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Matt Chester's picture
Energy Analyst Chester Energy and Policy

Official Energy Central Community Manager of Generation and Energy Management Networks. Matt is an energy analyst in Orlando FL (by way of Washington DC) working as an independent energy...

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Energy Central Power Perspectives™: Getting to Know Richard Brooks, Your Expert in the Load Management Community

Posted to Energy Central in the Load Management Group

image credit: Energy Central

As our second installment in the ‘Getting to Know Your Expert’ interview series, a part of our Power Perspectives™, where Energy Central is profiling some of the legacy experts who have been officially listed at that role and providing invaluable insights for the community, today I have the pleasure of sharing a conversation I had with Richard Brooks who is an expert in the Load Management Community (as well as the Digital Utility Group).

Richard, who you can call Dick, is one of Energy Central’s most active experts and chances are you recognize him from submitting articles and providing insightful comments across the platform. Dick definitely epitomizes the value of Energy Central’s network of experts and is one of the industry leaders who is ready to help out fellow utility professionals who are a part of this community.

With a career that has spanned many years and given him knowledge in numerous disciplines, as you’ll read, Dick is a great example of the expertise that is at your disposal when you engage with the Energy Central community. Read about his fascinating career and perspective, and then be sure to drop him a comment to say hi or ask a question next time you see him in a discussion in the comments of an Energy Central article:

Matt Chester: You’ve had a long career in the utility field and have had the benefit of touching many different aspects of the industry. What got you involved in this career path to start with and how has your journey across different facets of utilities shaped your background and viewpoints of the industry today?

Dick Brooks: I worked at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) for 17 years (now part of HP), mostly in software engineering roles, and in 1990 DEC transferred me to Birmingham, Alabama, to work with Southern Company on their EMS 2000 project and Alabama Power. In 2004, after being laid-off from DEC, I started a consulting company TECH-COMM Inc. which eventually evolved into Group 8760, where I served as Chief Technical Officer from 1994 to 2001 and was responsible for the development of B2B software products used in the deregulated Gas and Electric Industries to exchange encrypted/signed EDI payloads via the Internet, which has been in operation since 1996 and processes over $65 Billion in transactions annually, at present.

In 2004 I joined ISO New England as the Lead Enterprise Architect, where I designed and helped implement the Company’s Service Oriented Architecture and developed the Company’s “green field” Business Intelligence and Advanced Data Analytics platform starting in 2010, until I took advantage of an early retirement option in November 2018. After 24 days in retirement mode, I started Reliable Energy Analytics, a consulting company. I’ve been fortunate to participate in deregulation of the industry, from nearly the beginning, focusing on the development of software solutions.

Now, I’m experiencing the next big wave of change in our industry, decentralization of the supply chain and the prosumer movement.  A large part of my involvement over the years has been in the development of industry standards (NAESB) for data exchange and cybersecurity. Both data exchange/integration and cybersecurity have evolved rapidly and there is more work to do, especially with regard to cybersecurity in the implementation of NERC Supply Chain standards and data exchange standards to facilitate Green Buyer activities such as voluntary Renewable Energy Certificate (REC) processing. FERC Order 850, which goes into effect on July 1, 2020, will have a significant impact on operating procedures within electric companies as they look for solutions to perform verification of software object integrity and authenticity, which is not an easy task to accomplish, by any stretch.

 

MC: When discussing how utilities must handle a growing and increasingly complex energy load across its customer base, what do you think are the unique challenges that are arising today that weren’t an issue 10 or 20 years ago? What strategies and mentalities will utilities need to embrace to prepare for this new paradigm?

DB: The implementation of consumer side supply resources, such as behind-the-meter photovoltaic (BTMPV) and battery storage, will have a profound effect on both the utility business model and its system operating plans. BTMPV is a most unusual form of generation/supply in that it can represent either supply or demand, from one second to the next, autonomously. More sophisticated tools will be needed to co-optimize grid services in order to maintain system balance and stability as more BTMPV and other weather dependent supply resources come online. There has been some discussion of the need for a new role, called the Distribution System Operator (DSO), as a compliment to the ISO’s. If the DSO concept becomes mainstream then we should expect to see a more orderly evolution over command and control of distribution level resources, which could also introduce new types of market concepts at the distribution and retail level, including peer-to-peer transactions between microgrids with the DSO serving as the clearing party/exchange.

One area that certainly needs greater attention from utilities is load forecasting, the ability to forecast wind and solar generation based on near-term weather prediction and the ability to predict increased dependence on grid resources when supply shortages occur at the distribution level. Another area that utilities need to factor-in is the desires for green buyers to secure their own long-term capacity resources and fixed power contracts. As you can see, there are lots of changes coming together all at once, making it difficult for utilities to manage all of these rapid changes, and remain profitable.

 

MC: You’re quite experienced in both questions of load management/capacity markets as well as cybersecurity concerns in the energy industry. Can you comment on how these two aspects interact with each other? How does the future of load management dictate the type of cybersecurity protocols that will be needed?

DB: The State of Hawaii provided us with a wonderful opportunity to study the impact of increasing amounts of distributed energy resources on grid stability and this led to some insights that resulted in changes to industry standards, such as IEEE 1547-2018 which defines the various operating modes for inverter-based resources, such as solar and wind distributed energy resources. Many of these devices will be configured to operate autonomously, but will also have an online method to update their software component, opening the door to a wider attack surface for hackers to infiltrate the power system.

One thing you learn quickly when working at an ISO, as I did for 17 years at ISO New England, is just how fragile and vulnerable the grid is to unintended operational disruptions and the growing potential for cyber intrusions to disrupt the system, as the attack surface expands out into the distribution system through DER devices and other devices, such as Phasor Measurement Units (PMU) and home-based IoT devices. This combination of “more resources to manage” and a larger “attack surface for hackers” will require more advanced, automated methods in order to maintain stability and resilience of the system. We must learn to operate the grid and energy markets with a “will-fail mentality” and design our systems for resiliency, when these inevitable failures do occur. You cannot prevent all types of failures, so better to learn how to be vigilant and adapt in order to remain resilient.

MC: One of the important areas of focus as utilities continue to evolve will be the type of pricing structures and marketplace arrangements that are adopted. Are there future types of developments in this regard that you’d expect to come around anew in the next decade, or are the strategies that will be used already widely available and it’s just a matter of fine-tuning?

DB: Capacity Markets, in particular, are experiencing turbulence, largely due to a combination of powerful forces such as the prosumer movement, green buyers securing long term capacity/power contracts, State-based clean energy initiatives and the economics of renewable resources (LCOE) becoming competitive with other forms of generation. One area that is gaining traction and holds great potential, is the use of market-based Capacity Exchanges, such as REBA and Level Ten offer, where energy buyers can transact with parties offering green energy supply, under terms agreeable to both the buyer and seller. Frequently these power purchase agreements (PPA) are in force over multiple years. Existing capacity markets aren’t designed to accommodate this buyer/seller type of transaction as they employ an auction-based model, whose generated income is insufficient for most generators to ensure their availability. This is resulting in the implementation of anti-market activities, such as fuel security payments in order to ensure resource availability. I can easily envision more capacity exchange transactions occurring, largely due to the flexibility provided to consumers to take control over their own energy destiny as capacity markets continue to flounder.  I’ve submitted a proposal for a Capacity Exchange standard to the North American Energy Standards Board.

 

MC: You’ve undoubtedly become one of the fixture voices in the Energy Central community, both in contributing unique content as well as sharing your insights on articles submitted by others. What keeps bringing you back to the Energy Central community and how does the use of it help you in your day today?

DB: Energy Central was an amazing discovery for me and I’m glad I was able to participate in the conversation. Originally, I had considered starting a blog of my own, but when I discovered Energy Central, I knew I found the right place for me. EC provides a unique opportunity to learn from the best of the best, and engage with passionate, smart people that are critical thinkers and not afraid of sharing their opinions. The community is respectful and professional and the support staff, Audra and Rachael, are proficient and dedicated to helping the community thrive – they are a true role model of what customer service should be. I should also say that you do a fantastic job as our community leader in keeping the energy level high with your ongoing engagement and leadership. I have been a beneficiary of your hard work and I thank you for all that you do for the Community.

 

MC: Is there anything else you’d like the community to know?

DB: We are fortunate to be experiencing the changes underway in the energy sector. You don’t often get the opportunity to partake in the type of creative destruction taking place now and this means there are lots of opportunities for young people to influence the future of our industry and for veterans, like myself, to play our part in the transition. It’s imperative that everyone does their part to ensure a reliable electric system now and into the future, using an orderly and collaborative approach. Safe, reliable, cost-effective electricity is far too valuable to risk.

 

 


 Many thanks, Dick, for taking the time to share his insights with me in this interview and for the tireless work he does as an expert at Energy Central. As I said, you’ve likely already seen Dick around the community so now that you know more about his background don’t hesitate to reach out to him to say hello or to tap into his vast experience. The value of Energy Central comes from our vast and interconnected network of utility professionals, so be sure to take full advantage.

The other expert interviews that we’ve completed in this series can be read here, and if you are interested in becoming an expert then you can reach out to me or you can apply here.

Discussions

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Mike Cassity's picture
Mike Cassity on Oct 2, 2019

Matt thanks for the post. Being a relative newcomer to the energy world I was particularly intrigued by your discussion of a potential Distribution System Operator and its interaction with the ISOs. Having lived through the telecom deregulation era I would appreciate your thoughts on what parallels you see between what happend in the telecom space and what is happening with the "creative" dissruption occuring now for utilities.

Richard Brooks's picture
Richard Brooks on Oct 2, 2019

Thanks for the question Mike. I'm not very familiar with the telecom evolution so I can't really provide a reasonable correlation to the energy transition. As a customer of both, I can say that the energy transition seems to provide a more granular/flexible service offering in that I can receive my power from any supplier servicing my area, but that's not possible for cable, as I'm limited to use the only supplier in my area. Mobile telephone service, on the other hand, does provide a similar level of flexibility/consumer choice. So in that regard, perhaps the mobile telephone carriers correlate well with the Distribution System Operator function that the energy industry has been discussing. Thanks.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Oct 2, 2019

Mike-- I tagged in Dick to provide his insights as he's the expert here, but I can also provide my two (less informed than his) cents. 

There are definitely parallels in that infrastructure 'locked us in' to certain ways of doing things in telecomm and it took a lot of momentum to finally overcome that, but the technology had to be unquestionably better and affordable before that was able to happen-- but now here we are and it's hard to look back. If I'm hooked up to the central grid in a traditional sense without any microgrid capabilities, any prosumer generation, in the future, will my kids look at me with a raised eyebrow like I currently look at my parents for their landline phone in lieu of a cell phone? Perhaps-- only time will tell.

Another interesting parallel may come from areas that can 'leapfrog' technology. Countries and regions that were industrializing and advancing their economies at the time of the big telecom revolutions were able to pass by the existing technologies that were legacies in already modern economies, going straight to mobile telecom and saving a load of money and headaches in the process. I think distributed energy may play a similar role for currently advancing areas that aren't yet hooked up to a major, central grid. 

Mike Cassity's picture
Mike Cassity on Oct 3, 2019

Matt from my POV I think you nailed it. The drivers of the telecom change were definitely better technology (or at least equal), more choice, better service and better price. All the claims of network dissruption proved to be incumbent posturing in the long run. Once the technology moves and consumers see the benefits of choice it is very difficult to stop the shift. The leapfrog phenom is also a great point and I agree with your point on DG.

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