Facing Challenges from Natural Disasters to Customers as Generators

In the process of developing both familiar and new conference tracks and sessions for ELECTRIC POWER 2014, Event Content Director David Wagman has identified a number of current and emerging trends. Here he offers his take on the issues that will be hot topics this April in New Orleans and long after.

The 16th annual ELECTRIC POWER Conference & Exhibition takes place in New Orleans this year, and it’s a fitting place to be discussing the many persistent and new challenges facing the power generation industry. Entergy Corp. is the host utility, and its experience is indicative of several trends across the power sector.

As with other new U.S. baseload capacity, gas is playing the lead role for Entergy, whose commitment to natural gas (with fuel oil as a backup) is evident at its 550-MW Ninemile Point Unit 6 plant. (The plant will be open for a tour by ELECTRIC POWER attendees on Mar. 31.) The combined cycle gas turbine unit is under construction a short distance from downtown New Orleans and will add economical and efficient gas-fired capacity to the generating mix serving southeast Louisiana. The region spans an area from east of metropolitan Baton Rouge to the Mississippi state line and south to the Gulf of Mexico, including New Orleans. By 2015, the region will have more than 6,000 MW of demand.

Ninemile Unit 6 is on track to enter commercial service by mid-2015 with enough capacity to replace the loss of Ninemile Units 1 and 2. Those units entered service in the early 1950s and have been deactivated. Ninemile Unit 6 (Figure 1) is designed to allow it to adjust output as a load-following plant or operate as a baseload plant if required. The unit will use natural gas as its main fuel, but it also will be able to burn ultra-low-sulfur fuel oil for short periods. Through its pollution-control systems, the unit will be among the nation’s cleanest gas-fired generating plants, and its emissions will be significantly lower than the deactivated Ninemile Point units. Additionally, locating a large generator like Ninemile 6 close to load enhances flexibility during system restoration following a storm such as a hurricane.

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1. Ninemile Unit 6. Entergy Corp.’s 550-MW combined cycle generating unit is slated to enter service in 2015. Courtesy: Entergy Corp.

Disaster Planning and Mitigation

System restoration following a storm is a major consideration for Entergy, whose Gulf Coast operating units were hit hard by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Rod West, Entergy’s chief administrative officer, will reflect on how utility investment decisions should be influenced by disruptive events such as the 2003 Northeast blackout, Hurricane Katrina, and Superstorm Sandy in keynote remarks he will deliver at ELECTRIC POWER on Apr. 1.

West played a unique role in the rebuilding of Entergy New Orleans. First, in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina struck and flooded 80% of the city, West served as manager of the metro New Orleans region with responsibility for the city’s electric infrastructure. West and his team oversaw a $250 million reconstruction of the nearly destroyed New Orleans electrical infrastructure (see “Preparation keyed Entergy’s responses to Katrina, Rita” in POWER’ s May 2006 issue).

Second, in 2007, as president and CEO of Entergy New Orleans, West led that business unit out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization and back to profitability. Additionally, he oversaw one of the industry’s largest natural gas rebuild efforts, which included replacing around 860 miles of underground pipe damaged after Hurricane Katrina.

The nuts and bolts of Entergy’s emergency preparedness efforts will be explored in greater detail at ELECTRIC POWER by Greg Grillo, storm incident commander, who will discuss his company’s emergency preparedness planning process. The Edison Electric Institute (EEI) honored Entergy in 2013 with its Emergency Recovery Award and Emergency Assistance Award. EEI cited the utility for its work restoring power to customers following Hurricane Isaac and to customers of other utilities after Hurricane Sandy and other severe weather events. The recognition was nothing new for the utility: 2013 marked the 15th consecutive year that Entergy received an EEI national storm restoration award.

In presenting the award, EEI President Tom Kuhn said, “Entergy was faced with a major restoration effort following Hurricane Isaac. Getting the lights back on quickly and safely is never easy following these natural disasters. It takes strong commitment, advanced planning and great execution. Entergy responded with all three, and their assistance shows their compassion in helping others in their time of need. They’re a great example for the nation’s electric power industry.”

Microsoft and the Energy Supply Chain

Another trend that is picking up steam is the growing role of diverse customers in the electricity supply chain. For examaple, in an interview earlier this year, Brian Janous, director of energy strategy for Microsoft, told me that Microsoft looks at data as a “refined form of energy.” He said the company thinks about energy not only from the perspective of a consumer, but also from the vantage point of “where we sit in the overall energy supply chain and about how to create more efficient energy systems,” from the power plant to the data chip. “As a result, our path for delivering power to supply Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure is focused both on how we optimize for efficiency inside our footprint, and also how we integrate and invest in driving greater efficiencies across the broader energy supply chain.”

Janous said Microsoft has three objectives that drive this effort, which he will elaborate on during his keynote remarks: First, to distribute efficient power generation to the company’s datacenters that integrates with the capacity and energy needs of the local grid; second, to deliver to the grid low-cost and efficient energy by participating in utility-scale generation projects; and, third, to foster the development of the next generation of energy technologies that will make future distributed and grid-connected projects “radically” more efficient.

“We don’t expect to achieve any of this on our own,” Janous told me. “Instead we look to the energy industry to partner with us on achieving these objectives.”

Cogeneration and CHP

Reliability and efficiency are as important to a regional hospital or research university as they are to a datacenter operation such as Microsoft’s. Every dollar spent by an institution’s utilities department to produce steam, heat, or electricity is a dollar that cannot be invested in the core mission, be it laboratory research or patient care.

“Our objective is to reduce cost but retain resiliency,” said Juan Ontiveros, executive director of utilities at the University of Texas at Austin. Add to that the task of self-producing 100% of the power consumed by the 17 million square feet across 150 buildings on the Austin campus, while planning for an additional 2 million square feet (including a 1 million–square foot hospital) by 2016.

Ontiveros will discuss the challenges of operating one of the largest combined heat and power (CHP) systems in the U.S. as part of ELECTRIC POWER’s newest track that focuses on cogeneration and CHP applications. The university’s generating capacity includes two combustion turbines, each equipped with heat recovery steam generators. One 45-MW unit runs during the summer when air conditioning load is greatest. A 32-MW unit runs in the fall, winter, and spring seasons. Excess heat thrown off by the turbines is used for heating and steam throughout the campus.

Ontiveros said that recent market conditions are “perfect” for institutions and their need to avoid risk. He cited shrinking reserve margins in some parts of the country, coal plant retirements, and the lack of investment in new generating resources as key reasons for institutions to seek greater security through cogeneration and CHP. “We see risk any time we are on the grid,” Ontiveros said, adding that the Austin campus has experienced three outages in 40 years. The campus can be more resilient, more cost effective, and greener than the grid. He added that the emissions produced to supply 17 million square feet are the same as in 1976, when the campus included 10 million square feet.

Resiliency, cost effectiveness, and environmental stewardship are three recurring themes at ELECTRIC POWER. Networking is a fourth, and there are plenty of opportunities to meet with peers as well as solution providers on and off the exhibit floor. ■

David Wagman is content director for ELECTRIC POWER (www.electricpowerexpo.com), which takes place April 1-3 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans.