For the first time in our 80-year history, EPB began generating electric power this year. Solar Share, Chattanooga's first community solare projects, includes 4,408 solar panels producing 1.4 megawatts of renewable energy - enough to meet the annual power needs of roughly 130 average households.
In fact, Solar Share set two distinct performance records this year, one on June 28, 2017 when the system generated its maximum possible daily output of 8,500 kWh. A second record was set on April 10, 2018 when the system achieved its maximum instantaneous output of 1,020 kWh, meaning that all 17 of Solar Share’s 60 kW inverters were producing their full load potential at the same time.
Launched in July, Solar Share offers customers an easy, affordable way go solar without the hassle of installing and maintaining their own panels. So far, a total of 2,225 solar panels have been licensed to 419 residential and commercial customers in exchange for green power generation credits on their monthly electric bills. Now that Solar Share has proven to operate flawlessly at full capacity, efforts are underway to continue engaging the community in supporting renewable power generation.
This year EPB energized a 100kW/400kWh Vanadium Redox Flow Battery system at the Solar Share site. In partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the Department of Energy, this pilot project explores how large-scale energy storage can be integrated with smart grid automation to provide consistent output from highly variable power generation sources like solar. The advanced battery unit has the capacity to store bulk energy during off-peak hours so that the power can be released during times of higher power demand. As well as enhancing EPB’s local power distribution infrastructure, the project is part of a national research effort to explore the best use of cutting edge grid technologies around the nation.
The next logical step in ensuring the reliability of a community smart grid is to isolate certain geographic areas into “microgrids” that can operate independently in order to better narrow outage risk, and reduce outages. This year, EPB’s Smart Grid Research Team partnered with the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport to utilize its solar deployment to establish a microgrid that includes integrated power storage and scalable energy distribution equipment.
This experimental microgrid is designed to expand and provide power to a larger area during a brief outage. During a longer disruption, it narrows to make sure airport lighting continues to operate. When energy is produced at a high capacity, the microgrid serves as a starting point for storing energy that can be utilized later during periods of higher power demand.
EPB’s microgrid research partnership with the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Tennessee Valley Authority and the Electric Power Research Institute is exploring opportunities to apply this and other advanced smart grid technology to future projects within EPB’s 600-square-mile service area.
EPB’s Smart Grid Research Team is also utilizing sensors deployed in substations throughout Chattanooga to monitor and report data such as changing environmental conditions, excessive transformer heat, security threats and other critical information. Also installed are devices that measure solar irradiance and report how changing cloud cover impacts interconnected solar power generation. All of this information can be used to help determine microgrid specifications and optimize power use in the future.
When the remnants of Hurricane Irma pounded the Tennessee Valley last September with high winds and heavy rain, Chattanooga’s smart grid prevented outages for 72% of customers who would have otherwise been without power. That’s tens of thousands of homes that remained comfortable and connected because a complex network of smart switches and sensors worked together to re-route power around problem areas. This storm was just another example of how Chattanooga’s smart grid prevents power interruptions and saves EPB customers about $50 million each year.
As federal policy on Internet Privacy and then Net Neutrality began shifting, EPB Fiber Optics made a commitment to continue to uphold its customer-focused approach to providing internet services. Going against the tide of lower standards for internet service providers and an industry that often hides behind complicated terms and conditions, EPB established its Customer Care Pledge to give Fi-Speed Internet subscribers peace of mind when it comes to their internet access and privacy.
In easy-to-read language, the Customer Care Pledge re-affirms EPB’s ongoing commitment to never sell its customers’ browser information or play favorites with online traffic so that customers can access different kinds of internet content at the same fast speeds without paying extra. The pledge also highlights EPB’s long-standing policy of not throttling customers’ online speeds or imposing data caps. The Customer Care Pledge is available here: https://epb.com/customercarepledge
This year EPB launched two billing options and a mobile app to help customers better manage energy costs. Levelized Billing allows customers to pay a rolling 12-month average of their energy use for a more predictable bill that doesn’t change dramatically during the hottest and coldest months. EPB Pre-Pay is another new billing option where customers can pay in advance for electricity without having to put down a security deposit. In addition, EPB also launched MyEPB, a free mobile app that enables customers to see their energy use in real-time, set billing threshold notifications and more. This year a customers downloaded MyEPB 25,509 times, and accessed it 333,810 times.
This summer, EPB engaged bright young minds by participating in five mentoring programs
This year EPB also provided the infrastructure and expertise to support the City of Chattanooga’s city-wide WiFi platform called NoogaNet in parks, recreation centers, ball fields and other public spaces. By adding 123 Access Points in 44 locations, EPB helped the City of Chattanooga create free WiFi hotspots throughout the city while supporting Mayor Andy Berke’s vision for constructing one of the most robust public WiFi platforms in the Southeast.
This year EPB explored new opportunities to utilize more advanced technology solutions to help drive Chattanooga’s fast-growing economy. Now that nearly every business depends heavily on fast, reliable WiFi connectivity, EPB enlisted the help of a new vendor to assist us in upgrading EPB’s commercial WiFi product. The new product was designed to maximize faster internet speeds, handle more connections per access point, provide better range and improve overall user experience. In addition to a 77% increase in average monthly revenue over last fiscal year, results included better performance for high-volume users such as tech companies, universities, restaurants and retail, multi-dwelling complexes and entertainment venues.
In keeping with their goal of promoting economic development by making Chattanooga a living laboratory for tech start-ups, EPB helped host entrepreneurs and developers who are using voice-enabled technology to grow the innovation economy at the first-ever Alexa Conference.
EPB also sponsored TenGIG, an internet gaming conference that attracted thousands looking to interact and engage with the titans of the tech and gaming worlds. Attendees also had the opportunity to play the biggest games in eSports including Killer Queen, the most exclusive arcade strategy game in the world, over the world’s fastest community-wide fiber optic network. Attendees at both conferences were also afforded opportunities to explore the amenities that make Chattanooga a great place to live and work.
Making new and existing living spaces fiber-ready ensures they are properly equipped to handle the growing dependency on reliable broadband. Along with energy-efficiency measures, EPB encourages homebuilders to also prewire homes for fiber optics service through their Smart Build program. Installing appropriate wiring only costs a few dollars more during construction, but it adds tremendous value to any home for years to come. As a result, EPB added 11 new Smart Build-approved contractors (for a total of 36) this year.
Together they constructed 177 new Smart Build-certified homes. New construction of Multi-Dwelling Units (MDU’s) such as apartments, condos and townhomes is exploding with the influx of new residents moving to the Chattanooga area. With fiber optics capabilities added to new construction in addition to more and more older facilities, the availability of their internet, television and phone services for MDUs in our area now totals more than 24,000 residences – which represents 75% of the total local MDU market.
In fact, 38% of EPB’s new fiber optics customers this year are MDU residents – making these facilities an important part of expanding our reach while providing even more people in the community with greater access to fiber optics services, whether they rent or own.
As part of ongoing initiatives designed to reduce workplace accidents as well as risks, EPB’s Safety Department partnered with various community organizations to conduct 1,906 employee training hours this year. Courses that included defensive driving, first aid and CPR helped achieve a 75% reduction in workplace injuries this fiscal year as compared to last year.
EPB also enhanced its Emergency Action Plan to help ensure employees and customers visiting EPB facilities are safely evacuated and accounted for in the event of natural or other disasters.
This year EPB launched a program to educate first responders about appropriate safety precautions around electric infrastructure. Fire, police, paramedics and other emergency personnel as well as public works employees who may come into contact with substations, transformers, downed power lines and other energized EPB equipment were taught how to safely exit vehicles and react to potentially dangerous situations.