September 2, 2009
Austin Energy Among Nation’s Top 25 Intelligent Utilities
Austin Energy ranks second in the nation in the inaugural smart grid rankings published by IDC Energy Insights and Intelligent Utility magazine.
The UtiliQ rankings of the top 25 intelligent utilities is based on a detailed analysis of key performance metrics that include productivity (revenue per employee), renewable energy (sales, participating customers, capacity), smart initiatives (smart meter deployment and related activity), energy efficiency (availability of programs and success) and IT investment (percent of revenue and expenditure per employee).
Sempra Energy of San Diego was top ranked followed by Austin Energy, one of only three public power utilities among the top 25. Edison International based in Rosemead, California was third followed by Oncor (Dallas) and PG&E (San Francisco).
Austin Energy expects to complete this month, the installation of automated meters for all of its 400,000 customers. That would make the utility one of the first in the country with system-wide smart meter capability. Smart meters transmit meter reads via radio waves. They also are capable of signaling a power outage and then confirming once power has been restored. Austin Energy is also initiating “smart” pilots, one to test equipment that can help reduce the impact of power outages and speed up repairs. Special equipment installed on a circuit will help isolate an outage point (for instance, a tree limb on a power line), allowing power to be restored to customers on either side of the problem almost immediately, while also identifying the location of the outage. Long term, smart grid capability will allow in-home monitors, so customers can see how much power they are using continuously as well as the power being used by individual home appliances such as air conditioning. It will also allow customers to turn on and turn off home appliances such as air conditioning remotely, among other potential benefits.
Austin Energy is also a major partner in a community-wide smart grid initiative called the Pecan Street Project (PSP). The project will utilize the Austin Energy grid to test a wide range of smart grid capabilities including the integration of significant on-site generation (roof top solar) to power a community.
In the area of energy efficiency, Austin Energy has an established goal to offset 700 megawatts (MW) of peak demand by 2020 and is now recommending that goal be increased to 800 MW. The utility’s residential and commercial energy efficiency programs, begun in 1982, are among the most successful in the nation. Austin also established the nation’s first green building program in 1991. From 1982 through 2003, the programs offset the need for a 600 MW power plant. Since 2004, the utility has reduced peak demand by almost 300 MW, advancing steadily toward the proposed 2020 goal of 800 MW. Austin Energy provides more than $20 million annually in rebates to help customers pay for energy efficiency improvements, and over the past five years more than 23,000 customers have participated in the program. Energy efficiency is the most cost effective way to meet new growth, averaging about $350 per KW of reduced peak demand – less than half the cost of building the least expensive type of new generation.
Austin Energy’s thermostat cycling program is the largest in the nation with 86,000 customers participating. The program reduces peak demand by 30-45 MW by cycling off one-third of the participants for 10 minutes, providing the load shift for up to 30 minutes on peak demand summer afternoons.
Austin Energy has a goal that 30% of the power it provides by 2020 will come from renewable resources. The utility is currently at 12% – built on contracts for the annual output of 439 MW of wind turbines located in West Texas. Austin Energy GreenChoice is the number one green power program in the nation for sales in each of the last seven years. Power to be received from a 30 MW solar facility beginning in January 2011 and from a 100 MW biomass plant beginning in 2013 will increase Austin Energy’s green power percentage to 17. The utility has now proposed to increase its renewable energy component to 35% by 2020 and has submitted an aggressive generation resource proposal to the Austin City Council to achieve that and reduction goals related to CO2 emissions.