Community microgrids raise questions about the role of the utility franchise, versus the free market.
Proving Smart-Grid Savings
Real-world projects show tangible returns.
deployment began last fall. According to Howells, installations are continuing with a little over 11,000 in use now. Over the next month or so approximately 1,500 more will be put into place.
Maximizing Customer Service
Westar’s SmartStar Lawrence Project: Westar Energy
• 684,000 customers
• Service areas in east and east-central Kansas
• 7,100-MW generating capacity
• $1.858 billion revenue (2009, total revenues)
• Coverage: The city of Lawrence, Kansas, including approximately 48,000 meters.
• Cost: $40 million, with $19 million from the DOE and the rest from Westar.
• Overview: This large utility based in Topeka, Kansas, describes its smart-grid approach as cautious but meaningful. The vision for the SmartStar Lawrence project is to gather enough statistically significant data to roll out the most effective measures in the rest of the Westar service area. In addition to nearly 50,000 smart meters, Westar is installing a range of equipment, including automated distribution, a smart grid-enabled outage management system, and internal IT updates.
Both customer service and communication are at the forefront of the project, says Hal Jensen, Westar Energy’s director of SmartStar Programs. The plan is for customers that have Internet access to be able to monitor their electricity use daily and set personal preferences so they receive alerts when their bill is about to reach a certain threshold. Through the project, the utility also wants to determine the best ways to communicate with its customers, whether that means through a Web portal, email, text messages, and even social media tools.
“A lot of this is just figuring out the best suite of services that we can offer that will be effective for everyone involved,” Jensen says. “We want to continue to build a very strong relationship with our customers and continue to be a trusted energy advisor to them.”
Westar is working with eMeter on the Lawrence project, which Jensen says is an advantage because the vendor brings innovative customer marketing experience to the table. “We may be the only choice that the customers have right now but we certainly don’t want to act like it,” Jensen says. “We’ve always said among ourselves here that the best time to build customer loyalty is when you really don’t have to.”
• Returns: Two-thirds of the financing is for the back-end information technology infrastructure, which includes AMI, a meter-data management system, a customer Web portal, and a smart-grid enabled outage-management system, Jensen says. Those technologies are being installed in a way that they will support all of Westar’s customers system-wide while smart meters and localized distribution automation will be unique to Lawrence. Historically, Westar has a high level of customer service, Jensen says. “We think that type of relationship can lend itself to more understanding and more participation in the types of programs we can offer that may have a financial benefit for us—things like potential to defer future generation.”
• Timeline: Westar filed for DOE funding last August and an agreement was signed in March for the three-year project. Planning and internal technology installations will take