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Sales of plug-in electric buses increased 40 percent from 2016 to 2017

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Orders for plug-in electric buses have boomed in the past 18 months, with a 40 percent increase in sales from 2016 to 2017, as the technology on offer from bus companies has improved in performance and in price, according to a new report from Navigant Research.

In the electric drive bus market, costs of key components such as batteries, motors, and power electronics are declining thanks to increasing volume. These improvements are helping plug-in hybrid and battery electric buses become more viable for fleets, and sales are poised to grow across all geographic markets through 2027.

“Transit agencies are interested in battery electric buses, thanks to their potential for lower operating costs in addition to having zero emissions and reduced noise,” says Lisa Jerram, principal research analyst with Navigant Research. “New orders for electric buses are growing rapidly, although the transition to battery electric buses will take many years, as agencies test the technology and bus manufacturers ramp up production.”

Despite increasing sales of electric buses, conventional engines will continue to be the powertrain of choice for buses in many markets during the next 10 years, according to the report. The upfront cost for an electric drive bus continues to be an issue; thus, adoption tends to be focused in regions with government support.

In all regions except for China, hybrid buses are expected to continue to capture greater market share than plug-in buses in the near-term, thanks to the lower price premium, lack of infrastructure investment, and the wealth of real-world operational experience.

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Utilities look to RF mesh to address network optimization for power grid

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Utilities will rely heavily on RF mesh networks as a key communication technology, according to new research commissioned by Silver Spring Networks and conducted by Zpryme.

The research measured communication network priorities for next-generation distribution grid optimization for 350 utilities across the globe. The utilities surveyed noted that RF mesh networks offer flexibility to adapt to the changing needs of the electric network – through a focus on areas such as open standards and interoperability – and can help maintain compatibility for future needs.

The research also highlights the top five trends that were common amongst the surveyed utilities:

1. Utilities recognize that their communication networks must change to enable the next-generation distribution grid. Just 6 percent feel extremely ready with their current communication networks to support changes coming to the grid in the next 5 years.

2. Fiber optic and RF mesh lead the future of layered communication networks. 74 percent will use fiber optic, and 65 percent will use RF mesh in the next decade.

3. Utilities will use RF mesh to address a variety of use cases for field area networks. Top use cases include distribution automation, fault detection and AMI.

4. No matter the technology or the need, reliability remains a top priority for communications networks. 91 percent said reliability is a priority for communications networks, followed by cost (78 percent).

5. Cybersecurity is the most significant concern with legacy communication networks. 56 percent listed cybersecurity as one of the top 3 pain points for their utility.

Utilities are under enormous pressure to update their business and service model to incorporate more renewable sources, restore service faster after weather events, and meet higher customer expectations. The results from this survey show that utilities are aware of these challenges and are mindful of the steps they need to take to address these challenges and pressures.

“These results show us that utilities are looking ahead to proactively prepare for the future needs – including connecting distribution automation, renewable energy, smart grid and smart city assets – for improvement in service and reliability,” said Matt Smith, Senior Director of Grid Management, Silver Spring Networks. “Utilities that are adopting standards-based, secure, reliable and scalable network platforms, such as the solutions offered by Silver Spring Networks, can optimize their grid networks to meet future needs and scalability demands.”

“The landscape of communication networks is drastically evolving as utilities aim to improve service and sustainability,” said H. Christine Richards, Vice President of Research, Zpryme. “This research highlights what utilities are prioritizing as they look to future next-generation distribution grid, and how these priorities may evolve.”

Silver Spring has more than 26.7 million enabled devices delivered on five continents. Silver Spring works with some of the world’s leading utility companies on grid management programs including Baltimore Gas and Electric, ComEd, CPFL Energia, CPS Energy, Florida Power & Light Company (FPL), Pacific Gas & Electric, Pepco Holdings Inc., Sacramento Municipal Utility District and WEL Networks.

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Florida rejects FPL cost recovery plan for Turkey Point power plant

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In a 4-1 vote, the Florida Public Service Commission shot down Florida Power & Light’s $49 million cost recovery plan for its planned expansion of Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station.

After months of hearings, regulators would not support FPL’s plan to bill electricity customers for the costs of the nuclear power project, which lacks a feasibility analysis and has also had its construction postponed.

FPL first proposed expanding the Miami-Dade County project in 2006. The expansion would add a sixth and seventh reactor to the plant, which is the sixth largest nuclear power plant in the US, producing about 2,750 MW.

FPL submitted a combined operating license application for the two new units in 2009. The project has an estimated cost of about $17.8 billion and would use a pair of 1,117 MW Westinghouse AP1000 reactors. Since choosing Westinghouse to provide the reactors, the manufacturer has declared bankruptcy.

The two reactors were originally supposed to be online by 2018 and 2020, however the utility has since written to regulators the dates may be pushed back more than a decade.

In 2013, the Florida legislature began requiring nuclear projects to submit feasibility studies to state regulators before a project wins approval to start construction.

According to reports, FPL submitted these reports as required up until last year, when the utility asked regulators to waive the requirement, adding that the requirement is an undue and unfair hardship. In 2017, FPL said another report was not necessary.

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PG&E closing gap in wine country wildfire restorations

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(A man hugs his daughter after surviving the northern California wildfire racing through their neighborhood earlier this month. AP Photo)

Pacific Gas & Electric crews have restored power to 97 percent of customers who suffered outages during the most recent northern California wildfires and has been granted access to most of the remaining powerless areas.

The utility reported Tuesday that CAL FIRE has granted it access to an additional 6,000 homes and businesses, leaving only 400 which are still inaccessible. PG&E expected to restore power to all of those 6,000 by Wednesday or Thursday, at the latest.

More than 4,300 employees and mutual-aid partners have been working on restoration efforts since October 9. The wine country wildfires have killed 31 people, making them the deadliest in California history, according to media reports. Thousands of homes and other structures were damaged or destroyed in the blaze, while crews were forced to battle new fires in Sausalito and Santa Cruz as late as Tuesday.

As of late Tuesday, there were about 10,500 electric customers without power in the fire-impacted areas.

PG&E crews will remain active in Sonoma and Napa Counties as they make the necessary permanent repairs to the company’s gas and electric systems, according to the San Francisco-based utility’s press release.

Through Wednesday, PG&E gas service representatives and those from other Western utilities will continue restoring service to the remaining 11,000 customers who do not presently have gas service, but are in a position to accept gas service. This process involves working with the individual customers to relight their pilot lights. Restoration begins once infrastructure is repaired, and areas have been deemed safe by relevant authorities.

In all, as a result of the firestorm, more than 359,000 customers lost electric service and more than 42,000 gas customers had their gas service turned off. We took this action with safety first in mind to protect our customers and our communities.

The cause of the wildfires is undetermined, although some suspicion has rested on PG&E power lines allegedly brought down by gale force winds. A suspected arsonist, however, was arrested in Sonoma on Sunday, according to news reports.

PG&E has also deployed autonomous aircraft, or drones, to assess damage to infrastructure.

“These drones represent an evolving technology that will only provide greater value and enhanced safety into the future,” said Ned Biehl, PG&E director of aviation services. “As we continue to support first responders and other agencies involved with this emergency response, this technology will enable a safer restoration process.  This project is testament to our Mission, Vision and Culture, fostering innovation and collaboration to serve our customers.”
During the wildfire response, four teams have operated multiple morning flights over the fire zones north of the company’s Santa Rosa base camp and near the Napa base camp, capturing videos and still images of PG&E equipment.
The team of four includes a pilot and an observer or “co-pilot” from the drone vendor, a subject matter expert, who reviews the impacted facilities, and a safety officer, who ensures that the public is safe during the drone’s flight. The information collected is shared with the base camps in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake Counties and in the Emergency Operations Center in San Francisco to help in PG&E’s efforts to restore service to its customers and rebuild its infrastructure.


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Wildfire victims sue PG&E over inadequate power grid maintenance

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SAN DIEGO (AP) — Northern California homeowners allege in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that Pacific Gas & Electric Co. failed to adequately protect its power lines before the region’s deadly wildfires, a theory that state investigators are considering as they try to determine the cause.

The lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court on behalf of Santa Rosa homeowners Wayne and Jennifer Harvell says drought-like conditions over the summer put fire dangers “at an extraordinarily high level,” particularly after heavy winter rains increased vegetation. It says PG&E failed to trim and remove vegetation as it should have.

PG&E Corp., the utility’s parent company, said Friday that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection was investigating its power lines and equipment as a possible cause of the fires that have killed at least 41 people and destroyed 6,000 homes.

The California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates PG&E, would investigate only if state fire investigators determine that that the utility’s equipment is suspected as a cause. That could lead to fines and penalties.

The San Francisco-based utility said it would not speculate on causes of the fire and that it was cooperating with investigators.

PG&E says it has told state regulators of seven incidents of damage to its equipment, including downed power lines and broken poles. It did not say whether they may have caused or contributed to the fire.

Gerald Singleton, an attorney representing other homeowners and renters, said winds were strong but PG&E should have anticipated them.

“We can’t get rid of all possible risks,” he said. “It really is based on reasonableness — and that is what their duty is.”

PG&E shares jumped 7.5 percent, or $4.01, to close at $57.44 on the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday. Still, the shares are down 17 percent since Wednesday.

Earlier this year, the utility commission fined PG&E $8.3 million for failing to maintain a power line that sparked a massive blaze in Northern California that destroyed 549 homes and killed two people. A state fire investigation found the utility and its contractors failed to maintain a gray pine tree that slumped into a power line igniting the September 2015 fire in Amador County.

Previously, California regulators fined PG&E $1.6 billion for 2010 natural gas explosion in the San Francisco Bay Area city of San Bruno that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.

Also Tuesday, U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris of California wrote the Federal Communications Commission to express concern that the federal government has yet to adopt rules that would require wireless carriers to more precisely target neighborhoods with orders to evacuate. As fires rapidly spread Oct. 8, authorities sought to avoid alarming unaffected residents.

“These emergency services are caught in a bind between notifying individuals in imminent danger and risking mass panic. As a result, these services are compelled to rely on emergency messaging systems with far less reach and far less capacity,” they wrote.

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Dominican Republic energy storage arrays help island’s grid to prevent blackouts

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AES Dominicana announced that it brought online 20 MW of new battery-based energy storage arrays at two sites in the Dominican Republic, which played a role in maintaining grid reliability in September when Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the island.

The two 10 MW arrays were supplied by AES Energy Storage. Located on sites in the Santo Domingo region, both arrays are providing critical grid reliability services for the island by improving the efficiency and contributing to the stability of the Dominican Republic’s interconnected national electricity system (SENI).

“We are very excited about developing these energy solutions for the benefit of the Dominican Republic, saving millions of dollars in state funds, which can be redirected to more needed areas such as public health, education and security,” said Edwin De Los Santos, President of AES Dominicana.

AES Dominicana is using its Andres and Los Mina DPP Advancion energy storage arrays to provide fast, accurate frequency control to the Dominican grid, balancing second-to-second variations between electricity consumed and produced.

By adding energy storage instead of using existing thermal power plants to maintain frequency, the Dominican grid operator can enable the power plants on the island to run at their most efficient generating level while the battery systems absorb and discharge energy on the grid as needed.

AES Dominicana’s 20 MW of energy storage is providing fast-response, critical reliability services that would otherwise be performed by a traditional thermal power plant three times the size.

In September 2017, the Dominican grid operator put the two energy storage arrays to a critical test: asking AES Dominicana to keep them online and operational to ensure grid reliability as two hurricanes, Irma and Maria, each approached the island. Both energy storage arrays performed more than double the amount of work during the storms as normal, helping keep the Dominican grid operating during category 3 and 4 hurricane conditions, even as nearly 40 and 55 percent of the island’s power plants were forced offline during Hurricanes Irma and Maria, respectively.

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Standard Solar to install, own and operate solar arrays in two Maryland parks

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Standard Solar, a solar energy company, has been selected by Montgomery Parks, part of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), to construct, own and operate the 2.5 MW combined ground-mount arrays at South Germantown Recreational Park and Rock Creek Regional Park.

The 3,978 panel, 1.32 MW array at South Germantown Recreational Park is expected to be completed in December of this year. Rock Creek Regional Park will feature a 1.173 MW ground-mount array with 3,456 solar panels and is expected to be completed in early 2018.

The system takes advantage of aggregate net metering—whereby municipal, non-profit, agricultural customers can offset energy use at any of their meters with solar located remotely on a single meter—and is expected to provide power for multiple park facilities.

Both arrays are being built simultaneously and will use local contractors and labor, creating local jobs in Montgomery County.

When completed, the combined arrays will produce about 3,500,000 kWh of solar electricity annually, thereby offsetting 2,877 tons of greenhouse gases yearly. This offset is the equivalent to the carbon sequestered by 3,074 acres of U.S. forest or the amount of CO2 generated in the production of the grid-supplied electricity used by 391 average American homes in a typical year.

“These projects represent another great example of counties and municipalities reaching sustainability goals and enhancing their financial bottom line by taking advantage of installing solar on unused land,” said Scott Wiater, president & CEO, Standard Solar. “We applaud Montgomery County and M-NCPPC for their unwavering commitment to sustainability and these projects.”

Standard Solar financed the projects through a long-term power purchase agreement and will own, operate and maintain the systems.

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SEC probing utilities over abandoned S.C. nuclear power project

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Securities regulators are investigating the failure of a nuclear reactor construction project in South Carolina.

SCANA, parent company of South Carolina Electric & Gas Co., says it’s complying with a subpoena from the SEC.

The probe comes on the heels of legislative, state and federal investigations into the project, on which SCE&G and state-owned utility Santee Cooper spent nearly $10 billion over a decade before shuttering it earlier this year.

Thousands of people lost their jobs when the project failed. More than half a dozen lawsuits have been filed, some by ratepayers angry they’ve been charged $2 billion to pay interest on debt without any power being generated.

Last month, Santee Cooper confirmed that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Carolina requested that the company produce documents related to the V.C. Summer project.

“The subpoena requires the Company to produce a broad range of documents related to the project,” SCANA officials wrote. “The Company intends to cooperate with the government’s investigation.”

Santee Cooper CEO Lonnie Carter announced his retirement shortly after the annoucement about abandoning work at the Summer plant. Executives with both companies previously testified they had sought federal help to keep the project going and were rebuffed.

Executives also have blamed the bankruptcy filing of Westinghouse, which was a primary contractor on the reactor work, as making the project financially and logistically unfeasible. Westingthouse filed for Chapter 11 projection earlier this  year.

Another story last month indicated that utility officials knew the project was in trouble for a long time. That’s according to an independent analysis of the nuclear plant project advised Santee Cooper and South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. to hire someone to enforce contractor accountability at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station, where two new reactors were being built.

The utilities in 2014 hired Bechtel Corp., a global engineering, construction and project management company, to do an independent analysis of the project. Gov. Henry McMaster’s office released the report to reporters Monday over objections from Santee Cooper‘s attorneys, who asked the governor not to give it to the public.

In the report, dated February 2016, Bechtel wrote that the project suffers from “major project management issues that must be resolved for project success,” including a lack of cohesion among plans and schedules adopted by various contractors.

“The overall morale on the project is low,” Bechtel wrote, noting that, at that time, the already years-delayed effort was several years behind schedule. “There is a significant disconnect between construction need date and procurement delivery dates.”

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Australia rejects renewable energy target for cheaper power

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CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The Australian government on Tuesday rejected a plan to generate 42 percent of the country’s power from wind and solar energy, in a setback for compliance with climate change commitments

Conservation groups have condemned the ruling conservative coalition for abandoning the renewable energy target for 2030 that was recommended this year by Australia’s chief scientist to comply with the Paris climate change agreement.

The government instead plans to require power companies to provide a certain minimum amount of power from coal, gas and hydroelectric generation. Reliance on solar and wind generation would be limited according to the needs of each state for guarantee of supply.

The policy change will end subsidies paid to wind and solar generators from 2020, to help reduce costs for consumers.

“Past energy plans have subsidized some industries, punished others and slugged consumers,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a statement.

“The Turnbull government will take a different approach,” he added.

Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg told Parliament that coal and gas would generate 64 to 72 percent of Australia‘s electricity by 2030.

Coal and gas will account for 76.5 percent by 2020, meaning Australia was on track to achieve its current clean energy target of 23.5 percent of electricity from renewable sources such as wind, solar and hydro by then, Frydenberg said.

Hydro is reliable, clean and renewable but is a fairly small component of the energy mix.

Australians per capita are among the world’s worst greenhouse gas polluters because of the country’s heavy reliance on its abundant coal reserves for power. But no new coal-fired generators are being built because of uncertainty over how Australia intends to achieve its greenhouse gas cuts.

Australia was about to overtake Qatar as the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas but the government has restricted exports because state governments have created a domestic supply shortage by blocking new gas field development.

Mark Wakeham, chief executive of Environment Victoria, a Victoria state-based conservation group, accused the government of rejecting “a clean energy target in favor of a coal energy target.”

“Australia joins Donald Trump’s United States as one of only two major national governments to remove support for investment in renewable energy and redirect it to aging and polluting power stations,” Wakeham said in a statement.

The government has accused center-left Labor Party-controlled states of irresponsibly switching to clean electricity sources at the cost of ensuring reliable supply.

The government blames a heavy reliance on wind and solar energy for a statewide blackout in South Australia during a storm in 2016. The state’s power operator, however, said the outage was unavoidable due to the storm’s ferocity.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a business advocacy group, welcomed the government’s plan, saying it would cut costs for power, ensure reliability and meet Australia’s carbon emission reduction targets while maintaining international competitiveness.

Australia’s Paris target is to reduce emissions by 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

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