Fortnightly Top Innovators 2019


137 Innovators at 27 Organizations

Fortnightly Magazine - November 11 2019

The forty-six qualifying nominations for this year's Fortnightly Top Innovators included one hundred and thirty-seven innovators. Twenty-three of the nominations — exactly half of them — were of an individual innovator. The remaining twenty-three nominations were of a group of innovators. The groups ranged from small two-person teams to large teams with as many as a dozen team members.

The one hundred and thirty-seven innovators work at twenty-seven different organizations. Including nineteen utilities, four vendors, two state utility regulatory commissions and two research entities. 

The nineteen utilities? AEP, Alliant Energy, Ameren, Arizona Public Service, Avangrid, Consolidated Edison, Consumers Energy, Eversource, Exelon, Holy Cross Energy, New York Power Authority, Portland General Electric, PPL Electric Utilities, PSEG, San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, Southern Company, Western Farmers Electric Cooperative and Xcel Energy.

The four vendors are ABB, Itron, New Cosmos, Urbint. The two state commissions are the District of Columbia Public Service Commission and Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission. And the two research entities are the Electric Power Research Institute and Georgia Tech, which is also a fine university of course.

The forty-six nominations — whether of individual innovators or teams of them — are ordered alphabetically by the name of their organization.

Luiz Cheim, ABB

In the power grids transformers division, Cheim developed the initial concept for the TXplore™ inspection robot and worked closely with the design team. It's a wireless robot that maneuvers through a liquid-filled power transformer with multiple on-board cameras and lighting. So a transformer doesn't need to be de-energized, drained of its oil, manually inspected, and refilled with oil. See the interview of Cheim later in this issue of PUF.

Cynthia Butler Carson, Jennifer Downey, Wiley Elliot, John Jost, Paul Loeffelman, Ram Sastry, John Schwarck, AEP

Formed in April, the international startup pilot management team to bring more startups, pilots, and faster results to the company. To do this, the team is participating in global accelerator programs including Free Electrons and Starter with a thousand startups from about sixty countries. Examples are a Dublin, Ireland startup transforming demand side resources into revenue opportunities for commercial and industrial customers, a British startup with software that detects daily behavior pattern changes by family members like the elderly, and an Australian startup with an advanced battery management system to repurpose retired electric vehicle batters for residential and grid support.

Jeff Hanson, Alliant Energy

As director of environmental services and corporate sustainability, his team developed an Envision framework to identify ways in which sustainable approaches - in quality of life, leadership, natural world resource allocation, and climate and risk - can be used to plan, design, construct, and operate infrastructure projects. The framework has been applied to development of the Dubuque solar energy lab, redevelopment of a brownfield at the port of Dubuque, and pollinator species improvement at all infrastructure project sites (like incorporating natural prairie grasses and pollinator habitats into site restoration landscaping plans).

Adam Marxen, Alliant Energy

As manager of gas integrity and standards, his team partnered with the IT GIS support and operations groups to develop a vehicle methane detection project to proactively detect and record leaks on gas mains. Detecting and recording leaks was historically done by operations employees walking every foot of main with hand-held leak detection equipment or by driving over mains on a truck traveling two to three miles per hour. Recording leaks was with paper maps. The new equipment allows traveling twenty to twenty-five miles per hour and reads within twenty-five feet of mains.

Bhavani Amirthalingam, Ameren

As chief digital information officer, she is driving the convergence of information and operations technologies, breaking down the two silos. With the network manager advanced distribution management system and ellipse asset performance management system, both from ABB, for storm preparation and service restoration and control center and asset management, Amirthalingam and her team have driven a broad range of critical utility functions to significantly greater cost-efficiency and responsiveness.

Atallah Alyatim, Ameren Illinois

Natural gas storage wells nearly sixty years old were vertically drilled and in a residential area. Alyatim found that storage could be relocated and drilled vertically and horizontally for improved safety, lower cost and increased gas capacity. Some of the new wells have already been developed and some of the old wells retired.

Rodney Hilburn, Ameren Illinois

As manager of the technology applications center, he has been a driver of several distribution system improvements, including microgrids, voltage optimization, electric vehicle charging, and transactive energy markets. For example, Hillburn led a cross-departmental team to install four voltage optimization control solutions. During a pilot, voltage was reduced 3.27 percent on average.

Kristol Simms, Ameren Illinois

Under her leadership, as director of energy efficiency, the utility teamed with minority and women-owned businesses and community organizations to significantly increase efficiency opportunities like free smart thermostats and home efficiency upgrades to low and moderate-income customers. She also launched an internship program for contractors and non-profits.

Lorne Poindexter, Ameren Missouri

Led by Poindexter, the Callaway Energy Center, a nuclear power plant, piloted and installed phase one of a wireless sensor and equipment monitoring system. The system will help transition the plant from timed maintenance - on a preset schedule - to more cost-efficient condition-based maintenance. It was the first truly wireless vibration monitoring system at an operating nuclear plant. The team is now installing wireless equipment to monitor thermal performance. Shout-outs to team members Clark Allen, Terry Becker, Eli Gerson, Eric Holzer, Zach Lamb, Casey Meyer, Ben Oguejiofor, Eric Olson, Brian Pae, Kyle Shoff, Deepak Suresh. 

James Pierce, Ameren Transmission

Leading the unmanned aircraft systems department of more than fifteen drone pilots and information scientists, Pierce implemented drone inspections of the utility's eight hundred thousand distribution poles including two hundred and fifty thousand with infrared technology. Now his team is developing deep learning neural networks to interpret drone images like broken or rotted cross arms and bad pole tops. Plans are underway to integrate drones in renewable energy inspections and vegetation and forestry predictive modeling.

Vanessa Fierro, Brandy Leisin, Jenna Nelson, Marisa Pacheco, Elsa Reynoso, Candice Renner, Arizona Public Service

This customer interactions team used a newly optimized speech analytics tool to score all customer calls for sentiment. That is, the customer's emotion based on word choice, tone and inflection. With this data, the team found a direct correlation between what was said by the customer - and the customer care employee - and the customer's satisfaction rating. Then the team did a pilot testing positive language. And then the team implemented this approach throughout the customer care center. Customer satisfaction rose significantly.

Kim Wagie, Arizona Public Service

Wagie is the director of digital transformation and, collaborating with the information technologies group, has implemented the utility's first robotic process automation, or bots. This has been applied to energy settlements for gas and power trades in the region's energy imbalance market, and in tax processes - for sales tax refunds for eligible manufacturers and tax savings from missed exemptions or vendors billing tax on exempt items. See the interview of Wagie later in this issue of PUF.

Mansur Ali Mohammed, AVANGRID

As legacy bare steel and cast iron pipeline is being replaced, a new track and trace technology installs bar-coded devices on the new underground PVC pipes. Field personnel with hand-held devices use a special app to capture everything from the exact location and detailed features of new pipe infrastructure, system pressures, and leaks to data that can reduce costs using predictive machine learning algorithms, and efficient operation and information technology processes. As senior manager of IT architecture, digital and innovation, Mohammed led and implemented this intelligent pipeline's proof of concept.

Tom Langlois, Magdalena Michniuk, Anuja Nakkana, Kevin Wasserman, Consolidated Edison, 

and Bob Laird, Bob Luben, Eric Toperzer, Daniel Smires, Itron, and Joe Deluca, Akira Nakao, Yoshinori Nishiie, Kazuya Saito, New Cosmos

Undetected natural gas leaks can lead to devastating damage to a utility and its customers. In the past ten years, gas leaks and explosions in the U.S. have killed seventy-three people, injured four hundred and twelve and caused more than half a billion dollars in property loss. This three-company team collaborated to deploy nine thousand battery-powered smart natural gas detectors in New York with a secure standards-based industrial IoT platform and a revolutionary detector that sounds an audible alarm alerting anyone nearby and sends wireless detailed signals to the utility and the local fire department.

Shannon Morrow, Melissa Powell, Riki Shook, Teri Vansumeren, Consumers Energy

With Morrow coordinating the work of the utility's analytics, IT and marketing groups, and as scrum master, and Shook focused on hitting customer enrollment targets, and Powell and Vansumeren on enrolled customers' energy efficiency, this demand response team achieved remarkable results for a pilot. In a single week, the utility was able to reach its 2019 customer recruitment goal for smart thermostats (that leverages the energy usage optimization system of Uplight). When the grid was straining during heat waves this summer, the program was able to achieve over eighty percent load shift during these events without snapback.

Patrice Jones Hunter, District of Columbia PSC

Currently a special advisor to Chair Willie Phillips, she will soon become chief of the office of policy and development. Hunter was responsible for the creation of the energy supplier workshop - an online tutorial on consumer protection and other rules for competitive electric and gas suppliers, the renewable energy portfolio portal — to file applications to become a certified renewable energy generator in D.C., and the integrated case management system — to track all PSC formal cases and proceedings.

Lisa Edwards, Paul Frattini, Joel McElrath, Dan Wells, Electric Power Research Institute

Observing similar applications in other industries, the SMART chemistry team designed, procured and constructed a group of instruments to demonstrate automated near-complete online monitoring of nuclear plant chemistry. This can replace manual collection and analysis of water chemistry and thereby reduce plant operating and maintenance costs.

Kirk Ellison, Jeffery Preece, Electric Power Research Institute

Ellison and Preece took an innovative approach to concurrently investigate the fundamental chemistry needed to develop wastewater encapsulation technology and the applicability to electric power sites. Traditional wastewater management has centered around technologies like membranes and thermal evaporation. Now, a number of utilities are in various stages of planning encapsulation field trials and pilot trials that have the potential to significantly enhance long-term environmental quality. See the interview of Ellison and Preece later in this issue of PUF.

Charles Vinsonhaler, Electric Power Research Institute

SOLVE is the first and only tool of its kind specifically designed for electric power companies to analyze the sustainability value of projects and programs. Vinsonhaler, the lead technical analyst in SOLVE's development, led the programming of its calculation capabilities, conceived of and created the heat map to visually identify opportunities for enhancing sustainability value, and co-leads discussions with companies to customize the tool. Eight electric power companies have implemented SOLVE. See the interview of Vinsonhaler later in this issue of PUF.

Tilak Subrahmanian, Eversource

Historically, energy efficiency was approached one project at a time. As vice president for energy efficiency, he led the initiatives to scale it up and to move away from general rebate programs to more targeted approaches for different types of customers. And he led the collaboration with banks and credit unions to roll out financing mechanisms to encourage customer energy efficiency investments. See the interview of Subrahmanian and a colleague in June 2019's PUF.

Leah Vogely, Exelon

She has been instrumental in bringing innovation to the company through design thinking. Examples are development of an Apple watch app, launch of the digital solar toolkit, and improvements in the sign-up and move journey for customers (that led to a hundred percent increase in online completion rates).

Luke Benedict, Exelon/PECO

On the smart grid distribution automation team, he created the PowerBI real time alerts dashboard which alerts a user if the amount of alarms for a specific device pass a set threshold. The goal is to improve the health of distribution grid equipment by detecting equipment damage and issues as they happen.

Dave Brett, Kathy McWilliams, Nick Mart, Exelon/PECO

This team addressed the need of customers, contractors and real estate agents to know if natural gas is readily available at a property, by developing the interactive natural gas availability map. A weighting is assigned which informs users on the likelihood of receiving natural gas at a reasonable cost.

Keith Steger, Bryan Uber, Jason Zola, Exelon/PECO

This revenue protection team developed a solution to address the challenges of illegal connections and electric theft. The patent pending solution — named Meter Defender — includes an Internet of Things sensor, a mobile app for field techs and a comprehensive reporting and management website. Meter Defender has discouraged electric theft with its quick response time of theft detection.

Debra Lam, Georgia Tech

Before moving to her position as managing director of smart cities and inclusive innovation at Georgia Tech, she served as Pittsburgh's first-ever chief of innovation and performance. In Pittsburgh, she developed the city's first strategic plan for innovation, called the inclusive innovation roadmap. (Lam participates in Dentons' Smart Cities & Communities Think Tank and was nominated by that firm.)

Bryan Hannegan, Holy Cross Energy

Formerly an associate laboratory director at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Hannegan is driving his utility in Colorado to seventy percent renewable energy with aggressive acquisitions of wind and solar generating capacity. And his utility will be the first to field-test algorithms developed by NREL to optimize and control distributed resources.

Steven Kalashian, Pooja Nayyar, Jessica Swansen, New York Power Authority

The team developed and implemented the Eureka! innovation competition in which a hundred and fifty eight proposals were submitted. Four winners resulted, including a global administrative manual, 3D digital modeling, an on-demand buoy (to locate junction plates on the Lake Erie floor for installing an ice boom), and small vertical wind turbines adaptable to lower wind speeds in challenging siting areas.

Evan Yager, New York Power Authority

His team created the utility operations project portfolio, providing a web-based structure to manage projects across the organization, with advanced data capture and analysis. The goal is to help transform NYPA to a digital utility requiring a complete overhaul of legacy systems, processes and culture.

Larry Bekkedahl, Portland General Electric

As vice president of grid architecture, integration and system operations, and previously as senior vice president for transmission services at Bonneville Power Administration, he is leading the way on deployment of the virtual power plant within the distribution system to enable integration of distributed energy resources at scale. Including a first-of-its-kind smart grid test bed focused on three key substations to engage customers, targeting unprecedented participation in demand response and smart home technologies of more than two-thirds of them — totaling over twenty thousand customers — in these three distinct communities.

Patrick Barnett, Mychal Kistler, Ihab Salet, PPL Electric Utilities

The team integrated a vendor's high-impedance fault detection technology along with its own innovative method to de-energize downed electric distribution lines. During a windstorm in late February, the first successful operation of the new system was demonstrated, automatically powering off a line that came down in a remote wooded area. By the end of this year, the system will be in place in about fifteen hundred locations in the utility service territory, wherever there are protective relays. See the interview of Barnett, Kistler and Salet later in this issue of PUF.

Kimberly Gauntner, Steve Hughes, Yi Li, Matt Wallace, PPL Electric Utilities

With the support of a federal grant, the team is completing, by year end, a fully-integrated distribution energy management system with automated processes to tackle the challenges of accommodating high penetrations of distributed resources and improve customers' distributed resources experience. System capabilities include considering bi-directional fault detection from automated devices, hidden load values, and SCADA controlled inverters.

Emmanuel Ansah, Will Barnes, Lauren Biernacki, Julie Duncan, Lisa Garcia, Sal Orsino, Jared Osorio, PSEG

The Alexa skill team developed, implemented and released a real-time customer service through the use of a natural language interface. After a one-time login into the Alexa app, customers are able to ask billing questions, make payments, report power outages for their home, check energy usage, and schedule service appointments for broken appliances, air conditioners and stoves. The team continues its work, extending to other devices and connecting to the meter data management system for usage data as frequent as fifteen-minute intervals. See the interview of the team later in this issue of PUF.

Don Akau, Chris Arends, Carrie Bowers, Michael Deleo, Katie Giannecchini, Steve Vanderburg, San Diego Gas & Electric

Six employees from the meteorology and vegetation management groups collaborated to create a vegetation risk index, a sophisticated tool enabling the utility to identify high fire risk areas based on advanced analytics of historical data on trees, power outages, and weather conditions. The index now assigns a risk profile of normal, elevated, or extreme to every tree - for more than four hundred and sixty thousand specific tress - located near utility power lines in every circuit of the forty-one hundred square-mile service territory.

Lisa Hannaman, Jake Huttner, Nicole Irwin, Paul Kubasek, Christopher Malotte, Robin Meidhof, Eric Yamashita, Southern California Edison

Led by senior advisors Hannaman and Malotte, the clean energy optimization team designed a comprehensive meter-based greenhouse gas framework to encourage pilot customers like the University of California and California State University systems to undertake emission-reducing programs. The utility offers a choice of such programs and pays for emission reductions on actual metered results.

Nery Navarro Medrano, Bibhush Ranjit, Belinda Vivas, Southern California Edison

The team developed the integration capacity analysis tool, which is a customized user interface with advanced functions that let the public interact with trillions of records on a geospatial platform. The tool is already streamlining the interconnection process and supporting customer use of clean technologies by allowing users to view general locations of utility distribution circuits, substations and sub-transmission systems, distributed energy resources, and current, queued and total interconnections.

Ken Barnett, Adam Dunkerley, Symya Edwards, Chesley Hughes, Southern Company

This team created eTOPS, a process that digitizes construction turnover packages - that includes all documentation prepared during design and construction, to greatly reduce costs. As projects progress and design changes arise, turnover packages can rapidly grow, so digitizing the packages is important.

Steve Baxley, Carl Jackson, Southern Company

Baxley and Jackson are providing innovative leadership and technical expertise for testing, development, and deployment of a diverse portfolio of energy storage technologies. They were instrumental in several breakthrough projects, including the Energy Storage Research Center in Birmingham, Alabama - a plug and play network for third-party innovators, the McCrary Battery Energy Storage Demonstration in Pensacola, Florida - for understanding the siting, installation, and operational requirements of commercial and industrial-scale energy storage systems, and the Alabama Power and Georgia Power Smart Neighborhoods in Birmingham, Alabama and Atlanta, Georgia.

Clifton Black, Southern Company

As a principal engineer in the Power Delivery group, Dr. Black established the Schatz Grid Visualization and Analytics Center. It is intended to bridge the industrywide gap in the ability to demonstrate and evaluate new power grid technologies and enable solutions to be deployed quickly and configurations to be altered easily reducing research and development time and cost. The Center also fosters collaboration with the Electric Power Research Institute, U.S. Department of Energy national labs, academia and technology providers. See the interview of Dr. Black later in this issue of PUF.

Cole Cremeen, Terry O'Malley, Randell Moore, Southern Company

Operators at a major plant of Mississippi Power noticed alarms and faults were being generated requiring connecting to the relay on-site issuing the alarm or fault. This team developed a new protection interface with advanced data to speed diagnosis and recovery from faults. The time it takes to fix issues when an alarm is triggered was up to three hours, but this has been reduced to just an hour. 

JoLynda Daugherty, Camille Holland, Wendell Ivey, Michelle Warrick, Southern Company

Ivey and his team saw that five different plants in Mississippi were processing invoices separately with the same documentation, past due, rate discrepancy, and vendor terms and condition issues. They streamlined and consolidated the processes with subject matter experts invoice reconcilers. 

Morgan Henderson, Elizabeth Liveoak, Kevin Tate, Southern Company

Previously, when there were newly-submitted transmission service requests, the Open Access Same Time Information Systems and Operations Planning groups coordinated to determine the appropriate actions. This legacy process was inefficient, time-consuming, and prone to human performance issues. So the team developed a new web-based software system to improve and simplify transmission service requests workflow and provide a clear audit trail. The OAM Request Workflow tool now clearly communicates the status of all transmission service requests.

Justin Schilling, Ross Wehner, Southern Company

During last winter, there were concerns about the ability to meet customer demand on a peak winter day. The team worked together to create the company's first-ever cross-commodity optimization deal - selling some natural gas assets from one region to another for greater value to pay for an additional five hundred and twenty megawatts of generating capacity - to enhance reliability and minimize customer cost during extreme cold.

Corey Capasso, Urbint

He led the development and deployment of UrbintLens for Damage Prevention at Southern Company. It's an artificial intelligence predictive model — cloud-based — allowing pipeline operators to determine the riskiest excavation activities so they can intervene to prevent pipeline damage. Additionally, the software provides insights into excavators that are likely not calling 811 before they dig.

Danny Kermode, Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission

Recognizing the growing gap between technology and the tools used for regulatory oversight, he became a leading advocate for the national initiative to move to structured data for collection and analysis of regulated utilities information. Structured data is a new tool that allows regulatory analysts to begin their work right away instead of spending considerable time inputting and correcting data. This has been adopted by FERC as a national standard for utility reporting in Order No. 859. See the article by Kermode in October 2019's PUF.

Phillip Schaeffer, Dave Sonntag, Western Farmers Electric Cooperative

Schaeffer and Sonntag are developing the largest co-located wind, solar and energy storage project in the nation, called the Skeleton Creek project. For co-op members in Oklahoma and New Mexico they'll see DC fast chargers every fifty miles throughout the service territory to spur adoption of electric vehicles.

Lawrence Bick, Amy Black, Matthew Boehlke, Michael Ganley, Jeffrey Imsdahl, Mitchell Olson, Dawn Phillaya, Scott Siebert, Tanea Thompson, Chad Wollak, Xcel Energy

This team - from facility services, real estate services, business systems, security services, strategic sourcing, supply chain, and enterprise resilience groups — drove the development of the new enterprise command center, an integrated approach to enterprise-wide monitoring to improve the multi-state utility's ability to respond to and recover from any potential hazard that may impact customers, company assets, operations or reputation. The center integrates the security operations center, cyber defense center, IT operations center, network operations center, and other gas, electric, customer care, and nuclear functions.

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