Vermont serves as an energy laboratory for the nation with a well-earned reputation for innovation: the first in the nation to harness wind energy for commercial customers, the first to create a statewide transmission company, the first to establish a statewide energy efficiency “utility,” Efficiency Vermont, and the first to create a statewide feed-in tariff to promote renewable energy development. Time and again Vermonters have demonstrated a knack for developing energy initiatives that blend Yankee ingenuity and frugality with our commitment to conservation and high-quality jobs. This page explores some of the ways innovation is part of the way we do business at VELCO.
Vermont Weather Analytics Center
The electric power industry faces two challenges that are tied together by their dependence on weather: the increasing severity of storms and the growing role of renewable generation that varies with sun and wind. In each case, more precise and more localized weather forecasting is a necessary step to greater reliability, improved efficiency, reduced cost, and a more sustainable electric grid.
Against this backdrop, VELCO, in partnership with other Vermont utilities, undertook a Joint Development Agreement — a research and development project — in February 2014 with IBM to create the Vermont Weather Analytics Center (VTWAC). The project couples IBM’s Deep Thunder predictive weather model with leading-edge load forecast model and renewable generation forecast models to help unlock additional renewable energy value and bring additional benefits to Vermont, such as improving grid resiliency and storm response.
The $16.6 million, two-year project builds on VELCO’s administration of the eEnergy Vermont smart grid project and the company’s construction of a 1,400 mile, 72-strand statewide fiber network. It is a highly collaborative effort, with many project partners including: IBM Research; every Vermont electric utility; Lyndon State College through a grant from the Vermont Low Income Trust for Electricity; the Vermont Electric Power Producers Inc. (VEPPI); the Department of Public Service, VTrans and other state agencies; UVM and ISO-NE.
The project is built around a Vermont-specific version of Deep Thunder coupled with a renewable energy forecasting model and an energy demand model. These models apply leading-edge analytics to in-state and regional weather data, renewable generator data and aggregated customer data to produce accurate weather, renewable energy and demand forecasts. Currently, the weather model produces forecasts 72-hours in advance at a 1 km² resolution, making this the first state-wide forecast at a high temporal and spatial resolution.
The project has already proven its value with unprecedented levels of load and renewables forecasting accuracy and localized storm prediction. Results include: accuracy levels for solar of 95.1% at 0–24 hours ahead and 94.7% at 0–48 hours ahead; and wind accuracy of 92.8% at 0–24 hours ahead and 91.3% at 0–48 hours ahead.
Results such as these led the Edison Electric Institute in April 2016 to name VELCO as one of eight US utility finalists for its Edison Award, the utility industry’s most prestigious honor. In another important recent development, VELCO is engaged in a pilot study with ISO New England at their request to help the ISO improve their solar forecasting accuracy. Read more.
Building a smarter grid
Today Vermont continues to build a technologically advanced statewide network, or smart gird, to lower customer costs, improve system reliability and give all Vermonters an opportunity to help shape our shared energy future. Statewide smart grid implementation is one example.
A smart grid is an enhanced electric transmission and distribution network that uses internet-like communications technology, distributed computing and associated sensors and software to provide motivated consumers with the decision-making information they need to better manage consumption and energy costs. In our rural state, with its punishing weather and challenging terrain, these advances will also mean better reliability, faster diagnosis of system faults and quicker restoration of service when the power does go out.
In 2009, a collaborative effort among VELCO as project manager, the Vermont utilities, the Department of Public Service, and Efficiency Vermont, secured a $69 million American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant to support the $138 million eEnergy Vermont project. By the time the project ended in 2013, on time and on budget, Vermont had achieved these milestones:
- Smart meters deployed to approximately 300,000 premises in the state—about 90% of customers—connecting meters and utilities in real-time.
- Grid automation increased through upgrades and new deployments of automated controls in substations and the distribution circuits.
- Consumer research underway to test the effectiveness of different rate structures and customer-side, in-home devices to determine the most effective combinations of rates and information to empower customers to make choices about electric consumption.
- Fiber optic backbone expanded (not through ARRA funding) to leverage VELCO’s 1000-mile fiber network for enhanced grid reliability and communication.
The work to create a statewide smart grid is nearly complete, but installation of the technology is really only the beginning. Vermont is poised to build on this grid and use it as a common platform that unites and unlocks the power of our state as one community, intent on electricity innovation for greater reliability, energy efficiency, customer empowerment, economic development, and learning.
A culture of entrepreneurial innovation
Inside VELCO, employees are constantly seeking—and finding—ways to use technology to make maintaining the grid more efficient, safer and more reliable. For system reliability, VELCO is using LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) to precisely track vegetation growth and system condition in our transmission corridors. To foster renewable energy and reduce energy costs, we put solar panels on our roof and campus, and implemented a variety of other efficiency measures on campus. As we seek to make VELCO lean—one of the company’s three strategic initiatives—employees are finding ways to leverage tools and technology in new and innovative ways.
A case in point: VELCO employees in every department use transmission system maps to better perform their tasks. But when only two GIS professionals knew how to create maps, employees had to request and wait for specific maps. The results were delays, duplicate maps, and overbooking of the GIS team.
To solve the problem, a VELCO employee conceived and led the development effort for an online, real-time mapping system showing VELCO’s network, the other Vermont utilities, and many other system features. With this tool on every desktop and on rugged field computers in the hands of foresters and field crews, VELCO employees no longer have to wait for the maps they need to do their work. Read more
Avoiding transmission: regional policy leadership
Vermont brings its spirit of leadership and innovation to the regional level through its advocacy at ISO New England for the same policies that guide us here at home: wherever cost-effective, we should meet needs created by electric demand growth through alternatives to new transmission lines, including energy efficiency, demand response and generation. Vermont policy requires collaboration among utilities to study non-transmission alternatives well ahead of the date at which need for new transmission capacity becomes critical. In recent years, this innovative and collaborative approach helped avoid the need to build a $156 million transmission upgrade. Read more
These are just a few of the ways VELCO fosters innovation in all aspects of our work: internal culture, system assets and operations, and policy.