AEP Sustainability - Innovation

IllumiNation Energy Summit & LAB

On May 15-16, 2019, AEP will co-present the IllumiNation Energy Summit with The Ohio State University, Battelle Memorial Research Institute and Smart Columbus. The Summit is designed to ignite conversations that reimagine the future of energy and how we can collaborate with our various stakeholders to make it happen. The Summit will feature panel discussions, immersive technology experiences and thought-provoking discussions with policymakers, technology companies, customers and other stakeholders.

In early 2019, AEP launched IlluminationLAB, a strategic initiative designed to identify innovative technology solutions that will drive improved performance and enhance customer experiences in the energy industry. IlluminationLAB will help AEP find promising new technologies and innovative ideas focused in four areas – customer experience; grid optimization; efficiency, operations and maintenance; and electric mobility/electrification. We partnered with innovation specialist L Marks to help identify promising entrepreneurs and early growth stage companies in the energy sector to apply. If selected to participate, each tech start-up will work directly with an AEP mentor and industry experts for 10 weeks to help advance and shape its idea or technology. The start-up will be given access to working space, potential funding and the chance to develop products, platforms and processes that will help AEP expand its technology-driven offerings and processes. In addition, the start-ups will have the opportunity to further develop their companies alongside leading subject matter experts in the energy sector.

Enterprise Innovation

At AEP, innovation has been part of the fabric of our culture for more than a century. Today, our sights are set on the next 100 years. In 2018, we formed an Enterprise Innovation and Technology team to establish an experimentation process to bring forward ideas that deliver value to customers, test them and, if validated, deploy them. Our strategy is to bring technical and business insights to AEP while seeking partnerships and potential investors to bring new products and services to market.

The speed of innovation is measured in two ways, the rate that learnings are translated into new value and the speed in which that value is delivered to customers. The faster the velocity of learnings the more cost-effective and likely a new value will be discovered and delivered to customers. AEP’s innovation company, Kyte Works, was created to give us the ability to validate an insight or concept in the same way a start-up company would.

For example, we developed a pilot process to validate microgrid and distributed energy technologies using a shared value business model. The shared value model produces benefits for the grid and society while addressing specific customer needs. We interviewed customers and employees who work with customers to gain insights. We will use what we learned to develop a value proposition and present a valid business case for the expanded use of microgrids and distributed resources.

We focused on commercial and industrial customers who might be willing to pay for the specific benefits offered by these technologies. For many large industrial and commercial customers, energy is a major factor in their success.

Our plan to develop microgrids as part of AEP Ohio’s Smart City initiative is an example of creating shared value. The planned microgrids, which received regulatory support in 2018, would be designed to maintain power in areas where critical public service facilities, such as police and fire stations, medical facilities and emergency shelters are located. This also provides a measure of resilience for the local communities.

In 2017, AEP Transmission piloted the use of a remote-controlled robot for inspecting the internal components of power transformers using a decommissioned 1950s-era transformer. Today, our Generation team also uses autonomous underwater vehicles, known as remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), to conduct inspections of submerged equipment. Crews use ROVs to inspect intake screens, storage tank liners and other submerged facilities at our dams and power plants. Using ROVs instead of human divers, saves time and money, and avoids the safety hazards associated with working in confined, submerged spaces. We are also conducting similar robotic inspections at our coal-fired plants, achieving similar cost and safety benefits.

Spark Tank Challenge

As technologies advance at an unprecedented pace, our customers expect us to develop innovative solutions and technology to move us into the future. In 2017, we launched our first enterprise wide Spark Tank Challenge, challenging our employees to collaborate, amplify and pitch their innovative ideas as products or services that customers will want today or in the future. Our intent is to convert viable ideas into revenue streams for AEP that bring value to those we serve.

The ideas were evaluated by AEP’s Innovation Council before being presented to a panel of internal and external judges. A handful of ideas made it to the last round; some were reserved for future development; and others offered continuous improvement value. We invited employees to participate in another innovation challenge in 2019, called Spark Tank 2.0.

AEP’s Enterprise Innovation Council (functions represented)

Transmission Strategy & Innovation
Chief Customer Officer Enterprise Innovation & Technology
Charge Regulatory Affairs
NERC Reliability Assurance Strategic Investment
External Affairs Utilities
Chief Information Officer Regulated Generation Development
Corporate International Affairs Distribution Asset Management
Advanced Transmission Studies & Technology Customer Solutions & Policy
Innovation & Technology

Smart City

AEP continues to play an important role as a Foundational Partner in the Smart Columbus initiative that began in 2016 when the City of Columbus, Ohio – home to AEP’s corporate headquarters – won the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) $40 million Smart City Challenge. Columbus was awarded an additional $10 million for the initiative from the Paul G. Allen Vulcan Foundation. Smart Columbus is executing on its vision to reinvent mobility, improve people’s quality of life, drive local economic growth, improve access to jobs and job opportunities, foster a sustainable community and become a world-class logistics center.

As a partner, AEP supports and contributes to the Smart Columbus priorities where we can have the greatest impact. Our initiatives include modernizing the transportation network with incentives to increase the number of electric vehicle charging stations and reducing carbon emissions in the electric power sector through energy efficiency and grid modernization.

This includes making strategic investments in a seven-county region in central Ohio to establish the smart grid as the platform for a clean energy future. While the partnership is focused on central Ohio, the lessons we learn will benefit all of AEP. In 2018, we continued implementing several smart technologies to modernize the grid, including:

  • Deploying smart meters throughout Columbus and across Ohio. Since 2017, we have installed over 700,000 smart meters in Columbus and across the state, and our goal is to install more than 900,000 smart meters. In a filing with state regulators, we are seeking approval to complete installation of smart meters for all of our remaining Ohio customers. This will enable real-time data collection, such as meter readings and power outages.
  • Leveraging distribution automation circuit reconfiguration (DACR), which detects outages and reroutes energy to quickly restore service.
  • Deploying Volt/VAR Optimization, which enhances our ability to monitor and control voltage across the system.
  • Providing customers with real-time information on their energy usage through a mobile app, which gives customers greater control over their energy use.

Read more about these technologies in Grid Modernization.

As part of this initiative, AEP Ohio helps drive consumer adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) by removing barriers and investing in and supporting the deployment of EV station infrastructure. In 2018, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) approved AEP Ohio’s Electric Security Plan (ESP), supporting expanded access to EV charging infrastructure and authorizing up to $10 million for incentives to support it.

In August 2018, AEP Ohio launched its Electric Vehicle Charging Station Incentive Program for business customers. This enables the installation of hardware and networking for 300 Level 2 and 75 direct current fast charging stations throughout Columbus and our Ohio service territory. This is a critical step toward enabling faster adoption of EVs.

To ensure underserved communities also benefit from having access to this technology, we will locate a minimum of 30 Level 2 chargers and eight fast chargers in low-income areas in our service territory, as required in our ESP agreement. Since 2016, AEP has invested approximately $12 million in fleet electrification. We are also pursuing a plan to invest approximately $175 million to improve energy efficiency, advance clean energy and energy storage, and usher along the electrification of transportation systems throughout the state.

AEP Ohio also received approval for renewable generation and reliability improvements to the distribution system. Up to $10.5 million was approved for demonstration microgrid projects targeting nonprofit, public-serving AEP Ohio customers, such as fire and police stations, municipal and medical facilities, social service agencies, emergency shelters and water and sewer facilities. Microgrids provide resiliency to a community in the event of a major outage event by allowing critical services to stay connected and serving vital community needs.

AEP Ohio will invest up to $200,000 to research ways to continue developing and to maintain Smart City efforts in the long term. We are excited about the opportunities this partnership provides, including improving quality of life in our communities through innovations in transportation and data collection.

In October 2018, Columbus, Ohio, was selected one of 20 winning cities in Bloomberg Philanthropies’ American Cities Climate Challenge. The Cities Climate Challenge is a $70 million program to promote efforts in cities to fight climate change and provide a more sustainable future for their citizens.

Columbus is using resources from the Cities Climate Challenge to establish a workforce development program for energy efficiency auditors to increase the number of homes that receive an energy audit. The city plans to expand programs for financing energy efficiency and renewable energy for commercial buildings. AEP Ohio’s robust energy efficiency programs support the city’s goals and help broaden our reach in delivering energy efficient solutions and clean power to customers.