NCEMC Pioneers Smart Grid Solutions

Unique among commodities, electricity cannot be stored. Since the time of Thomas Edison, utilities have had to carefully monitor variations in load to ensure adequate and affordable supply. But new technologies and analytical methods are now rapidly transforming the way energy providers are able to do this, as a partnership between Siemens and the North Carolina Electric Membership Corporation (NCEMC) is now proving.

In July 2013, the two successfully deployed Siemens Demand Response Management Software (DRMS) and eMeter EnergyIP Meter Data Management (MDM) software that will allow electric membership cooperatives in the state greater flexibility in modernizing electrical distribution networks. “In doing this, our motivation is to maintain costs and ensure we're providing reliable service,” says Mike Burnette, Senior Vice President, Power Supply and Chief Operations Officer at NCEMC.

Raleigh-based NCEMC purchases as well as produces electricity for member cooperatives across North Carolina, which delivers power to 2.5 million rural consumers. The organization began exploring possible solutions for leveraging emerging grid modernization technologies in 2008. “We began by looking at just what technologies our members had,” Burnette recalls. The organization considered proposals from numerous vendors before launching its partnership with Siemens in 2012. “They are leaders in grid modernization,” he says.

NCEMC seamlessly installed DRMS and MDM, two Siemens applications that sit on the Energy IP Smart Grid platform. This solution is now part of the core components of NCEMC’s Control, Data and Settlement System (CDSS). “What we wanted was a platform that would enable control of devices, control of assets, data gathering, data analysis, and settling up at the end of the day,” Burnette says.

The CDSS is the key component NCEMC will use to coordinate wholesale grid modernization programs that its members can take advantage of. The solution allows NCEMC to coordinate the combined demand response activities of participating cooperatives, then compensating them via a single system. “The program and platform are fully integrated, and that's been the benefit of working with Siemens,” according to Burnette. Grid modernization technologies help NCEMC and its members avoid inefficient energy-flow situations and thus stabilize costs. “Our overall goal is making the system as efficient as possible,” he says. “That means extracting the most value we can from the assets that have been installed.”

Among the nation’s non-profit utility cooperatives, NCEMC has been at the leading edge of grid modernization implementation. “They were one of the early adopters for demand response programs,” says Sachin Gupta, global head of demand response solution sales at Siemens. The company, a leader in electronics and electrical engineering, is the U.S.-based unit of the 165-year-old German company. “When we started talking about smart grid-related technologies, NCEMC embraced it early on,” Gupta says.

Supporting NCEMC’s modernization of its CDSS also resulted in benefits to Siemens. “We had the product, but they had a lot of innovation that served as input in making our product better,” Gupta says. Demand response (DR) solutions, for example, have thus far focused on power transmission systems across wide geographical areas. “We’re now starting to see DR filter down to the distribution level,” he adds. NCEMC’s new system, in fact, drills down to demand at individual zip codes. “That’s innovative,” says Gupta.

Gupta, who is based in Raleigh but works with clients worldwide, says having NCEMC in its backyard facilitated a quicker, closer collaboration among the two organizations. “It built a stronger partnership,” he says.

In addition to the work it is doing with NCEMC, Siemens also is working with Wake Electric Membership Corporation, an NCEMC member headquartered nearby in Wake Forest, on Smart Grid components. In 2010, Wake Electric teamed with Siemens’ Smart Grid division in conducting communications modeling and simulations using the company’s Smart Grid Communications Assessment Tool (SG-CAT). Once the study was complete, Siemens identified another way to help Wake Electric by implementing a new locally developed Siemens distribution feeder automation system (SDFA) as part of a pilot project. The system is unique in that it can instantaneously locate and isolate a faulted feeder line section and reconfigure a feeder system to provide all other line sections with alternative power.

NCEMC’s Burnette agrees that operating in such close proximity to Siemens brings value to the organization’s technology partnerships. “It’s been nice having that closeness,” he says. Instead of comparing notes via phone, the two parties can update each other over lunch, a convenience that adds a personal dimension to their professional partnership. “It helps to build those collegial relationships as well as the business ones,” Burnette says. The same is true for SAS and Sensus, two other companies NCEMC is working with in making the most of its grid modernization investment.

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