An Efficiency Game Changer

Saving Energy Atop the Poles
Jan 9, 2017 9:05 AM ET
If your electricity is a draft beer, “reactive power” would be the head – Volt/VAR gives you a perfect pour.

The following article is taken from “An Efficiency Game Changer” chapter of Dean Seavers’ Democratization of Energy eBook. 

When I talk to our customers, it’s clear that many of them share the same top priority about electricity: when they flip the switch, the lights go on. Yet, I’ve learned that what happens behind the scenes – and what affects the service those customers see every day – is much more complex.

The electricity industry is one of the few to master “just-in-time” manufacturing. Electricity is produced as it’s needed. Unlike many products we use every day, electricity cannot be stored, put on a shelf and delivered at a later date. Instead, there is a comprehensive 24/7 effort nationwide to monitor and generate electricity on-demand. There are many challenges to delivering electricity in real-time and meeting fluctuating energy needs.

Now, consider the fact that the electric grid dates back more than a century. This combination of a complex industry, supported by an aging infrastructure, has resulted in some real challenges, including wasted energy as it’s transported from one location to another over miles of cable.

The U.S. is dead last among developed nations when it comes to energy productivity. Shockingly, as a nation, we waste more energy than we use. A whopping 57 percent of the energy flowing into our economy is lost as heat, noise or leaks.

However, it doesn’t need to be that way. Understanding where, why, and how energy waste occurs is now possible thanks to advanced technology. In Rhode Island, we are deploying Volt/VAR optimization equipment as a cost-effective way to limit energy loss on our distribution network. 

Volt/VAR helps to reduce losses as electricity travels from generating plants, through the transmission network, into substations, and ultimately to homes and businesses by monitoring what we call “power factor.” Think of a draft beer. Some would tell you there is an art and science to pouring it. It’s all about getting the right ratio between the head and the actual beer.

Now imagine the beer is the electricity that powers our appliances, charges our phones, and meets our energy needs. It is the power that does all of the work. 

Our electricity also contains something called “reactive power” (the head of the beer), which takes up space. If the head of beer in this example had been double in size, it would leave less room in the glass for the real power that does all of the work.

So what does all of this mean? Customers pay for both reactive and actual power. The goal is to limit the wasted reactive power and create the right ratio of power factor for the grid to operate most efficiently and affordably. 

Volt/VAR is a smart technology that monitors the power factor in real-time, helps to regulate it, and thus limits line losses. Volt/VAR also helps our customers’ devices – from TVs and electric stoves to industrial machinery – function more effectively, reducing their monthly bills. In short, it is a high-tech energy efficiency tool.

For starters, we’re investing $6.2 million in Volt/ VAR technology in Rhode Island to benefit 16,000 customers. As a result of this investment, we are expecting a three percent reduction in energy demand.

While many of our customers might never know about Volt/VAR technology, they will see the impact of it at the end of the day: more reliable power, less expensive power, and a cleaner, more efficient electric grid. Imagine that three percent savings multiplied by the 20 million people we serve. Now we’re talking about real money, a real impact on the environment, and a real 21st century electric grid. 


About the Author

Dean Seavers joined National Grid in December 2014 as President of National Grid in the U.S.

Dean’s long career has included leadership roles at GE, United Technologies, and Tyco. He led GE Security, a $2 billion product and technology group, and he also led a $4 billion global services portfolio for United Technologies.

At Red Hawk Fire & Security, Dean’s most recent venture, he was a founder and served as President and CEO. Red Hawk quickly became the second largest independent fire and security platform in the U.S., providing integrated security solutions to large and mid-sized commercial customers.

Dean has a strong background in financial strategy, performance improvement, and operational leadership. At National Grid, his focus is on continuing the performance progress that underpins the company’s U.S. business while driving its Connect21 agenda of building the advanced natural gas and electricity networks that are the foundation of our 21st century digital economy.

A native of Sandusky, Ohio, Dean graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in business from Kent State University and earned an MBA from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.

Dean and his family have a home in Boston.

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