Wilson Energy Elevates the Town’s Gig East Initiative
If you live in Wilson, you’re no doubt familiar with the term Gig East. The Wilson-specific coinage refers to the town’s set of programming, community events, and networking that are focused on economic development, technology and innovation.
Gig East has three components:
The East Exchange — is an innovation center, coworking space, and the home base of an accelerator program that is currently in development.
The meet-up series — is a convention for people in the community and the region at-large who gather together on a bi-monthly basis to discuss topics related to technology, entrepreneurship, innovation, and more.
The summit — An annual event that brings together thought leaders across the nation who discuss what the future of communities like Wilson will look like. The day-long conference focuses on opportunities for growth and setting up Wilson for success in the future.
“Gig East is a community where we are trying to create an ecosystem of people in Wilson and from the Triangle who can contribute to the future of Wilson,” said Will Aycock, General Manager of Greenlight Community Broadband with the city of Wilson.
So, how does Wilson Energy fit into all of this?
At a basic level, innovation and technology can’t happen without power. Aycock noted that Wilson Energy has been a key player in the economic development of the city and that “Gig East is really additive to these economic development endeavors.” Investment in infrastructure, remaining engaged in workforce development programming, and supporting municipal leaders all factor into Wilson Energy’s contribution to the Gig East initiative.
“We’re trying to be forward looking and we understand that innovation is an important aspect of economic development,” Aycock said. “Additionally, we know that creating opportunities for Wilson to be appealing to the people who are currently in the urban areas of our state is important. So, creating jobs and meeting demands is imperative.”
It’s a known fact that Wilson’s high-speed Gigabit internet connection certainly puts it ahead of other cities in the state and beyond. What may not be as easily recognizable though, is the benefit of having a localized full-service utility department that includes broadband, electric, gas, water, and energy. Ayock pointed out that having a full-service utility that is “completely focused on the health and growth of the community” is a competitive advantage that propels Wilson forward.
“If our employees live here, work in the system everyday, know our customers and our community and understand the needs of Wilson, it allows us to provide a higher level of service,” he said. “Because we have all of these assets together, we’re able to be very forward looking in what we’re doing in technology.”
To remain competitive and relevant, Wilson has heavily invested in its infrastructure with things like automated outage and load management, along with other offerings to ensure a higher quality of customer service. One look at Wilson’s AMI system, Greenlight connectivity, and other Smart City resources proves the town is bringing the concept of Gig East to life.
“Wilson utilities is one team, all working together,” Aycock assured. “We’re working together to provide comprehensive service to our customers and all of these things we’re doing, from Smart City efforts to the Exchange, are about helping to make Wilson a healthier and happier place for our citizens and our employees.”
Protecting Our Customers From Price Volatility
Better Forecasting Technology Helps Pass Cost-Savings Onto the Community
What do a polar vortex, unseasonably warm temperatures and pipeline issues all have in common? They each add to the volatility of the complex natural gas market.
As with most commodities, natural gas is subject to significant volatility in pricing – which occurs primarily due to seasonal changes in the weather that impact supply and demand. After all, no one cares about natural gas during the summer when we’re busy cranking up the air conditioning here in North Carolina.
As we move into the cold months, however, the demand for natural gas goes up – right along with the price.
At Wilson Energy, we’ve been working hard over the past year to put advanced forecasting technology to work in order to limit the impact this volatility has on our customers. As a local municipality, our goal is to be good stewards to this community and to our customers by maintaining exceptional reliability while keeping tabs on costs. To do this, good data and even better forecasting is key.
It’s All About Accuracy
Regardless of the industry, all businesses aim to improve their margin of error. In the natural gas business, this means determining how much gas we actually need ahead of time, which requires us to predict what our customers will need. While we’ve been forecasting this for years with relative accuracy, there are certainly cases when we’ve simply bought more gas than we needed when prices were high. In these instances, we‘ve had to sell our inventory back at a loss – which leads to higher costs all around – for us and for our customers.
Think about it – when fueling your car, do you fill up your entire tank and stock up a reserve tank when gas prices are at their highest? Or, do you stock up when prices are at their lowest and buy just enough to get to where you’re going when prices reach over $3 per gallon? It’s the same for us with natural gas, which is why accurate forecasting is critical here at Wilson Energy.
Putting Technology to Work
Fortunately, our Data Management team has recently put a new database to work that provides us with access to real-time data that’s based on historical usage, weather forecasts and other factors. This new technology helps us take the guesswork (and manual processes) out of predicting how much natural gas our customers will need. This allows us to buy just what we need, and helps us avoid spending too much on extra inventory during the costly winter months.
Fine-tuning this process isn’t easy – it comes with an incredible amount of data to process. Factors like wind-chill, hour-by-hour temperature forecasts, and much more all play into forecasting how much gas our customers will use on any given day.
The Bottom Line
By evaluating historical patterns and weather forecasts, Wilson Energy’s database tool is allowing us to make better decisions, more quickly. The good news? It’s working. Before implementing this technology, we’d see fluctuations of 5-6 percent in any given month. Having access to good, timely data has flatlined that volatility down to a 1 percent margin of error.
More accuracy from our team means better cost management for you. And that’s something we can all feel good about, no matter the season.
When you hear the term “load management” you may think of someone hurriedly offering to help another person carry several bags of groceries that are moments away from falling to the ground. While that surely is helping someone “manage a load”, load management is a term that refers to something a bit different when it comes to energy.
Load management, also known as demand side management, is the process of balancing a network’s electric supply through adjusting and controlling the “load” (i.e. how many people are using power and how much power is being consumed). These adjustments can be made in a variety of ways which include:
Managing demand at the highest usage time
Using generators to reduce the load of a business
Cycling residential air conditioners and water heaters on and off, or reducing the system voltage
Duke Energy is Wilson’s energy supplier and has 7.2 million customers throughout the United States. It owns 58,200 megawatts of peak generation and base-load, which is distributed to all its customers. Wilson reduces the city’s load as much as possible during Duke Energy’s monthly one-hour peak load — times when Duke Energy is at its peak capacity hour during the month. The peak time varies from month-to-month, with the peak time being in the mornings during the winter months and in the afternoons during the summer months. (It’s colder in the winter mornings and hotter during summer afternoons, which requires more energy from your HVAC system.) Half of Wilson’s monthly utility charges comes from this peak hour.
To manage the load, Wilson has a supply of city, commercial and industrial customer owned generators that it switches on during this peak hour. Load management switches have also been added to residential water heaters and air conditioners. For example, during the summer months, air conditioners that are equipped with load management switches are cycled on and off as a way to reduce energy usage. Wilson Energy also does voltage reduction at the substation level.
So, why manage the load?
Though load management has been around for some time, not everyone is aware that it’s being employed. The primary reason for load management is the associated cost savings for both the city and the customer. Though it varies, Wilson’s load management practices can result in over $16,000,000 in savings a year, before expenses. When you add that up for all the residents and businesses in Wilson, that’s a lot of money!
Load management has short and long term customer benefits. In the short term, commercial and industrial customers can save on their monthly bills by reducing load during recommended load management times, via generation and/or onsite load reduction methods. Also in the short term, residential customers can receive credits on their monthly bills of up to $68 per year. This is possible by having load management switches installed on their air conditioners and electric water heaters. In the long term, load management will allow Wilson to keep the electric rates down for all customers.
Load management is a great addition to the technologies that Wilson is already employing to make it a smarter, more efficient city for residents and visitors alike. If you have questions about how load management affects you or your business, please reach out to Wilson Energy for more information.
Wilson’s Smart Grid System
When you make your coffee in the morning or flip on the lights at night — you’re using the grid. “The grid” refers to the electrical grid of transmission, network, and power lines that connect you to the electricity you use everyday. For example, when someone says they’re going “off the grid” they usually mean they will not be accessing public utilities or electricity, and will not be reachable through technology.
A Smart Grid system takes being “on the grid” up a notch. So, what is a Smart Grid? As Smartgrid.gov defines it, a Smart Grid employs “digital technology that allows for two-way communication between the utility and its customers, and the sensing along the transmission lines is what makes the grid smart.”
A Smart Grid is basically a network of smart tech that connects a user (you) to a service or utility (like electricity). It’s an updated and more efficient version of a previous system — kind of like when libraries switched over from card catalogues to computer databases for checking out books.
The City of Wilson utilizes a Smart Grid system with an automated meter interface (AMI). Wilson replaced its electric utility meters with AMI meters. These digital meters are able to pull all sorts of data such as amperage and voltage information in real time. These AMI meters are connected to Wilson’s Gigabit Greenlight fiber optic network, so the Wilson Utilities team can access all the information — either remotely or through its database.
Getting readings on the server in real time allows for the Wilson Utilities team to track information as it’s happening. It’s incredibly useful in building better profiles for customers who want information on their usage history. For example, if the meter reads that a customer has a spike in their water usage on a particular day, it could be an indication of a leak. Or say an electric meter needs to be turned off, but there’s no crew member available to come out to the resident’s home to do so. Not a problem — with the Smart Grid system technology, the most meters can be turned off remotely.
A Smart Grid system is a win-win situation for both Wilson and its residents. It increases efficiency as it gleans useful information that can help residents keep their utility costs down and saves the city’s utility department money, as fewer team members are being sent out into the field for tasks that can be done with the click of a button. Customers have information at their disposal so they can make educated decisions about their utility usage, rather than only retroactively after they’ve been billed. Workers are also able to perform more menial tasks remotely, which is helpful since electricity is a 24/7 operation.
Other benefits of a Smart Grid system include:
Faster power restoration after an outage
Reduced peak demand (which can help lower utility costs for customers)
Integration of Wilson’s fiber network with customer-facing services
Additionally, the Wilson Utilities team uses the Lineman’s App. It’s an app that is available for workers to download on any device. All of Wilson’s electric crews have iPads that they can use to access AMI readings, file billing information, or communicate with residents through the Lineman’s App. This cuts down on paper workflow and increases efficiency as well.
Wilson’s Smart Grid is one aspect of its technology efforts as it grows to become a smarter and more efficient city for residents and visitors alike.