage load quickly, thus preventing brown outs, increasing the reliability of power delivery and avoiding the need to purchase or generate additional power at a higher cost per kwh.

Energy management deployments for commercial and industrial customers have shown energy and operational cost savings. One relevant example is the deployment on Cisco¹s San Jose headquarters. The goal was to manage IT-related energy load in labs across 11 buildings. The operations team was able to reduce electricity consumption by 33%, resulting in savings of $1 million annually and achieving payback one and a half years from deployment.

The good news is that it’s now possible to create end-to-end, resilient, and secure communication infrastructure for smart grid deployments. Such deployments utilize the network as the platform to intelligently bring together disparate sources of utility information.

Leveraging a broad set of technologies, solutions, services and partners, utilities are empowering smart grid initiatives with advanced IP communications to create new business and operational models, enhance physical and cyber security and provide energy consumers the widest set of benefits.

Energy independence and clean economic policies are, long-term, the right direction. In the near term they are creating new demands on the electric grid and operations while increasing costs to customers. Some customers’ ability to pay for costs of electric infrastructure modernization and clean energy policy choices is stretched – due, in some places, to increasing population on fixed income and low income.

Transformation of the physical grid and business models means changes are required to 80 year old regulatory paradigms ­we need new approaches to enable industry transformation at an affordable cost to consumers.

Gordon Feller is a director at Cisco Systems. He is Founder of Meeting of the Minds, which this year will focus a spotlight on these themes. Itron is a lead sponsor with Cisco and DTE/Detroit energy, among others.


How could cities better connect all their residents to economic opportunity?

How do cities create greater opportunity for their residents? In two words, innovation and collaboration. With the world’s population reaching 8 billion by 2025 and more than half of all people living in the world’s cities, the way we manage energy and water will define this century. If you think about many cities in the U.S. today, the critical infrastructure, such as electric grids and water distribution systems, are over a hundred years old and are in need of modernization to support today’s economy and lifestyle. Without power for extended periods of time, commerce comes to a halt. Without power in homes, most of us don’t have lights, heat or air conditioning. Without water, we cease to exist. Clearly, energy and water are the lifeblood of thriving businesses and communities, and we need reliable access to both. To ensure that citizens like you and me have access to precious resources and new opportunities, innovation in technology and collaboration across groups and industries will be crucial to creating economic potential for us all.

Technology Innovation Will Drive Greater Opportunities
Innovative technology and new approaches for applying it will fuel smart cities of the future. To do this, cities need a strong technology foundation on which to build new applications. For example, many cities are starting to use one network to serve multiple needs, creating new opportunities for efficiency and cost savings. Utility investments in smart meters and smart grids are essential to helping cities become more effective in delivering services to its citizens, as they provide the mechanism for two-way communications, as well as a source of real-time data for reducing energy and water waste. Creating efficiency, conserving resources and helping citizens make decisions that make their lives easier is what we’re striving for—bringing all of this together is where the real value lies. If done correctly, moving from smart grids to smart cities will create new opportunities for efficiencies, conservation and economic development.
The type of critical infrastructure transformation I’m describing is a big undertaking, but we have to start somewhere, so why not the grid? Beginning with grid modernization, using open, interoperable networking capabilities, city leaders can use information captured from smart devices to:

  • Dynamically pump water at off peak times, and apply the savings to sponsor other city programs, like creating solar neighborhoods
  • Compare building-level information to lower energy footprint, reduce waste and create awareness to drive down city costs
  • Use key information to drive focused economic development, and utilize the savings to revitalize neighborhoods
  •  Attract new businesses as the city’s reputation for innovation and sustainability grows


Did I mention that the smart grid technology will pay for itself through operational efficiency? The underlying smart grid communications infrastructure can also be used for transportation and other services. For example, sensors that communicate using this infrastructure can be embedded in parking meters, sending information about availability to smartphones. These sensors can also be applied to parking garages about space availability, alerting drivers to traffic jams and alternate routes. Additionally, the same technology can be used with street lights, enabling the lights to be switched on and off only when needed.

The exciting thing about all of this is that the technology exists today. The ability to give people the information they need in the palm of their hands to make informed decisions about optimizing resources and how they coexist in our cities is here. We just have to be creative about how we apply it. With smart devices collecting data and pushing it to the cloud, apps will be developed to access and deliver this information to consumers in new and innovative ways. If cities adopt technology to better their cities and the lives of their citizens, they will attract new businesses, creating new economic opportunities.

However, technology alone is not the answer. We need greater collaboration between all stakeholders to bring the best ideas forward to create a more resourceful world.

Collaboration Will Contribute to New Possibilities

The best work gets done when people collaborate. This is particularly true as we collectively try to address energy, water, urbanization and transportation challenges. These challenges can’t be met with single-focused solutions. They need to be viewed holistically, and it can be done. There’s a great example of innovative collaboration in the Charlotte, N.C. Envision Charlotte is a unique public-private initiative that leverages sustainability for economic growth as a model for all communities. Envision Charlotte is developing first-of-their kind programs in energy, water, waste and air to conserve resources and reduce operating costs. The goal is for Charlotte to have the most sustainable urban core, connecting buildings for behavioral change to make smarter, sustainable choices.

Collaboration is at the center of Envision Charlotte’s success. Technology companies, local businesses, utilities, city leaders and NGOs are coming together to determine how they can work to create a sustainable, thriving city core.

There are other examples of how this type of collaboration is really making a difference. For example, DTE Energy in Detroit is kicking off its smart cities demonstration project with the goal of bridging the silos of smart technologies (sensors, distributed intelligence, communications) through analytics, behavioral science and innovative user applications for a cohesive engagement between citizen, corporation and community. Detroit is in the process of revitalization, and with a focus on community and economic vitality, technology and collaboration are playing a vital role in its transformation.

In closing, through innovation and collaboration, we can create new economic opportunities for people around the world. For me personally, I envision a future where reliable access to energy and water ensure communities around the world thrive. We’ll modernize grids, build smarter cities, engage with citizens in new ways, and do everything we can to better manage precious water, gas and electric resources with technology and innovation. Through it all, we’ll need more creative thinking than ever before to get there—and we will.

Learn what other smart cities leaders had to say about this topic by visiting the Meeting of the Minds blog.


Managing Energy and Water Resources to Shape Cities of the Future

In a trend of ever-expanding urban centers, more than half of the world’s population now lives in towns and cities for the first time in history. As city populations grow, the demand for city services increases, putting a particular strain on energy and water. Energy and water resources are foundational to a city’s prosperity and sustainability. Managing their future will require more creative thinking and collaboration than ever. Technology and citizen engagement will play an important role in the responsible management of energy and water.

If you think about utilities and their role within a city, they power our businesses, homes and gadgets, as well as deliver fresh water so we can comfortably live our lives. However, most citizens do not think about their utility until they see their bill or they are out of power or water. At that point, they feel helpless to act. There is a growing desire to get more information so citizens have the facts in the palms of their hands. Citizens want the kind of service and real-time pricing information they get from other service providers. From the utility perspective, the entire industry has an opportunity to be more efficient for its customers. The utility industry is hungry for technology development and implementation to better manage energy and water. The question remains: how do we get there? Where are utilities investing?

In order to help understand how Itron can help utilities shape cities of the future, we commissioned a study of the global utility industry. The Itron Resourcefulness Index is a unique study that is one of the first to examine both executive and consumer attitudes within the utility industry, surveying more than 1,400 informed consumers and utility executives in 14 countries in every region of the world. It provides key insights about the utility industry, which is at a tipping point. Building smarter cities, engaging consumers in a meaningful way and resourcefully using our limited gas, water and electric resources requires innovative technology and a new way of thinking.

This month I shared findings from the Itron Resourcefulness Index, as well as what this means for cities, on the Meetings of the Minds Blog.

Click here to read my blog post highlighting our findings in the 2013 Itron Resourcefulness Index.

Itron is proud to support Meeting of the Minds 2014, taking place in Detroit September 30 - October 3. I encourage anyone interested in shaping our future cities to join Itron at this exciting event.


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