T Line Sag Mitigator Gets Funding; Partner Wanted

Recall this UFTO Note?

Subject: UFTO Note – Sagging Line Mitigator
Date: Mon, 08 Mar 1999

This unique device would replace or work with standard insulated hangers on power transmission towers, to counteract the effect of temperature on the sagging of overhead transmission lines. This allows increased line ampacity (load current capacity) of existing lines during curtailed summer months, reduced tower heights, and/or increased tower spacing. This device will significantly reduce the risk of forest fires and outages caused by sagging lines, increase the efficiency of energy transfer, delay the need for additional line capacity, and delay the construction of new lines.
The developers now have substantial funding from the Calif Energy Commission to proceed with development, and they are looking for a host utility to be involved.

They’re proposing that a utility would provide the electrical engineering person(s) they need for the development team. They would cover part of salary and incremental costs. A “recruitment” notice appears below. Other business arrangements are also certainly possible. The important thing for them is to get industry expertise, and for the utility, early access to a possibly very significant transmission system innovation.

In my own discussions about this with some utility folks, the value of this device hasn’t been immediately obvious, so I asked the company about it. Here is their reply:

Question: How often is sag an important limitation?

Answer: Some lines are designed w/sag limits and some w/temperature limits (which again relate back together!). Also, there are lines for which winter loads (cold) are an issue (lack of sag – high tension). Our device would keep sag practically constant and hence will help these conditions. Benefits of such a device which keeps line profile constant are numerous and not all of them are obvious. In our contacts with transmission line experts, we have generally received favorable reposnse, however, I have also noticed that the benefits of the device may not be obvious to some. That, I believe, maybe because they consider load curtailment as part of design. However, from a designer/planner point of view, slim would make it possbile to increase those ampacities, which would lead to significant benefits.

SLiM can also solve a multitude of temperature related issues with these lines, including mitigation of fatigue loading/failures and reduction of high tensile loads during cold ice storms.

Material Integrity Solutions, Inc., specializes in mechanical and structural analysis and design of complex components for a number of industries including power generation, gas transmission, electronics, and manufacturing. The company is seeking partnerships and expertise in conductor and transmission system design, for development of the SLiM device.

Experience Requirements

Applicants must have excellent knowledge, expertise, and experience, as demonstrated by minimum of 5 years of utility transmission design and/or construction, in:

– Electrical and electromagnetic analysis/design of overhead transmission systems
– Design and analysis, technical and economic, of overhead transmission
systems including conductors, insulators, and towers
– Computer modeling of overhead transmission components for simulating
their electromagnetic behavior particularly in evaluation of their corona performance
– Materials used in and their behavior for overhead transmission systems
– Issues related to maintenance and integrity of overhead transmission systems
– Familiarity with Codes and Standards and knowledge of technical
committees applicable to transmission lines
– A minimum of B.S. degree in electrical engineering or equivalent
and excellent written communication skills are required.

The position is for a 1-2 year involvement in a multi-disciplinary team whose goal is to design, test, fabricate and market a new line of patented components for electrical transmission lines. The individual will be a key member of our team and will bring the expertise delineated above to the project and contribute to the successful implementation of this design. Therefore, the applicant must be highly motivated and self-directed, a hard worker, a fast learner, and a team player. The actual work will be performed at both our offices and applicant’s organization offices.

Contact: Dr. Manuchehr Shirmodhamadi
Material Integrity Solutions, Inc., Berkeley, CA
510-594-0300 mshir@misolution.com

Is DG like the PC?

This article by our friend Mark Mills appeared in World Climate Report, and again (modified) in the June 1 issue of Public Utility Fortnightly. A good reality check on the rhetoric of distributed generation. I especially like the point that there’s no “Moore’s Law” for electric power generation.



Distributed Generation is to Electricity as PCs are to…?

By Mark P. Mills

Distributed generation is the latest “killer application” at energy conferences and seminars. Global apocalysts say DG is to electricity what the PC has been to the computer industry. Just as PCs supposedly took down mainframes and the likes of IBM, so too will DG erase central, fossil-fueled power plants and big utilities.

Even otherwise serious vendors of DG technology have found themselves seduced into playing the climate change card in the hopes of benefiting from imminent federal largess.

DG enthusiasts believe the day will soon come when consumers can head over to Home Depot and buy a little “appliance” to take home, plug in, and supply all the power needed, grid-free. Prototypes already exist for a refrigerator-size generator that works like the “auxiliary power units” airplanes use to make electricity while sitting at the gate (don’t they make life comfortable?). The trade press is filled with DG hype. Independence (from those “evil” utility giants who’ve provided us with cheap power for 75 years) looms near.


Energy tech forecasters and global climate change scaremongers share an ally. The anti fossil-fuel lobby has for 25 years been predicting the imminent demise of fossil fuels, the planet’s primary energy sources, and the imperative to shift to something else. The climate change threat only increases the urgency of making an ostensibly inevitable transition to a post?fossil-fuel world.

What’s more, DG kills two birds with one technology: Fossil fuels and utilities, both of which apocalysts reflexively dislike. DG, they believe, will set us free of central coal-fired power plants. After all, coal supplies 55 percent of what goes into the power grid. And that percentage is unlikely to diminish.

Exciting things are happening on the DG front. But they will not have the transformative effect their advocates would have you believe they will. In fact, DG will not replace coal plants, but will complement them and almost certainly increase the use of fossil fuels and likely pit oil (not favored by apocalysts) against natural gas (reluctantly favored by apocalysts).


The PC analogy, while seductive, completely fails. Regardless of the astronomical growth in PC use, the venerable mother of computing’s “heavy iron,” IBM, is far from out of the picture as a major corporation, as its stellar stock performance this decade attests. IBM and its ilk are benefiting from, not being eviscerated by, the information revolution in all its forms.

The data traffic that PCs and the Internet create, and the data appetites expanding applications for computing create, are driving the market toward so-called “super servers”—the 21st-century version of “mainframes.”

But those using the DG: PC analogy usually mean to imply that DG stands on the threshold of rapid cost reductions, emulating the collapsing price and rising performance of PCs over the past 10 years. You hear them warning utilities that central station power plants will follow the fate of slide rules.

The PC price/performance trend arose from advances in the technology used to fabricate integrated circuits. Declining scale and increasing speed equal lower costs. It’s “Moore’s Law.” Still, though today’s desktop is more powerful than yesterday’s mainframe (and today’s mainframes are awesome), Moore’s Law just doesn’t apply to DG and electricity. Sorry.

Power plants have the distinct disadvantage of being constrained by a much longer-standing law, from the realm of physics—the Carnot limit for thermo-dynamic systems, which is the same for all power plants, big and small. Translation: The temperature of combustion sets the limit for the energy efficiency of burning a fuel. Size doesn’t matter; and small actually may be worse. Technologies to tweak efficiency are not only applicable to all sizes, but many of the tweaks are easier and more cost-effective for big iron. This basic tenet holds true for all of the DG technologies based on burning fuels, which are the most likely near-term DG systems.

PCs Ain’t PVs

But what of solar, wind, and fuel cells, the apocalysts’ true DG darlings? After all photovoltaics (PVs) are made from the same basic stuff as microprocessors. Sorry, the analogy still fails.

Sure, PVs are made from silicon (or similar materials) just like microprocessors. Here the similarity ends. To gain greater PC power, engineers make ever-smaller components of increasing density, thus expanding the total number of microscopic electronic devices per square inch.

But you just can’t make a smaller, more efficient PV. Rather, you need more (lots more) square inches—nay, square acres—of silicon devices to gather the fuel, which is in this case the sun’s energy. True the sun is limitless, but it’s just too darn far away to produce high-density power, hence the need for lots of acreage to gather the dilute power. (Not so of course on Mercury, where ponds would be molten metal, not water).

Wind power suffers from the same problem. Greater economy and power don’t come by making windmills smaller—you need bigger ones and more of them, lots more, to power a nation.

Then what of fuel cells, those intriguing devices that use electrochemical magic to make electricity without combustion? In brief: Too expensive and they still need fuel. The materials that make the electrochemical magic happen are expensive. Lower costs face basic, almost intractable (but probably eventually solvable) materials issues.

Fuel cells run on fuel, ideally hydrogen. Virtually all of the solar system’s hydrogen is in the sun: inconvenient. So we can make hydrogen here (expensive and energy-intensive) or use the hydrogen inherent in conventional fuels such as methanol and even gasoline, also a costly exercise. We will, to be sure, eventually see real advances in fuel cells, but they’re no threat today to the gigawatts of conventional generation.

Oil-fired DG

Which brings us to the last category for DG: microturbines and diesel engines. Most of the current market hype surrounds microturbines, which are really just very small jet engines tied to an electric generator. They do work, but they need fuel—usually natural gas, but oil works too. They still cost too much, and despite the hype, you still can’t buy one. Worse yet for efficiency mavens, they are less thermally efficient than central power plants.

That said, it is clear that practical and useful microturbines will emerge soon, and almost certainly in advance of any other new form of DG. The most likely near-term applications for microturbines will be in three areas: where reliability supercedes cost; where power is very expensive, capital scarce, and incremental power needs modest (Costa Rica, for example); and in meeting costly peak demands.

Remember last summer’s astronomical price spike for peak power during the heat wave? Just a few of those go a long way toward covering the higher costs for DG peaking. In all likelihood, the folks installing microturbines to shave peaks will be the same as those operating or selling coal-fired baseload power to create a seamless, blended reliable and economical power source.

Ironically, the only immediately cost-effective DG technology is the venerable diesel engine. So-called diesel-gen sets already exist by the tens of thousands, powering oil fields, small villages, and military bases. Recent advances in materials and controls have made diesels even cheaper and more efficient (better than microturbines), and exceptionally reliable. And you can buy them right now.

Power experts are already forecasting that deregulation will generate a boom in use. They can burn either oil or natural gas, and in most applications use the former. This is clearly not what apocalysts intend deregulation of utilities to effect.

Off-peak coal: a real “killer app”

Perhaps the worst nightmare for coal-haters is the potential of new technologies to achieve cheap off-peak kWh storage—distributed storage. Small, high-tech flywheels look promising (just park them outside beside your central AC unit). You spin them up at night with an electric motor powered by otherwise “wasted” and ultra-economical (maybe 1.5¢/kWh) off-peak power. The motor works as a generator in the daytime, drawing the kinetic energy off the flywheel. Easy, reliable, no new fuels, one moving part. Slick. Uses the cheapest off-peak power too; hydro (and nuclear) in a few places, coal everywhere else.

The capital costs for diesel gen-sets are already a lot lower than for central power plants. Given that, and the low cost of fuel, why isn’t every business making its own power already? Few end-users want the operational and maintenance hassles. Electricity coming off the grid is awfully low-maintenance. The collective cost of tending to millions of distributed (quirky) products remains the showstopper.

We’re all winners

Nonetheless, significant and viable niche markets for DG are inevitable, probably up to 10 percent of total U.S. demand. Once momentum starts building, and reliability grows, emerging technologies can make a noticeable dent in new supply. A critical leap for fuel-based DG will be cost-effective, network-based remote maintenance and monitoring of distributed equipment through advanced sensors, information technology, and neural networks.

Bottom line: DG is coming. The computer analogy does work in one way. Just as PCs are driving demand for mainframes, so too will DG drive demand for larger, more efficient and low-cost central power sources.

Physicist Mark P. Mills is a technology strategist and energy consultant and president of the research-consulting firm Mills McCarthy & Associates Inc.


World Climate Report is the nation’s leading publication covering the breaking news concerning the science and political science of global climate change. Available online at — http://www.nhes.com/home.html

Wave Power Nearing Commercial Reality

Over the years, there have been many attempts to harness the power of the ocean waves (and this is excluding tidal and ocean thermal schemes). A small company in New Jersey called Ocean Power Technologies (OPT) has worked intensively on this since the company began operations in 1994, and appears to have a solution at hand. Their story merits a close look.

OPT started its development effort with a revolutionary approach based on piezoelectric polymers, where wave motion flexes an array of strips of the material to generate power. That work reached a prototype stage, but it was determined two years ago that a polymer with lower losses was needed. A major DOD development contract is now underway continuing that effort. AMP Inc, a major investor in the company, supplied the piezoelectric material, and also provides cabling, hubs and connectors.

In a parallel program, OPT has come up with a hydrodynamic device that looks like a standard ocean buoy, and generates power from wave motion. The system uses standard off the shelf proven marine technology: buoys, mooring and anchors, and underwater power cable. These aspects are supported through a strategic relationship with Penta-Ocean Construction Co, Japan’s largest ocean engineering company.

Mechanical energy is obtained as the buoy moves against a self-contained “sea anchor”. Inside the water tight compartment, this mechanical stroke motion is converted into hydraulic pressure, which in turn drives a generator. Special electronic controls deal with the randomness of the input wavepower.

The technology is inherently modular. The initial 20 kW module (buoy) is a cylinder 20 m. long and 5 m. diameter, which rides at the surface, mostly submerged, and anchored to the ocean floor in 100 feet of water.

The company holds 12 patents, and 8 more are pending, but has maintained a very low profile. They have assembled a large body of knowledge and expertise on wave behavior, marine engineering, and oceanographics, as well as obtaining exclusive rights to certain related technologies. One year of ocean trials have been successfully completed.

(UFTO has been in touch with them since early 1995, and followed their progress closely until such time as it appeared appropriate to report. This summary provides the first real look at what OPT is up to.)

Recently, a large European company did extensive due diligence, and reported that OPT is far ahead of other wave energy programs (mostly in the UK and Scandinavia). Negotiations are underway to possibly form a separate joint venture company for Europe. An Australian utility has placed an order for the first system. The US Dept of Defense (particularly the Navy) is supporting projects for self-powering buoy-based systems, for remote power supply for naval bases, and for desalination. The company probably could bootstrap itself with these program revenues, however in the interest of moving faster they are privately raising an investment round of $10 M.

Estimates are that smaller systems (~500 kW) will deliver power at 7-10 cents/kWh, while larger (grid connected) systems > 10 MW will do it at 3 – 4 cents. (Capital cost of $2700/kW) Installations of 100 MW would occupy about 1/5 of a square mile, out of sight from shore. Installation and commissioning would be quick. Duty cycles should be 80-90%, and highly predictable. Sites are abundant all over the world. Systems would even provide additional environmental benefits of reducing beach erosion and supplying fish habitats.

The company is very interested in participating with a major utility in the first installations.

Contact: Dr. George Taylor, President, 609-730-0400, oceanpwr@aol.com

POLUX – Non Destructive Wood Pole Inspection

The POLUX system of wood pole inspection is a new non-destructive evaluation (NDE) technology that is being increasingly used worldwide for wood pole inspection and management. POLUX and its analysis software K-Store offer a fast, much more reliable and more cost-effective means of testing and managing a utility’s wood pole fleet.

POLUX is a hand-held portable instrument to test the condition and strength of wood poles, non destructively, in the field. It gives an instantaneous indication (red or green light) whether the pole is safe to climb, and an estimate of the expected remaining service life. It succeeds where other attempts have failed, by measuring both compressive strength and moisture, and correlating the two variables and comparing against parameters developed from measurements under controlled conditions. A handheld computer provides visual data display. (Future plans may include incorporation of GPS.)

POLUX was developed and commercialized in Europe by a Swiss company with funding from Electricite de France. EdF has accredited it for safety and has adopted it as their only acceptable method for wood pole testing. More than 100 instruments are in use in Europe, validating its performance and providing a base of experience. The instrument is manufactured to ISO 9002 standards and the testing procedure has been certified ISO 9001 in Europe.

Pole + Management Inc., in Montreal, is the exclusive licensee in North America for the POLUX technology. The company has done exhaustive testing and calibration (i.e. for the different wood species used in the Americas), and is now beginning to market it. They made their first major public showing at the April IEEE T&D show in New Orleans.

In 1998, Pole + began inspections for a dozen small utilities in Ontario, and also performed wood pole inspections for Ontario Hydro on some of their transmission lines. Hydro-Quebec did tests at their research center IREQ which compared POLUX, sonic, drill, x-ray, and other methods of pole inspection– the POLUX measurements consistently had the highest correlation ( r > 0.85) with the actual residual breaking strength of the pole. (reports available). Other utilities who have also evaluated different methods of measuring pole strength, concluding that sonic testers do not correlate with the pole breaking strength and that a valid instrument must have a correlation of at least r > 0.7.

The strength of a pole is proportional to fiber stress and to the cube of the circumference of the pole. Almost 80% to 90% of the bending capacity in a typical utility pole is developed in the outer 2 to 3 inches of the shell. The center portion of a pole adds very little to its bending strength, so voids or decay there are far less important.

Many US utilities rely on core samples (to detect the presence of decay) and treatment programs, but this can give a false sense of security, and be less cost effective in the long run. (Treating a pole that doesn’t need it can sometimes actually reduce its strength and remaining life!) In some companies, work practices and union rules may hinder adoption of this different approach, but the company (and Europe!) is convinced that it is the better way to go, for many reasons.

Benefits from Reliable Non-Destructive Wood Pole Inspection
– Decisions based on reliable, repeatable, objective data, independent
of operator interpretation
– Capability to decide when to replace, retreat or strengthen poles
– Capability to plan purchasing, storage, and maintenance needs
– Long term trend patterns will provide a sound basis for new, cost-effective
and ecologically sound strategies for pole selection, placement, re-inspection
and maintenance
– Reduce capital and maintenance cost
– Improve system reliability and customer satisfaction.

The company will send on request a CD-ROM that provides the complete story. Also, their website gives a good introduction to the technology and concepts.

They are looking for U.S. utilities to participate in small pilot demo programs, where the company will test several hundred poles (at $10 each).

Contact: Edward Ezer, Pole+ Management, Inc. (Montreal, Quebec)
514-947-0122 eezer@poleplus.com

(UFTO has been following these developments since mid 1996.)

E Commerce & Utilities

At the recent PICA meeting in Santa Clara, there was a good session on ecommerce and utilities. Here’s the summary from the program. The actual list of presentations follows.

The Power point presentations themselves are TEMPORARILY available for downloading on line (and I have ecopies). I caught part of the Anderson Consulting presentation, and thought the characterization of the various segments was rather well done.


Panel Session 1: “e-Commerce in Electric Utilities”

Tuesday, May 18th, 2:00 – 5:00
Moderator: E. Dobrowolski, KEMA Consulting

“Where Do You Go From Here – Preparing for the Future”
Edward P. Meehan, Managing Director, Legg Mason Wood Walker, Inc.:
410-454-5525 epmeehan@leggmason.com

With the quickening pace of electric utility deregulation, utility executives are faced with growing challenges on a daily basis. Couple that with the emergence of e-Commerce as a new driver of corporate strategy and the complexity of your business increases geometrically. As regulated utilities look forward, they need to evaluate how to utilize e-Commerce from a defensive basis to reduce costs and streamline operations and from an offensive position to provide superior customer service and develop new business opportunities. One of the challenges today is to understand the strategies being developed by potential competitors and identifying how to bring such competencies in to your organization. We will look at what is developing in this market and raise some focused issues on the new competitors you may be facing.

“e-Commerce and the Virtual Utility”
Paul Daugherty, Partner, Andersen Consulting &
Brad Holcombe, Partner, Andersen Consulting: 212-708-8279 paul.r.daugherty@ac.com

e-Commerce offers transformational opportunities for Utility companies in both business-business and business-consumer interaction. This topic will discuss the new “virtual” business models that are possible with e-Commerce.

“Practical Experiences in e-Commerce”
Aaron Daisley-Harrison 425-451-3100 aaron_daisley-harrison@dmr.ca &
Lloyd Robinson, DMR Consulting 206-521-2178 lloyd_robinson@msn.com

Orchestrating a successful e-Commerce project involves all of the classic issues that have faced IT with the added complexity of needing to stitch together software and platforms that were never conceived to work cooperatively. Experiences from actual projects will be presented and the many pitfalls along the road to attaining the brass ring will be pointed out.

“TransaXions and the Internet: E-Commerce for Energy”
Adam E. C. Yeh, Development Manager, Connext:
206-521-2302 yeha@connext.com

Whether itis delivering reports, authorizing payments, collecting usage information or scanning records, Internet based E-Commerce provides the most cost effective way for business-to-business and business-to-customer transactions. Both Energy Service providers and their customers should be looking at this new form of interaction and business model to evaluate their bottom line savings. Technical issues for deploying Internet technology and E-Commerce solutions in the energy industry, especially in the areas of billing, customer metering and energy transactions will be presented. Emphasis will be on the system architecture and the Graphic User Interface.

“Providing Deregulation Benefits to Non-Traditional Players through the Internet”
Frank Koza, General Manager, UniGrid, LLC:
215-841-5240 fkoza@peco-energy.com

UniGrid is an Internet based system that is designed to provide the benefits of the newly deregulated energy industry to the Commercial & Industrial sector. The concepts behind UniGrid will be presented with emphasis on the potential uses through the Internet. Leveraging technology from other industries to accomplish this goal will be highlighted.

“Energydirect.com: The Internet Business Strategy for the 21st Century Utility”
Will Knight, Director, Online Business wrknight@southernco.com 404-506-4956
& Martha Driscoll, C&I Online Business Development 404-506-2317 madrisco@southernco.com

Why companies should view customer access as a value-creating asset. Leveraging the Internet as a customer acquisition and retention tool in a competitive marketplace.


(Powerpoint presentations)

Panel Session #1 — Tuesday, May 18th, 2:00 P.M.
e-Commerce for the Power Industry

Where Do You Go From Here – Preparing for the Future
Edwin P. Meehan, Legg Mason Wood Walker, Inc.

eCommerce: The Virtual Utility
Paul R. Daugherty, Andersen Consulting

Lloyd Robinson, Aaron Daisley-Harrison, DMR Consulting

Transactions and Internet E-Commerce for Energy
Adam Yeh, Microsoft Corporation

Developing an Internet Business Strategy for the 21st Century Utility
Martha Driscoll, Will Knight, Southern Company

e-Commerce for Electricty
Edward G. Cazalet, CEO Automated Power Exchange, Inc.