Northeastern Energy Conference September 30 2016

The Northeastern Energy Conference was put on by the Northeastern Energy Systems Society. The morning started of with an interesting tour of Northeastern’s (NEU) energy systems by Joe Ranahan. You can see background on his work here. In 2012, NEU was cited as America’s Greenest College. The are doing a lot to strive for efficiency, focusing in Campus Building Energy Utilization Index (EUI)

Project Components:

• New EMS Communication backbone

• Occupancy Sensors

• Electronic Flow Sensors (Ebtron ELF)

• CO2 Monitoring in Conference Rooms

• EMS Programming For New Control Points

• Total Air Balance to New Air Flow Targets

Projects Results

• 1,200,000 kWh Saved Annually

• 100 kW Monthly Electrical Demand Savings

• 205,000 Therms Saved Annually

• 424,131 Gallons of Water Saved Annually


Rishabh Sardana , President, of the Energy Systems Society provided a welcome to the conference, and Professor Nadine Aubry, spoke about NEU’s focus on energy for the goal of moving people forward. She then had to rush of off to the inauguration of a wind turbine, designed by, Alexander Gorlov, a for NEU professor, at 888 Boylston Ave. Northeastern has the goal of 80% reduction in CO2 by 2050 .

I went to the Next Generation Utility Markets talk, where I met Pratik Dhoot, who helped organize last year’s conference; he will graduate soon and is looking for a job so if you need an energy engineer give him a shout. Alistair Pim, from NECEC, moderated the panel and he started off by saying that new business models are needed, as there are declining utility sales, but needs for infrastructure and innovation (a similar thesis to that of Peter Fox-Penner whom I interviewed for this blog). Tim Roughan from National Grid said that these are exciting times — even for a utilities — there is a lot of innovation going on and there are ongoing dialogues about how to manage infrastructure costs going forward. Many of the gains from energy efficiency allowed for a deferral of utility infrastructure investments. He talked about peak loads moving to 6–8 pm, given solar generation during the day, in the spring especially there are times then the system does not need the excess power. An approach is needed to address that issue, as net metering is a challenge for utilities who have whole range of cost that they incur including generation, distribution, poles and wires, energy efficiency, and low income discounts. The new MA energy bill will mean more renewable energy.

I asked if the panel thought reference network model work coming out of the MIT Utility of the Future program would address the limits of the current net metering model. The panel said that they were looking forward to seeing forthcoming work on that.

Given that Joe Ranahan had said that NEU saves money by buying high voltage power and managing it themselves, I asked the panel what they recommend for institutions like NEU when buying power. Tim Roughan stressed that with deregulation, customers have the ability to buy power from diverse sources, but most are still buying from National Grid and Eversource.

Andy Haun from Schneider Electric spoke about the grid as a socially managed resource and the potential for batteries. He talked about lithium ion batteries, micro grids, and the goal of reducing the total cost of energy.

George Hengerle from Veoila Energy spoke about steam distributions and co-generation plants, how they are managing for today, using all the energy generated, illustrating their work with Biogen, saying it is “all about that Bass.” I might have misheard him, perhaps he said it is “all about the BTUs.” Many people have steam recovery and heat recovery, which is great but it dumps to the atmosphere, as it recovers steam and heat whether you need it or not. But Veoila is capturng it and pays Biogen for it, using every BTU.

There was an interesting discussion about the capacity market, onsite generation, batteries, and ISO-New England, and customers trying to re-coop costs with onsite generation. One panelist said that lower peak loads with ISO and lower capacity “does a number on the market.”

There was more discussion about revenue expectations from grid operations for utilities with shift in demand charges down. Time of Use (ToU) pricing and solar generation was discussed. There was an interesting discussion about a casino in Nevada that decided that it was worth it to pay $80 million to go off the grid.

There was a discussion about chillers, combustion turbines, and more. And someone said “be an engineer. ” Now they tell me! (Thorstein Veblen would agree, as he had suggested a society run by engineers and mechanics. I read Veblen as an undergrad, but I was already too far down the sociology route). So be an engineer, kids.

The next panel I went to was on Renewable Energy Integration into the Grid. NEU Professor Brad Lehman moderated, starting of with a discussion of load forecasts, building inverters, and more. Babak Enayati, in R&D at National Grid, talked about voltage fluctuations, aging infrastructure , microgrids, renewable energy, capacity, and the effect of storms like Superstorm Sandy on system outages.

Paul Lyons from Zapotec Energy does grid-tied solar solar solutions. He asks the audience to consider what the grid will look like in 2050. He wonders what the percent of renewables will be, noting the need carbon free solutions like nuclear, wind, solar, biofuel, hydro, and fuel cells.

He is excited by the focus on offshore wind, saying has the biggest potential for bringing renewable energy to the grid, with work on cables in, getting substations in place, and controlling the system when the wind is up and down.

Travis Sheehan, from the newly rebranded Boston Planning and Development agency (BPDA)

(previously BRA) talked about being an intrapreneur in a public agency, making stuff happen with diverse stakeholders. They have focused on district energy and micro grids, while keeping true to the customer requirement indicated by Amory Lovins, that at the end of the day people want a cold beer and a hot shower. They are doing combined heat and power (CHP), which natural gas fired and generates waste heat. The city has aggressive goals for renewables integration, but it needs dispatchable loads and solar can be a challenge. He said storage is needed.

The discussion also addressed tying solar to the grid with inverters, converting from DC to AC. National Grid is doing a pilot in Upstate NY with microgrids, leveraging an underground network, and using hydro, solar, and natural gas. Travis talked about IOU concerns about revenues and utility company bonds undergirding our economy. Someone mentioned that low population areas like Western Mass could deal with one outage a year but that cities needs more resiliency.

Paul noted that solar relies on subsides that will end soon (January 8). Tax incentives will end in 4 years. Something is needed to keep solar moving without subsidies. Designing rates and incentives for storage may be needed. Planning needs to be undertaken in a more purposeful and effective way, creating incentives to be innovative. If there is no action on Beacon Hill then voters should push the issues. Babak talked about peak shaving, with the peak for solar from 10 am to 2 or 3 pm with the peak load for residential, at 6–7 pm. Storage can help address that.

Travis talked about the governor’s plans for resiliency, including hydro power from Canada. Also in the early 2000s green jobs were going to be “it”; but energy efficiency has not made a lot of green jobs; rather there was just a shift from building contractors to energy efficiency contractors. Paul said look to California for the future; it is coming. By contrast, ½ of states have no incentive to reduce energy use. Travis said governments want a lower cost of living and energy efficiency lowers consumption which lowers rates. He said more demos and pilots are needed.

There was a discussion about available land for solar, with more available in New York than Massachusetts. There was a student question about getting micro-grid developers and property developers to work well together. Travis spoke about revenues and procurement, utility boundaries and power distribution, and legal issues in terms of who can own the generation. He said the micro-grid controls the brain and we should not design for inefficient building. Paul said that there are 6 million people in MA and 3 million registered vehicles. If we can get 10% of that to be electric vehicles with connected batteries they can soak up the power and give it back to the grid when needed, in the evening.

Brad asked about hopes and fears for year 2100. Travis thought we might need to double up power lines and do more renewables. He said “do district heating now because it is a cost effective investment.” Paul said plan 40 years from now, and cited Amory Lovins on soft energy paths in Foreign Affairs in 1977. Babak talked about Hawaii as an island, not being grid connected. And he talked about Germany making fast improvements to their inverters, with the hardware fixed in one day. He said we need smart DER management systems. He said “the backbone is smart students.”

Keynote: Marcy Reed, the President, of National Grid, Massachusetts spoke about changes in the gas and electric business and how she manages relationships with regulators, government officials and the communities National Grid serves. She said National Grid is aging, hiring and that she expects to see applications from the crowd.

At Lunch I met Jay Mulki, Associate Professor in the Marketing Group at the NEU D’Amore-McKim School of Business. We spoke about marketing clean technology solutions and he introduced me to the VP of Encored Technologies, John Lee, who demoed his cool energy analytics app.

At the Beyond Solar and Wind panel, moderated by Sanjeev Mukerjee, from NEU, Keith Aubin GIS Manager Green Power North America talked about his background in GIS, but how he got into all aspects of energy. Mark Schnepel , the President and CEO of Flex Energy said they provide micro-turbine energy with 80% combined efficiency for power and heat, which he says is the “way of the future” versus the utility as the main power source. Bill Staby , the CEO, of Resolute Marine Energy, provides a wave power desalination system, developing off grid applications.

Keith talked about the capacity market and generation from 12–4 pm giving to others during peak times. We need to monetize those resources, leveraging battery storage that modular and portable. We need to increases revenue per unit of storage; it is not happening yet but that is where it is going. Pump energy storage has potential. Bill said that wave and tide are more reliable than winds, with the ability to map lunar patterns. Keith said that curtailment is a problem, shutting down production is bad for Enel green power. Someone noted that biofuel generates less pollution but is still carbon based. Bill pointed to the triple bottom line, a broader set of dimensions to consider, and noted opportunities in the policy realm. He said east coast wind is about to take off. Someone noted that people may wait until after the election to make investments. Someone shouted, “Go, Hillary!”

Bill spoke about repowering existing dams and powering unpowered dams. He said Massachusetts is supporting that. Keith said people are buying distressed properties and making them work. Karen Webber at NEU asked about: 1. Wind power, 2. Green roofs, 3. Graphene . Sanjeev Mukerjee mentioned wind issues, bird accidents with bad designs., but said that there have been improvements. Green roofs have potential and can look good at least part of the year. Some startups are doing this, but they are suffering.

Bill talked about how their system creates brine as a by-product, an environmental discharge that is salty; but you can dry it to make table salt or road salt, so it has value. Sanjev Mukerjee warned people against believing everything that companies say. It is often just marketing so be skeptical and apply technical knowledge.

Sanjeev said that if you have solar panels on your roof and no reverse metering, then “lithium ion looks good, but but lead acid batteries are cheaper and more reliable, if sealed well, and are warranted for 10 years.

Jay Mulki, a NEU marketing professor, organized a panel on entrepreneurship. Joe Rife, the entrepreneur-in-residence at Greentown Labs, which focuses on clean tech hardware entrepreneurs, said that when working entrepreneurs he tries to “listen more than talk and hear more than they say.” He focuses on culture, sales, customer understanding , and product issues. He said that sometime people have to go back to the things they heard, but did not learn and that is fine, in the attempt to grow real businesses.

Keith Aubin, GIS manger, at Enel Green Power NA, says you can be an intrapreneur who looks for light bulb moments, circulating things, moving them forward. He had an idea to use drones in wind turbine blade inspections and crashed a drone through a window in his first attempt; but now he is a licensed operator and they are successfully doing such inspections with a partner. Enel Green Power is hiring. Keith said there are barriers to internal innovation because of limited time; but startups can put in 60–80 hours; so partnering can make sense for Enel.

John Lee , the VP Encored Technologies, spoke. They were named a 2016 promising company by CIO magazine. He noted that most people have banking apps and other apps; but not apps to check on their energy use; even those of us at the conference who are passionate about the planet.

At Enel, Keith said they do a lot of M&A (mergers and acquisitions) and they are looking for startups. He said to keep reaching out to organizations and let them know what you are working on. Be persistent, but it is a balancing act., so don’t overdo it.

John Lee said they are getting some US money and now are seeking Series A funding. He said they have a CEO, who is really, really old — “like 62”, which made the older panelists, me, and others laugh. Someone asked what kind of training he got at NEU. He said he was to doing “totally different stuff that was boring” and he wanted to do business development, which he likes a lot more.

Joe Rife said Greentown Labs focuses on validating markets and will take anyone with a prototype, who can pay for their desk for a year. Greentown Labs does not invest in their starts; so they don’t filter, as long as they are hardware companies. He wants to see people focus on solving problems and asking will customers pay. He prefers that entrepreneurs don’t even mention the product when validating the market.

In the Big Data Analytics panel, Kristian Kloeckl , NEU professor, was the moderator. He is doing cool work, that was on exhibit, on Northeastern’s Energy Flows, and on the city showing energy use dynamically. There are several definitions of big data, from Eric Schmidt, on the vast amount of data generated to day, from Gartner, on data as oil, and as the analytic combustion engine, and other on how big data is defined by the tools used.

Karl Critz, the Chief Technical Officer at REsurety, talked about taking a a fixed revenue asset like wind turbines and making it easier to finance . Using analytics they reduce uncertainty. speeding wind farms that otherwise would not be developed. They combine multiple public sources and run models, with a probabilistic view . The tools they use are R and Amazon EC2 for a scalable system.

Geoff Phillips , Customer Engagement Supervisor at Eversource Energy talked about ways to save energy, using an application showing energy usage for the past 2 years and all energy-efficiency measures implement through Eversource, and the recommended next measures.

Mak Joshi, from Schneider Electric talked about connected assets and meeting energy needs for companies like Apple. He talked about making sense of the solution space — in a solar farm for example, when building inverters the main customer is investor. They need notification of important issues and need to role the truck or not for maintenance issues, determining the issues to be fixed; and knowing what they need to bring, which improves productivity. IoT was a common theme in the panel — bringing value to customers, customers wanting to know more.

The conference was great. They had an evening networking event too, but I had to run.