Have you ever wondered how much data smart grids collect? On this week’s Energy Bite, Richard Huntsinger, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

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HOST: Have you ever wondered how much data smart grids collect? On this week’s Energy Bite, Richard Huntsinger, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

HUNTSINGER: A smart meter in a smart grid typically measures electricity usage every half-hour. For a city of say 2 million households and buildings, that would result in the smart meters measuring about 35 gigabytes of data per year, which would comfortably fit in the memory of an iPhone. More detailed measurements could be collected, too, though, like for usage of every heater, cooler, light, and appliance in each home or building. Add to that all the extra data used in computers necessary to manage the smart grid operations and analyze the smart grid data – and the amount of data adds up to much, much more.

HOST: Is all that data secure?

HUNTSINGER: Utilities normally treat smart grid data as private and take data security very seriously. Researchers only have a handful of smart grid datasets available to them, and these datasets are anonymized, so that any information that can be used to determine the electricity usage of a specific household has been removed. The Government has just started to put in place more formal rules around smart grids and privacy. California, for example, now has rules to ensure that consumers have access to smart grid data collected about their homes, and that anyone else has only controlled access.

HOST: Do you worry about the security of your electricity usage data? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

Are researchers using smart grid data? On this week’s Energy Bite, Richard Huntsinger, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

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HOST: Are researchers using smart grid data? On this week’s Energy Bite, Richard Huntsinger, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

HUNTSINGER: Researchers are using it a lot. At Carnegie Mellon University, for example, we developed a software system to analyze about 800,000 electricity demand forecasts made using a wide variety of forecasting processes, based on data from smart grids in Dublin, Ireland and Sydney, Australia. This is the first study to systematically look at so many forecasting processes using detailed data on real consumer electricity usage. When viewed in this broad context, the smart grid data reveals some interesting things that we otherwise wouldn’t be sure about.

HOST: What have you learned from smart grid data?

HUNTSINGER: In our study, we see that forecasters using techniques that do a good job of predicting electricity demand in one location do not necessarily do well anywhere else. However, there are some techniques that do pretty well across many locations, though they aren’t the best for any one location. We also see that you can get good forecasts with data from just a small sample of households, say 10-20% of the full population of a city – but, forecasting based on grouping households with similar electricity usage behavior surprisingly does not help much. With more research on data from more smart grids, we’ll see how well these results hold up.

 HOST: Do you ever think about how your electricity usage data is used to predict electricity demand? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

Have you ever wondered what a smart grid is? On this week’s Energy Bite, Richard Huntsinger, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

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HOST: What is a smart grid? On this week’s Energy Bite, Richard Huntsinger, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

HUNTSINGER: A smart grid is an electricity distribution network that includes smart meters. The meters collect data about electricity usage for a household or building. They are like traditional meters, except that they measure usage not every month, but rather every hour or half-hour, and they send this information directly back to the utility.  Usually, smart grid also means so-called smart appliances in homes and buildings, which use data to run more efficiently, and perhaps alternative electricity resources like solar and wind generation.

HOST: What is the benefit of a smart grid over the traditional electricity distribution network?

HUNTSINGER: Right now, utilities are using smart grids to more efficiently measure and bill you for electricity usage. Some are also analyzing smart grid data to better understand their customers’ electricity usage behavior and how pricing incentives could benefit them. At Carnegie Mellon University, we are starting to analyze smart grid data to learn how electricity from solar- and wind-generated sources is affecting overall electricity usage, and how forecasters can better predict electricity demand.

 HOST: Have you ever wondered how your smart meter is helping measure your bill effectively? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

Forecasting electricity demand is difficult. But, why is it so hard? On this week’s Energy Bite, Richard Huntsinger, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

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HOST: Forecasting electricity demand is difficult. But, why is it so hard? On this week’s Energy Bite, Richard Huntsinger, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

HUNTSINGER: Utilities plan for electricity in advance of when it’s going to be used, based on forecasts of electricity demand, and then they add reserves just to be safe. The less sure they are of the predictions, the larger the reserves. Those reserves are expensive if it turns out you don’t need them. So, it’s important that (1) electric providers’ forecasts are accurate, but also (2) utilities understand how confident they can be in their forecasts. It’s actually pretty tricky to get both of these things right.

HOST:  What else makes predicting electricity demand so difficult?

HUNTSINGER: When consumers generate electricity with solar panels on their roofs or wind turbines in their backyards, this makes it more difficult for utilities to forecast electricity demand. They’ve worked out the computer models that they use to forecast electricity demand to take into account electricity that they’ve planned to produce, as well as how consumers will likely use it. However, now, forecasters need to enhance the computer models to account for unplanned electricity from these alternative energy sources that they know much less about than traditional sources. Effectively, they have to forecast several things at once that all interact with each other. It’s quite challenging. 

HOST: Do you generate electricity with solar panels or a wind turbine? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

How do electricity providers forecast electricity demand? On this week’s Energy Bite, Richard Huntsinger, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

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HOST: How do electricity providers forecast electricity demand? On this week’s Energy Bite, Richard Huntsinger, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

HUNTSINGER: Electric providers use computer models to forecast electricity demand at different horizons – the short-term horizon, say a day to a week ahead, the medium-term horizon—a month to a year ahead, and the long-term horizon—a year to many years ahead.  The different models are used for different purposes and forecasters rely on different information to make their predictions.  All the models have some elements in common, but generally, utilities must create their own unique models specific their own consumers’ particular electricity usage behavior, because situations differ across locations.

HOST: How are these different kinds of forecasts used and what information do forecasters rely on?

HUNTSINGER: Electric providers forecast demand for shorter horizons to decide how much electricity to produce or contract for, which must be committed to in advance of when it will actually be used. Forecasters rely on information about historical electricity usage, temperature, when holidays will occur, and other factors that are known to influence electricity demand. Forecasters predict demand for longer horizons to decide how much to invest in new sources of electricity. They rely on information about population growth, the economy, and other factors.

 HOST: Would you support electric providers investing more in new sources of electricity? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

Have you ever wondered why electric providers predict electricity demand? On this week’s Energy Bite, Richard Huntsinger, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

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HOST: Have you ever wondered why electric providers predict electricity demand? On this week’s Energy Bite, Richard Huntsinger, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

HUNTSINGER: Electric providers forecast electricity demand to guide them on how much electricity they need to distribute. If they plan for too much electricity, it will be wasted. That’s expensive – and bad for the environment. Unlike with other forms of energy, electricity can’t be used later; it must be used precisely when it’s produced or it’s gone. If companies plan for too little electricity, this means they have to obtain extra electricity from somewhere else on short notice, and that’s expensive, too. If companies predict for way too little electricity, there just won’t be enough even from somewhere else, and that means a blackout, a short- or long-term loss of electric power, can occur.

HOST: What are the latest advances in forecasting electricity demand?

HUNTSINGER: Forecasters of electricity demand are starting to use “big data” techniques, the ones already being used to make self-driving cars, predict consumer buying trends, and search for cyber threats. Big data techniques, of course, require a lot of data to work well, and fortunately, there is a lot of data starting to come from new smart grid implementations that can be used for this purpose.

 HOST: Do you think utilities do a good job of forecasting your electricity demand? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

Have you ever wondered where the first nuclear power plant built for domestic peacetime was located? On this week’s Energy Bite, Joel Tarr, a professor of Carnegie Mellon University has some answers.

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HOST: Have you ever wondered where the first nuclear power plant built for domestic peacetime was located? On this week’s Energy Bite, Joel Tarr, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

JOEL: The Shippingport Atomic Power Station was the world’s first full-scale atomic electric power plant devoted exclusively to peacetime uses. It was located, about 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh and was built in 1957. The station was created and operated under the direction of Admiral Hyman Rickover, who was known as the father of the nuclear navy. It was decommissioned in 1982 because it couldn’t go on forever.

HOST: Are there any nuclear power plants near Pittsburgh today?

JOEL: Today, FirstEnergy Corporation operates the Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Station in Shippingport about an hour from the city near the Atomic Power Station site. The world’s largest supplier of nuclear technology is Westinghouse Electric Company, headquartered in Cranberry, Pennsylvania in the Pittsburgh Region.

HOST: Do you live near a nuclear power plant? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

What fuel did Pittsburgh’s first street lamps consume? On this week’s Energy Bite, Joel Tarr, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University has some answers.

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HOST: What fuel did Pittsburgh’s first street lamps consume? On this week’s Energy Bite, Joel Tarr, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

JOEL: The first street lighting in Pittsburgh came in 1816 when a few whale oil lamps were distributed in the downtown area. In 1837, however, the first gas lights were installed in the city. They did not burn natural gas, but rather gas made from coal. The coal gas manufactured and processed involves distilling the mineral in a retort to drive out the volatiles to produce gas. Bituminous coal from western Pennsylvania mines was the best base to use to make gas.

HOST: How did we get to electric street lamps?

JOEL: As the use of electricity for lighting developed due to the efforts of inventors like Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, competition developed among the gas companies and electrical companies over the lighting market. The first electric street lights installed were arc lamps followed by incandescent lights. The gas industry tried to meet the competition from electric lights by developing the Welsbach Mantle that provided a much brighter light than the normal gas light (Think of today’s Coleman lanterns used for camping). Eventually gas and electric companies combined. Over the years, gas was used less and less for lighting and used more and more for purposes such as cooking and heating of hot water.

HOST: Do you think understanding the historical context of energy developments can provide insights for the energy future? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

Have you ever wondered if there were ever natural gas wells within the city of Pittsburgh’s boundaries? On this week’s Energy Bite, Joel Tarr, a professor of Carnegie Mellon University has some answers.

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HOST: Have you ever wondered if there were ever natural gas wells within the city of Pittsburgh’s boundaries? On this week’s Energy Bite, Joel Tarr, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

JOEL: Today, natural gas wells are forbidden within the city of Pittsburgh, but back in the 1880s, dozens of them existed. The initial ones dug were in the East End. In 1918, faced by a fuel shortage, Carnegie Institute of Technology – what is now known as Carnegie Mellon University – dug a natural gas well on its campus. The gas supply, however, was exhausted by 1922.

HOST: Why are cities attempting to limit natural gas wells within their boundaries?

JOEL: Communities are concerned with the environmental damage, noise pollution and possible health problems created by natural gas drilling and operation. When communities and natural gas drilling operations merge, it creates a sort of industrial district. The ability of communities to keep hydraulic fracturing outside of their borders has been a controversial issue. One year ago, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided that zoning could be used to prevent drilling.

HOST: Would a natural gas well near your office influence your decision to work there? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

Have you ever wondered what cities used to be the nation’s centers for refining petroleum? On this week’s Energy Bite, Joel Tarr, a professor of Carnegie Mellon University has some answers.

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HOST: Have you ever wondered what cities used to be the nation’s centers for refining petroleum? On this week’s Energy Bite, Joel Tarr, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

JOEL: In the 1850s, oil was discovered in northwestern Pennsylvania near what is today known as “Oil City.” Oil City is in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania in Venango County and it became the nation’s first oil producing region. Oil was initially shipped on barges down the Allegheny River to refineries in Pittsburgh. By 1870, there were at least 20 refineries in Pittsburgh.

 HOST: How have the location of refineries changed over the course of history?

JOEL:  Refineries sprang up in Cleveland and by the 1870s there were more there than in Pittsburgh.  The largest refiner, John D. Rockefeller, bought out the independent refineries and came to dominate the refining industry.  Oil was shipped to Cleveland via railroad and Rockefeller was able to negotiate with the railroads for cheaper rates. Pittsburgh refineries gradually lost out and Pittsburgh interests blamed the Pennsylvania Railroad for prejudice against the city in its rates. Today there is no oil refinery in the city of Pittsburgh although there are two refineries still operating in the Oil City region refining Pennsylvania crude.

HOST: Did you know Pittsburgh was once the nation’s center for refining petroleum? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.