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With decades of experience working with utilities throughout the United States in modernizing their grids, Ulteig has built a strong understanding of the process that utilities should consider when planning a modernizing project.

In “Grid Modernization Cycle,” the grid modernization team at Ulteig has boiled down the modernization process into four key stages (view the infographic here):

1. System Evaluation and Framework Design

2. Communication Network and Data Management

3. Tech Solutions and Field Implementation

4. Data Analytics Processing

By incorporating these four stages into your next grid modernization plan, Ulteig believes utilities will see more comprehensive plans, and more success in implementing those plans.

Ulteig developed this life cycle process specifically for utilities that are just getting started and don’t know where to start. Therefore, the first step is to conduct an evaluation. If the utility is comfortable with stages 1 and 2, then Ulteig is fully capable starting with them at stage 3.  The grid modernization process is flexible and designed to accommodate each unique utility within a common framework.

In stage 1, the Ulteig process invites utilities to identify its unique needs and to prioritize high-risk/high-priority needs in comparison to lower level needs and nice-to-haves. With a thorough evaluation, which anticipates future demands on a grid, a framework design can be developed.

While all utilities are unique, they do share some common goals when it comes to modernizing their grids. Based on the experience of Ulteig’s grid modernization team, these common goals typically include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Creating more reliability and resiliency for customers
  • Keeping electrical costs affordable
  • Providing a secure source of electricity
  • Incorporating goals to reduce carbon emissions over time
  • Creating a responsible process to transition to cleaner energy while providing reliable service
  • Optimizing an electrical system to drive more cost efficiencies while delivering higher quality

Because customers, towns, cities and states are more dependent on uninterrupted electricity than ever before, it’s critical that electrical distribution systems are prepared to keep up with rapid industry changes and an increasingly decentralized grid. Anticipating change and the rate of change is a key question that today’s utilities need to ask themselves as they evaluate their power grids. For example: Is your company prepared for solar, energy storage, and other distributed energy resources to be installed on your grid? With promising advances in hydrogen and fusion power, does your grid have the flexibility to accommodate new energy sources in the future.

“We’re at the stage where we need to think beyond typical upgrades and maintenance,” said Jason Hall, an Ulteig grid modernization senior engineer. “We need to anticipate larger changes ahead, such as two-way power flows, where customers can sell their excess electricity created through solar installations back to a utility, or the anticipated growth of electrical vehicles, including 18-wheel trucks, or a day when all homes will rely on electrical power to heat their homes, rather than non-electrical forms of heat, such as natural gas.”

After stage 1, the Ulteig grid modernization process incorporates robust communications systems, technology solutions and field deployments, and a data management system that allows utilities to better understand how efficiently their updated grid systems are operating.

“This is a continuous process,” Hall added. “Utilities are never just done with modernizing their grids. Your utility may presently be in stage 2 or stage 3, but eventually, you’ll return to stage 1, which calls for a time to evaluate how previous investments have paid off, and how you can more cost effectively invest in grid modernizations in the future. In addition, as technology continues to develop, it is important to have an ongoing plan in place that revaluates the system’s state.”

By implementing Ulteig’s approach, utilities will realize these benefits:

  • More reliability for its consumers
  • Grid resiliency against major system events
  • Secure against cyber-attacks
  • Grid visibility through increased data acquisition
  • Grid adaptability to new dynamic loads
  • Accessible for prosumers who install distributed energy and energy storage resources

Power Up Your Grid Mod Efforts. Ulteig offers one of the most talented grid modernization teams in the United States. They have decades of experience that they can leverage for your next project and what makes our team even more unique is most of that experience is at utilities so they better understand you. To receive a consultation, contact Brian Sharpe, Market Director-Power, at brian.sharpe@ulteig.com.

Across the United States many community-owned, not-for-profit utilities are struggling with how fast and how much to modernize their electrical grids as they meet the demands for electrical power today, as well as for five, ten and 20 years from now.

Recently, the grid modernization team at Ulteig worked with a community-owned power utility serving about 53,000 customers in a third-ring suburb outside the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Formed more than 100 years ago, this local utility faces a number of issues that may sound quite familiar to other community-owned utilities across the country. Issues such as:

  • Communicating the value of a community-owned, not-for-profit power utility. According to the January 2016 survey by the American Public Power Association, only 1 in 5 customers under the age of 55 knew that their utility was community owned and not-for profit.
  • Anticipating future electric power demand based on changing customer loads
  • Investing in newer technology to drive increased efficiencies while decreasing outage metrics and operational expenses.
  • Increasing the use of renewable energy sources while maintaining competitive and reliable rates. This community utility set a goal of 100 percent renewable energy for all customers by the end of 2020, and takes pride in being a national leader in renewable energy. 
  • Providing citizens with access to energy sources that are environmentally responsible
  • Preparing for physical (i.e., hurricanes) or cyber threats
  • Meeting utility workforce challenges
  • Navigating changing utility industry regulations

Helping Community Owned Utility Look Forward

To help this Texas utility look forward and anticipate its future grid needs, it engaged the nFront Consulting group to assess the municipal utility’s electric grid. In turn, nFront tapped Ulteig to contribute its grid modernization expertise.

A core focus of the project was to conduct an overall organizational evaluation to ensure the utility operated effectively and efficiently while creating grid stability and advancement. Ulteig was added to the project because of its strong experience in transmission and distribution engineering, design, and operations.

The Ulteig team contributed the following:

  • Interviewed key staff of the community-owned utility to ensure a clear understanding of the client’s unique electric system and day-to-day operations practices. The initial step of listening to input from the clients proved vital in preparing the overall assessment.
  • Evaluated the utility’s distribution, substation, and transmission construction standards. The Ulteig team identified areas that needed to be addressed as well as highlighted areas of success.
  • Evaluated recently completed projects and the client’s five-year budget plan to assess how its planning compared to industry standards.
  • Summarized overall findings and contributed key points as they played into the overall organizational evaluation. These findings played an instrumental role in guiding the changes that were suggested within the organization.

Results and Takeaways

Ulteig provided the client with insight into the state of the utility’s current electric system and the effectiveness of its engineering processes. The insight from the Ulteig grid modernization team enhanced nFront Consulting’s recommendations on organizational restructuring.

“Our experience with Ulteig was excellent by every project management measure,” said Fred Haddad, Executive Consultant, nFront Consulting. “Ulteig staffed the project with well-qualified engineers, provided a detailed scope of services, and met both the demanding schedule and budget constraints of the project.”

With the expertise of Ulteig, nFront Consulting set up the utility to operate within industry norms consistent with other community-owned public utilities, meet its organizational goals, and address the needs of the utility in a fast-changing power industry.

Want to Learn More?

Community-owned, not-for-profit utilities are a critical part of America’s electrical power system. For more than 75 years, Ulteig has been helping community utilities better understand how to operate more efficiently and effectively to deliver the value that their local citizen owners demand. By delivering comprehensive design engineering, program management and technical and field services, Ulteig strengthens the infrastructure vital to everyday life in small, mid-size and large communities across the United States. 

Want to know more? Download Ulteig’s new white paper on modernizing the electrical grid — click here.

By Jason Hall, Josh Guck, and John Barksdale, Grid Modernization, Ulteig

About the Authors

Josh Guck brings nearly a decade of distribution engineering experience to Ulteig’s Power and Renewable markets. As the company’s Grid Modernization lead, he supports clients throughout the U.S. in developing innovative solutions to help navigate the fast-paced changes occurring in our industry.

John Barksdale, an engineer with Ulteig’s Grid Modernization team, holds a Project Management Professional (PMP) certificate and a Masters of Engineering in Electrical Engineering.

Jason Hall is a senior engineer with the Ulteig Grid Modernization team who has focused much of his career on improving business and engineering practices to increase utility efficiencies, reliability, and customer service.

Let me know if you can relate to this: You misplaced your mobile phone and when you discover that it’s not in any of the spots where you usually leave it, a sense of panic starts to creep into your thoughts. And the longer it takes to find it, the more you start to worry.  

It’s not just that you can’t find your phone; it’s that you feel disconnected from all of the technology you rely on to exist in our digital world.   

For most of us, our phones have become an integral part of our day-to-day lives. They are our communication link and data hub center for news, weather, sports scores, podcast recordings, audio notes, fantasy football results, workout records, and the hundreds of photos and videos we take for fun and work. However, it’s not just the device that we hold in our hands that connects us to all that content, it’s the network that supports it – from the content that we seek out or maybe even create ourselves, to the storage of that content, to the transmission of it through the Internet and WiFi connections.  

While this might sound like a stretch, in a way, this personal communications network is like a micro version of the communications systems that are integrated into modern grid systems. Without this technology, which helps to integrate the system and provide data about the grid’s performance, utilities are disconnected from what’s happening in the field. If the correct technology isn’t specified, or it’s not put into place correctly, the system won’t be able to properly integrate with other technology.  

Power Grids Becoming More Complex 

Like the personal technology we use daily, power grids are becoming more complex. The grid is moving from centralized systems where power is transmitting from a few traditional fossil-fuel powered plants, to a decentralized system. In a decentralized system, power is transmitted from numerous sources such as wind and solar farms, and small-scale solar gardens. This makes operating the grid more complex. For example, it creates additional cybersecurity concerns.  

To make things even more complicated, the technology for grid data, security and network communications, both software and devices, is constantly evolving. Power companies are placed in the situation of needing to integrate all of this technology from different vendors while meeting the increasing need for remote access and timely data retrieval. Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all solution – it all needs to be customized based on a utility’s needs.  

As an owner or operator within the power or renewable utility markets, it is important to have a reliable communication network in place. The system should be versatile, providing customized data, monitoring and control measures that can efficiently resolve outages and even predict failures.  

Finding an Integrated Solution 

System Integration is generally defined as the ability to incorporate data and control of sub-system equipment from multiple vendors and bring them all together into a single unified system that meets the owner’s operational and regulatory needs.  

Ulteig’s System Integration professionals work with clients to offer Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and networking design services, which can be part of an upfront collaborative effort on a greenfield site or re-evaluated at an existing site.  

For example, the Ulteig team recently worked with an owner of a generation facility in Texas to meet its requirements for transient cyber assets. The project involved the deployment of an Ulteig laptop into their system, which could be securely accessed by our SCADA integrators while being in close coordination with onsite personnel. They then worked one-on-one with onsite personnel to connect individual devices to program, troubleshoot and access the owner’s generation system through a local area network (LAN). 

The key to Ulteig’s solution was working with the generation owner to document the cybersecurity and malware management Standard Operating Procedures. The remote laptop fits the definition of a Transient Cyber Asset under NERC-CIP-003-7, so the owner must implement plans to address “Transient Cyber Asset and Removable Media Malicious Code Risk Mitigation.” The integration was performed from a thousand miles away, and the utility was able to stay on track with their construction schedule.  

Six Keys to Systems Integration 

If you’re wondering if your control and data acquisition system is keeping you in control of your world, consider these tips from our team: 

  • Customize a Solution – With the continued growth of technology, there is no one size fits all approach. Each system and each generation owner requires a custom solution to optimize the use of technology and integrate it not only within the system, but with the people who are maintaining and monitoring the system. 
  • Collect Historical Data to Optimize Your System – When you integrate your system, you will want to access historical data, which allows you to review events leading up to faults and major system events, track equipment and site conditions over time, and provide the necessary infrastructure to conduct load forecasts. This type of data is the key to optimizing your system to increase its efficiency and effectiveness. 
  • Anticipate Future Events – An important factor in integrating your system is to define what events should or should not warrant notification. By not setting an alarm, you could easily miss a critical opportunity to address a potentially serious issue.
  • Visualize Your Data – In today’s YouTube world, data needs to be visualized to help your control staff more quickly comprehend changing conditions. This is particularly important as a new generation joins your staff.  
  • Consider Human2Human Communications – Sometimes, we get caught up in thinking too much about the technology. Successful System Integration projects take into account the actual people who will be interacting with the system and drawing data from it. Upfront communication is critical to learn what operators will need from the system and to refining the system over time to better meet their needs.  
  • Design for Mobile – Speaking of mobile phones, for today’s SCADA system designs to be more effective, they should be configured to meet people where they’re at and how they interface with technology on a day-to-day basis. More often than not, that means deploying text or email alerts whenever a significant event takes place.  

Want to learn more about System Integration Solutions?  

At Ulteig, our team of System Integration professionals offer an extensive set of Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and networking design services. We help utilities establish a reliable, versatile communications network with customized data, monitoring and control measures. To learn more, visit our System Integration and SCADA page here


By Cassie Polman, PE, Associate Director-Substation, and Seth Maslowski, PE, Technical Manager-Substation, Ulteig 

Cassie Polman, PE, is an Associate Director, leading a group of Ulteig Technical Managers and their substation teams focused on protection and control, SCADA & Network core projects. Cassie has more than 18 years of experience in substation protection and control, electrical design and portfolio and project management. Her responsibilities as a substation engineer have included project management for generation interconnections and transmission substations, scoping and cost estimating for projects, one-lines, three-lines, AC and DC schematics, wiring diagrams, protective relay settings, RTU points list and configurations, electrical layouts, as well as equipment specifications for substation equipment and providing construction support. Her responsibilities as a portfolio manager included ensuring that the load serving transmission capital projects collectively represent a manageable budget, schedule and utilization of resources through portfolio analysis and project controls. 

Seth Maslowski, PEis a Technical Manager in Ulteig’s Power Technical Services, Substation Department with focus on substation protection and control, SCADA systems, volt/var control schemes, and substation automation. He has 15 years of consulting engineering and project management experience including client, vendor, and contractor coordination. His technical work includes the design, programming, testing, training, and support of industrial and substation control systems, PLC programming, HMI development, SCADA design and configuration, and substation protection and control design. 

Is bigger really better? Well, in the case of transmission lines, the answer is often yes.

That’s the key finding shared in a new presentation, Recommended Procedure for Conductor Optimization, created by a team of Ulteig engineers who studied what factors matter the most in optimizing transmission line performance. The presentation was shared at the Transmission & Substation Design and Operation Symposium recently conducted at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Selecting the conductor size is one of the most critical design decisions for a transmission line engineer in designing a transmission line that will yield the lowest cost over the design life of the transmission line. As you might imagine, as the conductor increases in size so does the cost of the line. This is due to both the higher costs for a larger conductor as well as the need for a more robust structure to adequately support the larger conductor. However, a larger conductor can significantly increase potential value streams of the transmission line over its lifecycle. Over an entire lifecycle of a transmission line, value streams, like lowering electrical losses can generate significant additional revenue and often outweigh the additional capital expense costs.

So, as you examine your next project, how can you determine the optimal conductor size? And what are the critical variables that will govern the conductor selection?

As explained in our presentation, we developed a procedure to determine which conductor size best minimizes the total lifecycle costs for a for a transmission line. Minimizing total transmission line lifecycle costs is often referred to as conductor optimization, and it involves both technical engineering and financial modeling.

In operating a modernized grid, optimization analysis plays a critical role in determining how to deliver greater value to customers. In the future, we believe that economics will play an even bigger role in determining the locations of new transmission lines. Conductor optimization plays a critical role in lowering the total lifecycle cost of a transmission line as well as ensuring that the market receives a net benefit for investing in the transmission line.       

In our presentation, we examined conductor optimization using five different conductor types, all providing adequate levels of thermal ratings, electromagnetic field (EMF), Corona (audible noise and radio interference). These five conductor types were analyzed for their own specific capital expenses and the lost revenue from electrical losses for each of the conductors. These values, along with others, were used to create a financial model to determine the conductor that yields the lowest total lifecycle cost.

Here are several key factors to consider in deciding on the size of the conductor in a grid modernization project:

  • Performing a conductor optimization can create the largest value-added engineering to a transmission line project.
  • As the length of the line increases, the value of performing a conductor optimization design also increases.
  • To perform a conductor optimization, numerous input variables must be defined including:
  • Physical characteristics of the transmission line
    • Electrical properties of the conductor
    • Cost estimates of the T-Lines that support different conductors
    • Financial variables from the client/utility
  • The smallest conductor that meets the electrical requirements does not generally yield the lowest total lifecycle cost.

If you would like to learn more about conductor optimization, I invite you to contact us. Our team would be happy to share the presentation we gave at the Transmission & Substation Design and Operation Symposium. To receive a free copy of our Powerpoint deck, which summarizes our findings, click here.

Thank You: Thank you to my Ulteig colleagues Stacey Page, P.E., Engineer, Josh Potts, P.E., Technical Manager, and James Thomas, Ph.D., Lead Studies Engineer, with whom I worked closely to develop the symposium presentation.

By Greg Parent, P.E., S.E., Senior Engineer, Ulteig

Greg Parent, PE, SE is a Senior Engineer in the Transmission and Distribution of Ulteig Engineering.  Greg has over 14 years of structural design experience and has spent the last 11 years performing the structural design of both transmission lines and Substations. He has been involved with the design and construction of over 800 miles of high voltage Transmission Lines and has performed the structural design of over 20 substations.  Greg has designed power infrastructure that support more than 16 GigaWatts of wind and solar projects. Greg has previously presented at TSDOS and CEATI conferences, Greg is a member of the ASCE Transmission Line and Substation Foundation Design Committee, and Greg is a registered Structural Engineer, SE, in Illinois, Hawaii, Nevada and Utah.

We are constantly seeking new ways to improve the way work is performed. A recent Ulteig innovation involves the integration of 360-degree video with GIS. We call it 360 VMI: Video & Mapping Integration. We’re using 360-degree cameras to collect videos of project areas by attaching the camera to a vehicle or walking down a corridor.  This video is then integrated into our web mapping system to allow the user to click on a map and start the video at the time stamp of that exact point. This application reduces the number of return trips to the field and gives us yet another innovative tool to communicate more difficult design situations with our internal staff and clients. Because innovation has no finish line.

6 tips to get the most out of Geographic Information Systems

Ulteig has a long history of providing centralized Geographic Information Systems (GIS) solutions to support our key Lifeline Sectors® of Power, Renewables, Transportation and Water. These GIS solutions are invaluable to the success of our projects. GIS technology supports engineering projects by combining the visual benefits of mapping with the power of a database.  The technology contributes to data asset management and project status tracking, and enhance communications between stakeholders throughout the project.

More Efficiency, Less Cost

One of Ulteig’s benchmarks for the value of GIS is a project developed for a Midwest electric utility company. This project received a National Recognition Award by the American Council of Engineering Companies for its design excellence.

While the designs developed by our engineering team were very accurate and met the client’s expectations, the team felt the project could be more efficient. Using GIS-based databases, workflows and applications, the team completely revamped the process to improve efficiency and deliver additional benefits from a new workflow. The Ulteig project team created a plan to meet project requirements by using GIS in field mapping applications integrated with centimeter-accurate GPS antennas and efficient GIS workflows for client deliverables creation.

Drawing on our experience with this project and others, here are six learnings for using GIS on your next project:

  • Don’t be afraid to question a good process. We had a good process in place and met the expectations of our client, but we realized it could be even better with the use of GIS technology. Challenging traditional thinking led to the development of a revamped approach to energy distribution design. By utilizing GIS technology, we increased the efficiency of this particular energy distribution design project, and now we look forward to leveraging GIS to other projects involving other industries to enhance project efficiencies. At Ulteig, we are continuously seeking new ways to shorten project timelines and enhance real-time project updates with fewer paper markups and corrections.
  • Choosing the right hardware and software is imperative. In incorporating GIS technology into the project, our Midwest Electric Utility team at Ulteig carefully considered the hardware and software with an eye toward efficiency. Of course we wanted to obtain the right data and of course we wanted to obtain as much useful data as possible. But what about the most relevant data? And what about data that can easily be shared and combined with data from other sources and make the entire work flow smoother? So, again, with an eye toward efficiency, we combined ESRI Collector for ArcGIS with Trimble survey-grade GPS receivers connected to ruggedized tablets to collect field data. The data created became an interactive inventory-map of the client’s existing utilities (poles, transformers, junction boxes, etc.), which was accurate to the centimeter and provided the data necessary to begin and carry out the design process. Pictures also were taken and attached to the collected features for later reference. Through integration with the utility’s GIS, the team could overlay available GIS data from city, county and utility databases. Using the collected existing utilities data and background data from other entities, we created a better design within the GIS application.
  • Leverage cloud-based web services to share real-time data. Leveraging cloud-based web services made it possible to share real-time design and right-of-way (ROW) easement acquisition data and project updates among all participants. This eliminated the need for redlined paper maps and minimized time-intensive conversations about design corrections. The inventory database and project updates were immediately accessible to designers, field engineers, surveyors, ROW agents and project managers, all connected by the application and its data, keeping all participants informed and on the same page.
  • Communicate early and often with key stakeholders, such as landowners. By proactively communicating early and often with landowners about acquiring easements and informing residents of proposed new equipment, we built trust. This was essential to the project’s success. To facilitate this communication, we created landowner communication maps. Live ROW and distribution data was incorporated into these maps, which allowed adjustments to be made on the fly when there were design changes or landowners refused easements. ROW, survey and design could use GIS to collaborate as a single team instead of independent silos. Addressing landowner concerns early in the process allowed for adjustments and prevented unnecessary and costly construction delays.
  • Leverage technology to better manage your time. All construction projects are driven by the proper management of time. Good time management can increase efficiencies, improve consistency and reduce costs. The Ulteig team developed a proprietary scripting process, which created final design PDF maps, ensuring a consistent and cost-effective product. The interactive GIS applications used throughout the project not only kept a constantly updated and accurate inventory of existing utilities, but also decreased in-field survey and in-office design time.
  • Never reach the finish line. Continue to find new ways to improve the way work is performed. For example, Ulteig recently added the use of 360-degree video cameras to collect videos of project areas by attaching the camera to a vehicle or walking down a corridor.  This video is then integrated into our web mapping system to allow the user to click on a map and start the video at the time stamp of that exact point. This application reduces the number of return trips to the field and gives us yet another tool to communicate more difficult design situations with our internal staff and clients.

Benefits of a GIS App

In summary, GIS has become a critical part of the Ulteig planning process. It’s a technology that we believe should be considered for most projects. Here are the benefits that we’ve identified:

  • Creating interactive inventory-maps
  • Sharing updated data in real-time with staff in the field and in the office
  • Decreasing survey and design time
  • Flexibility to scale data to the project parameters
  • Eliminating separate copies and versions of designs and data from a centralized database
  • Referencing facilities data such as size and type, and pictures from the office
  • Increasing accessibility to data
  • Tracking the status of design, construction, and easement acquisition
  • Connecting with intuitive modern smartphone apps and web apps

The Bottom Line: Consider GIS to Enhance Your Next Project

GIS technology is one of many innovative surveying services that Ulteig tailors to meet the unique needs of our clients. Our team uses the most advanced GIS software in the industry to provide customized geospatial solutions built around your business requirements. Ulteig’s wide-ranging GIS solutions range from data collection and custom mapping to GIS server solutions and technical support for utilities, commercial organizations and various levels of government. Our GIS service offerings include:

  • GIS Implementation Planning
  • GPS utility data collection
  • As-built document scanning and map data integration
  • Web and mobile GIS applications
  • ArcGIS Online Setup and Training
  • Site Selection Analysis 
  • 3D Modeling

If you’ve wondered if GIS should be incorporated into your next project, contact our GIS team at Ulteig. We can help you better understand the advantages of GIS both in the planning and building of your project, but also for the long term, when your project will need maintenance, retrofitting or repowering.

By Dan Haglund, Distribution, Ulteig

Dan Haglund is Ulteig’s Distribution Design Supervisor as part of the Field Services Team. He has more than 20 years of experience in implementing GIS solutions. He takes pride in finding ways to utilize GIS in practical and beneficial ways to improve efficiency, communicate better, and effectively manage projects.

Xcel Energy’s Michael Lamb shares insights about renewable energy and the power it has to transform our world and our lives.

Imagine that you’ve been working in the same industry for 20 years – and you’re more excited today about the potential your industry has to change the world – than when you started in the industry two decades ago.

As our world faces an omni-crisis consisting of multiple challenges, including COVID-19 virus, confronting systemic racism, climate change, and technological changes, there’s one person who sees his work and the company for which he works as a means to making the world a better place for all.

In episode 4 of the Ulteig Energy & Infrastructure Podcast series, Aaron Lauinger, Market Director–Transportation and Water for Ulteig, is joined by Michael Lamb, Senior Vice President, Transmission Systems for Xcel Energy, who shares his passion for clean, reliable, affordable energy and the transformational power it can have in improving our lives. Lauinger and Lamb are joined by Doug Jaeger, President and CEO of Ulteig, who provides an additional perspective on how renewable energy is converging with other Lifeline sectors, such as transportation and water, in creating change.

LISTEN NOW: Episode 5, Ulteig Energy and Infrastructure Podcast featuring guest Michael Lamb, senior vice president of transmission systems for Xcel Energy

If there’s one takeaway from this episode that you’ll remember it’s that power companies such as Xcel Energy, engineering firms such as Ulteig, and the construction firms that build and maintain our energy infrastructure, are on the front lines of immense change. In embracing a cleaner energy future, where we seek out a mix of renewables and clean energy sources, as well as better systems to transmit and distribute that energy, we are all having a powerful impact on the daily lives of people and businesses, as well as our world’s environment.

“We’re not a boring old utility,” said Lamb, who believes that his company is making a difference in solving climate change, while providing reliable, secure, affordable and environmentally clean energy. In addition to its focus on renewables, Xcel Energy, which has a large company footprint in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has made strong commitments to diversity and inclusiveness within its workplace.

Xcel Energy, like most companies, has not been immune to the economic effects of the COVID-19  pandemic. But if there’s a silver lining behind this crisis, it’s that Xcel Energy and its people have learned to be even more agile and flexible, bot in how the company serves customers and manages its workforce. It’s that kind of agility that will be needed in the years to come as the power industry embraces new ways of thinking, and new technology to achieving more affordable, reliable, secure, and cleaner energy.

“Like other companies, we’ve learned to be agile through this crisis,” said  Lamb. “More than 50% of our workforce are working from their homes, and we’ve taken a number of steps to keep our field staff safe while they perform their work.”

As noted by Jaeger, Xcel also has made a commitment to step up its support for communities in the areas it serves to bolster economic opportunities and help create jobs in light of the damaging effects that COVID-19 has had on the nation’s economy.

As Lamb explained during the podcast conversation, “We all want the same thing: reliable, secure, affordable, competitively priced and environmentally clean energy.” With incredible advances in new technology, everyone involved in the power industry has the potential to make a difference and have a real impact on our nation’s energy system.

In fact, Xcel Energy is the first major U.S. power provider to announce a goal of reducing carbon emissions 80% (from 2005 levels) by 2030, with a vision of providing 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050. And the company is well on its way, having reduced carbon emissions 44% in 2019, a record ten percent drop over 2018.

However, as noted by Lamb, achieving that ideal state, isn’t going to be easy. Why? It comes down to mindset.

“Change is hard,” Lamb said. “Our nation’s electrical grid was labeled one of the most important technological marvels of the 20th Century by the National Institute of Science. However, it’s 75-year-old technology.”

Jaeger added that the U.S. electrical grid was built for the transmission of electricity over short distances. The grid wasn’t designed for today’s modern day clean energy – where wind and solar is produced primarily in the Midwest and the West and sent over multiple state lines to the Coasts where it is most needed.

Looking ahead, Lamb said the U.S. power industry needs to continue to innovate, in order to produce the clean, reliable energy we all want, while keeping customer bills low. He sees the following changes necessary to achieve more affordable, reliable and cleaner energy:

  • Modernize electrical grids throughout the U.S. by upgrading the distribution system to increase 2-way power flows and increasing the ability for generation to be connected to it.
  • Invest in micro-grids that allow portions of the main grid to be isolated for security purposes.
  • Invest in scalable battery storage will be critical to making renewable energy more reliable.
  • Invest in infrastructure to support the growth of electric vehicles (EVs), which eventually be the predominant mode of transportation in the years to come.  EVs, noted Lamb, have the ability to both take energy from the grid, and to return energy back. Xcel Energy strongly supports EVs as one of many solutions to eliminating carbon from our environment.
  • Explore new fuel sources, such as hydrogen, which could be moved through existing pipeline structures, and advanced nuclear.

For many of these changes to happen, public policy at the state and federal levels will need to be reshaped, which includes more state and federal funding for renewable energy and grid modernization, and mandates that endorse clean, renewable energy.

In the meantime, Xcel Energy is forging ahead with its program, Steel for Fuel, the nation’s largest multi-state wind expansion, for instance, is an important step towards achieving its carbon reduction goals.

“Our vision of delivering 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050 is both an ambitious and an aspirational goal,” said Lamb. “We need new technology to develop and we are confident that it will.”

Launched in March 2020, the Ulteig Energy & Infrastructure Podcast spans Ulteig’s Lifeline Sectors® of Power, Renewables, Transportation and Water. It offers thought-provoking and engaging conversations with key industry stakeholders on technology, innovation, policy and funding. Click here to listen to the current podcast or download it through AppleGoogle Play, or Spotify.

Modernizing the electric grid has become a major priority for utilities across the United States. At Ulteig, our grid modernization experts are equipped to handle thorough assessments and plan development to meet each utility’s unique needs. 

Recently, Ulteig was engaged by the nFront Consulting group to assess a municipal utility’s electric grid. This project was part of an overall organizational evaluation to ensure the utility operated effectively and efficiently while creating grid stability and advancement. Ulteig was added to the project because of our wealth of transmission and distribution engineering, design, and operating experience that helped to meet specific customer needs.  

Project steps 

  • Ulteig interviewed key staff to ensure we had a clear understanding of the client’s unique electric system and day-to-day operations practices. This step proved vital in preparing the overall assessment.  
  • Next, our team evaluated the client’s distribution, substation, and transmission construction standards. We were able to identify areas that needed to be addressed as well as highlighting extremely successful areas. 
  • Then Ulteig evaluated recently completed projects and the client’s five-year budget plan to assess how its planning compared to industry standards. 

“Our experience with Ulteig was excellent by every project management measure. They staffed the project with well-qualified engineers, provided a detailed scope of services, and met both the demanding schedule and budget constraints of the project.” 

-nFront Consulting 

Results and takeaways 

Findings from this project enabled Ulteig to provide the client with insight into the state of their current electric system and effectiveness of their engineering processes. We were also able to enhance nFront Consulting’s recommendations to the client for organizational restructuring.   

This helped set the client up operate consistently with industry norms, meet their organizational goals, and address the needs of an evolving power industry. 

Authors: Jason Hall, Josh Guck, and John Barksdale 

Throughout his 12-year career, Jason Hall has focused on improving business and engineering practices to improve utility efficiencies, reliability, and customer service.  

Josh Guck has more than 8 years of electrical engineering experience and possesses a range of useful skills that pertain to electrical distribution systems. 

John Barksdale has more than 8 years of engineering experience, and holds a Project Management Professional (PMP) certificate and a Masters of Engineering in Electrical Engineering. 

In modernized electrical grid systems, an extraordinary amount of data can be obtained to help a utility better understand how its system is performing, and to pinpoint specific areas where improvements could be made.

That can be a major problem. These new systems can put out so much information, it can overwhelm a company as its engineers struggle to interpret, manage, and act on this data.

As you modernize your electrical grid with new technology and communications networks, you’ll see, quite quickly, that information can be obtained from a multitude of locations.

Not all of the information is equal in its value. Many of the devices and sensors built into a system house data at different sites and use different systems to access it based on the manufacturer. This is where you’ll need a system that has the flexibility to not only gather lots of data from a multitude of data points, as well as the horsepower to distill the data into meaningful information for your processing engineers to make sense of it to better manage your grid.

For devices implemented in large quantities that deliver frequent data, such as an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) system, a separate management system may be required to ensure the information is processed and stored properly. It is vital that an integration plan is developed for this network of systems to function properly and that the framework is set in place to ensure the maximum amount of data is captured and secured adequately.

Having the ability to accurately capture this data is only the first step in this process. Deciding what to do with the data and how to interpret it is an entirely different challenge.

With data continuously being transmitted and captured, it is imperative that it is reviewed, analyzed and acted upon on an ongoing basis. Laying out and enabling the correct processes will help ensure that this information is used to the utility’s maximum benefit.

So, as you go into your planning efforts to modernize your electrical grid system, give careful thought as to what information you want, why you want it, and how you’ll use that information to obtain a higher level of performance for your grid.

To better understand how to design into your system a better way of using data coming from your electrical grid modernization program, tap the expertise of Ulteig’s power generation and distribution experts. By choosing the right process for your utility, utilities can greatly improve system reliability, reduce grid costs, and maximize energy use. Ulteig delivers comprehensive design engineering, program management and technical and field services that strengthen infrastructure vital to everyday life.

Want to know more? Download Ulteig’s new white paper on modernizing the electrical grid — click here.

Author: Josh Guck, Grid Modernization Lead, Ulteig

Josh Guck brings nearly a decade of distribution engineering experience to Ulteig’s Power and Renewable markets. As the company’s Grid Modernization lead, he supports clients throughout the U.S. in developing innovative solutions to help navigate the fast-paced changes occurring in our industry.