No more articles for a while

For those who follow my blog, you’ve certainly noticed that I didn’t publish anything over the last few months. And it will unfortunately continue like this.

I made an important professional commitment that do not allow me, for practical reasons, to continue to write article on this blog. My new professional challenge is so exiting, but also time and energy consuming. Not to mention my lovely family.

But I do not lose hope to come back, here or elsewhere. Here are two subjects I wanted to develop but I couldn’t finish:

  • The european spot market fears renewable energies
  • NAS batteries to achieve eco-island

Thank you all for your interest in my small articles. I wish you all the best,

Gauthier Dupont.

Energy efficiency paradigm shift

Energy efficiency looks like restructuring

investCompanies invest to increase their revenues, to grow. Sometimes they invest to reduce production costs, into more modern machine tools for instance. Generally, such investments aim to increase production capacity at the same time, in order to get more revenues.

Energy efficiency does not match this business model. It corresponds to investment to reduce overhead costs in particular. It can also reduce production costs, when energy consumption is a main cost factor.

Reducing overhead costs… does it remind you of something? Yes! Restructuring a company, thanks to eliminating and scaling back production, employee layoffs, and salary and benefit reductions, for instance.

Wrong message to investors

reduce_billTherefore, on the balance-sheet, energy efficiency does not show a good image of the company. Communication efforts from management have to be deployed to explain to shareholders the interest of energy efficiency and its advantages over other possible investments. But, as shareholders want more, not less, they generally prefer growth. Energy efficiency then competes with difficulty against other type of investments.

The word to spread to shareholders

Spread_wordOnce an investment in Energy Efficiency is done, energy costs directly decrease without harming incomes and results, thus enabling more financial resources to be made available every year, for many years to come. Energy Efficiency is a mark of confidence in the future, providing a good basis for sustainable growth.

Return on investment is higher for the companies which are the worst in energy efficiency. With high specific consumption, it is easy to significantly reduce energy consumption with simple and cheap solutions. Oddly, it is then economically less interesting to invest in Energy Efficiency in environmentally conscious companies than in energy guzzler ones. It is then normally easier to convince the later. Then, just do it!

Gauthier Dupont
Dupont Energy Consulting GmbH

Review of power system simulation software tools

Power system simulation

Man at deskA power system simulation software models the behaviour of electrical networks, from low voltage distribution networks (typically 110 and 240 V) to very high voltage grids (up to 800 kV). They are mathematical models based on the electrical laws, offering a user interface specifically developed to represent networks equipment: substations, transformers, overhead lines, underground cables, generators, including renewable energy sources like wind farms and photovoltaic panels, circuit breakers, SVC, etc.

Large choice

DigSilentIt is difficult to know which are the most used in the world. Network simulation software developers do no publish the number of sold licences. Additionally, they propose different approaches and user interface functionalities, depending on their targeted clients. Utilities have different needs and objectives than consulting engineers or project developers, for instance. Different types of software are therefore available on the market. They all propose same kind of mathematical models (line and cable parameter calculation, load flow, neplanshort-circuit, stability, protection coordination, harmonics, etc.), but the user interface can be quite different.

etapAccording to my experience, the most used include Siemens PSS/E, Neplan, PowerFactory from DigSilent and ETAP. Other are EMTPEurostagCYMENAPPaladin DesignBase, CAPE, cymePowerWorldSimPow and Aspen, for instance. The list is not exhaustive and not ordered. Sorry for the ones that are not in the list. Feel free to add them by commenting this post.

In the past century

The first power system simulation software tools were developed in the 70’s. Some of them survive until today, going through punched cardsDOS, Windows 3.x, Windows 95 and subsequent versions, Fortran and procedural programming languages in general, floppy disksobject-oriented programming and now cloud computing and punch_cardprobabilistic methods. The most famous is certainly PSS/E, originally developed in the USA in 1976, now belonging to the German company Siemens, after being sold and transferred several times.

Thirty years ago, PSS/E reigned supreme amongst a few commercial available software tools. Many electrical engineers developed their own software tool too. Some of them evolved into commercial tools, increasing the number of PSS/E competitors. The majority remained in the office where they were created. The big majority of these tools, commercial or not, were developed in Fortran on DOS.

When Microsoft placed Windows 95 on the market in August 1995, some of the software developers made the effort to upgrade. The majority of them just added a windows user interface, without modifying the calculation modules. A minority took the opportunity to completely redesign their tools. New incomers also showed up with brand new tools. For instance, ETAP claims on its website that “in 1996 ETAP released the first, true 32-bit, power system analysis program on the market for Windows.” I am not sure it is true, but ETAP was surely amongst the Windows 95 pioneers in the power sector. But the real first-movers were the very few companies that developed windows user interfaces for such software on Windows 3.x, in the early 1990s.

mac_questionIt is interesting to note that all commercial power system simulation software tools are running on Microsoft Windows. None is running on MacOS. Is it a potential market for developers?

Tough competition

When the majority of power sector companies finally acquired Microsoft Windows in the late 1990s, early 2000s, software editors were forced to follow the move. PSS/E for instance released its first Windows version only in 2004, almost ten years after the release of Windows 95. And it was not a good one. Some data sets were still defined in per unit, for instance line characteristics (resistance, reactance, etc.). It is known that the power sector is conservative, but concerning IT, it is extremely conservative.

Now, commercial power system simulation software tools are modern and try to make the most of available IT technologies. In fact, natural selection catches up the others, the ones that didn’t evolve.

Better, but not good enough

psse_exportBut for the survivor, there is still room for improvement. The biggest problem for the user is data portability: it is a headache to export and import data between software. There is no standard exchange format. There were some attempt, but they all failed. Every company developed its own database and data organisation. In the best case, they propose import tools from competitors formats. But they are not working well, or they don’t work at all. I know that if power system simulation software editors will read this, they will claim it is not true. But as a user, and an experimented one, I feel comfortable writing it.

User interfaces also need makeover. Menus organisation is often absurd. I was also software developer, I know it is not an easy task, but they should put some effort on it. In a training session on one of these software tools, the trainer, an excellent senior employee working since many years for the editor, couldn’t find the menu activating a special functionality one of the trainee wanted to see. He had to ask several colleagues before finding one who knows where to find the right button on a windows one reaches after many clicks. Not to mention that it was not explained in the user documentation.

I will be nice. I will not show you screenshots showing how old fashion can be some interfaces.

Printing is apparently also a challenge for this type of software. If you succeed to get the font you want, the line thickness you want, the arrow size you want, on the paper size you want, all that at the same time, you are then sure that you are an expert user.

Last but not least, the price

pigI don’t know what is your opinion, but several ten thousands dollars for this kind of software is too much. I know the market is not so big, and they the number of sold licences is limited. But the price is a barrier to acquire more licences. I have seen many companies with one licence shared by several employees, only because it is too expensive to acquire one licence per employee. Declining prices are generally proposed when buying several licences, but the proposed discount is no a sufficient incentive. Opinion from software editors is here welcome to explain us their price strategy.

A quiet revolution 

To finish on a positive remark, let’s look at the progress we made. Forty years ago, it took about a minute for simulating a  medium-sized network, plus the time necessary to prepare the data in the right format in ASCII files. Now, it is possible to calculate hundreds of load flow simulations in a few seconds. And databases allow us to organise the data for us.

Gauthier Dupont
Dupont Energy Consulting GmbH

Already tired of Smart Grid ?

Ngram and Trends

In a previous post, you can see the Ngram of the words “smart grid” (see next figure). It shows the rise of the “Smart Grid” concept, which appears in 2004.

ngram-smart grid

But unfortunately, data is only available until 2008. luckily, another tools from Google gives the trend of the use of the words “Smart Grid” from 2004 until today. Simply called “Trends“, this tool creates graph reflecting how many searches have been done for a particular term, relative to the total number of searches done on Google over time. Applied on “Smart Grid”, the resulting graph is the following.

Trends-smart grid

Rise and fall

The exponential increase of the relative use of the words “Smart Grid” from 2005  is confirmed. But it stops shortly after, in 2009. Then, a small but sustained decrease took place until today. Why? The curve does not give any answer. But it shows that people lost interest in it. Smart Grid is not hype anymore.

A meaningless concept used to sell

TruthI already explained in a previous post that there is not one definition of the term “Smart Grid”, but as many as there are people trying to define it. Nobody knows what is it. Sorry, it is not correct:  everybody knows it, but everybody has another understanding (it is philosophically the same. There is no “True” Smart Grid).

Companies are selling products labeled “Smart Grid”. To market their products, they foster their own vision of the smart grid, a narrow one, the one that better fits their interest and the promotion of their products. Being more and more exposed to this kind of misleading advertising, customers (who are not as stupid as marketers wish) slowly understand that it is not directly interesting for them to invest in this kind of Smart Grid technologies.

Smart Meters is the most telling example how utilities try to convince their clients to pay for a tool they don’t need, but that the utility need, resulting in higher electricity bills. I’ve already explained this in detail in previous posts. Utilities’ “clever” idea is that customers pay at their place for investments they should make on their own.

Many observers of the sector reach similar conclusions. Even, if the majority remains optimistic, like in the article “Fear of Smart Grid Stall-Out“.

Promising but abused 

IDCSmart Grid market is expected to reach $80.6 billion in 2016 from $22.8 billion in 2011, according to MarketsAndMarkets. Navigant Research (previously Pike Research), meanwhile, is forecasting a growth from $33 billion annually in 2012 to $73 billion by the end of 2020. According to IDC Energy Insights, smart grid spending will reach nearly $46.4 Billion worldwide in 2015., at its turn, estimated world smart grid sales to $36.5 billion in 2012, a growth of 30% on 2011. These values demonstrate that opportunities in Smart Grid market are huge.

MarketsAndMarketsBut they also demonstrate, again, that nobody knows what Smart Grid means. If you look at these reports, you will discover that these companies have different definitions, which explains that not only forecast, but also past market values, are quite different from one analyst to the other. I am surprised that people referencing such analysis, in particular journalists, are not shocked by these incoherences.

NavigantBy Misusing the concept of Smart Grid, companies therefore risk to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. As I always explain in my posts about Smart Grid, I don’t say that Smart Grid tools are not useful, on the contrary. But I criticise the way companies and utilities are using the term and cheating customers, consciously or unintentionally.

Our prediction

PredictionsSmart Grid market will continue to enjoy two digits growth, even if we don’t know what it represents exactly. Analysts will continue to give completely different estimations and forecasts, and nobody will seem to care about this incoherence.

More and more companies will use the term Smart Grid, even for products they sell already since many years, even before the concept was created.

Consumer organisations, new or existing, will criticise the fact that electricity bills are every years higher. Sorry to tell it, but you will pay more for electricity. Smart Grid will be blamed, even if it is responsible for only a small share of the price increase. Consumers will be lost. Many will then understand that the Smart Grid is in fact not so smart?

Then, I hope that the terms Smart Grid will slowly disappear, leaving the place to clear and understandable terms, like Information, Communication & Electricity Technologies (ICET).

Gauthier Dupont
Dupont Energy Consulting GmbH

Short news on NAS batteries

NGK’s NAS batteries are restarting

Existing NAS batteries systems are rebuilt by NGK Insulators Ltd. to reduce potential fire risk. Slowly, but surely, the fire incident of September 21, 2011, becomes a classified event.

xcel-energy-logoFor instance, Xcel Energy now announces it is restarting its battery plant that was commissioned in 2008 and stopped on NGK recommendation after the fire incident in Japan.

GE continues to massively hire storage experts

geThere are still ten open job positions related to Durathon on GE web site. There is even one in Japan for a Field Services Engineer, in the middle of NGK playground.

More than ever, a leading technology for grid applications

sodiumIn a recent article “Dynamic Modelling of Advanced Battery Energy Storage System for Grid-Tied AC Microgrid Applications“, researchers concludes:

“Sodium sulfur-type BESS devices are best suited to the requirements set by modern microgrid applications. These batteries can act in contingencies where rapid action is required to maintain the adequate levels of the grid frequency, but also in the case of high penetration of renewable generation, such as wind or solar photovoltaic, since the NaS battery can operate as the perfect complement in valley hours. In this case, the excess energy can be stored for delivery in peak hours. They are environmentally safe and have low maintenance while operate at high temperatures; it does not represent a major drawback. The biggest drawbacks are the cost and the limited information about these type of batteries which difficult the development of experimental prototypes and computer models. It is expected however that the appearance of other vendors reduces costs and facilitate the modelling.”

It is one of the numerous independent studies that recognise the advantages of NAS compared with other technologies for grid storage solutions.

Gauthier Dupont
Dupont Energy Consulting GmbH