Five Questions with NYPA’s Gil C. Quiniones

Part of a series of insights from leading smart-grid, clean-energy, and utility experts speaking at gridCONNEXT. Questions asked by Clean Edge managing director and gridCONNEXT co-chair Ron Pernick.

Ron Pernick:  The New York Power Authority (NYPA) is playing a central role in New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) initiative to transform the state’s grid. What are some of the key initiatives you have launched to support REV’s clean energy and efficiency targets? 

Gil C. Quiniones: In December 2017, NYPA opened its Integrated Smart Operations Center (iSOC), a cutting-edge monitoring and diagnostic center for our generation and transmission facilities. The iSOC directly supports Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s REV initiative by making our energy system more efficient and affordable. It uses GE’s digital predictive analytics software to identify problems and issues before they occur. This prevents potential service outages and reduces repair and replacement costs. It also helps us plan for operations and maintenance, and capital expenditures through condition-based or health-based maintenance and capital upgrades. Those cost reductions mean lower costs for our customers, and the New York State energy system as a whole. 

Additionally in 2017, NYPA’s Energy Efficiency group helped reduce our customers’ annual electricity bills by $9.4 million at more than 270 public facilities across New York State, while reducing peak electricity demand by nearly 4 megawatts and greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 40,000 tons a year. These achievements support Governor Cuomo’s REV goals of making our grids cleaner and more affordable.

Further, NYPA issued requests for proposals (in conjunction with a separate request from the New York State Research and Development Authority) for several renewable generation products, such as energy, renewable energy credits, and capacity. NYPA’s customers will be able to opt in to these renewable energy products in ways that best meet their clean energy goals. 

Together, the two solicitations aim to procure 2.5 million megawatt-hours of renewable electricity, which would be the largest such procurement by a state in U.S. history. To put that in perspective, all of the wind farms in New York produced just under 4 million megawatt-hours in 2016. This procurement is a big deal.

Pernick: You’ve been quoted as saying that NYPA will be the “first end-to-end digital utility in the United States, maybe in the world.” What do you see as the greatest benefit of becoming a fully end-to-end digital utility?

Quiniones: NYPA will harness the power of big data, advanced analytics, and machine learning through our three digital hubs to enable a cleaner, more resilient, and more affordable energy system in New York. It is also our hope that all this data generated by our end-to-end digitization will create an ecosystem of collaboration, innovation, and partnership with third parties, technology developers, and customers.

For example, as explained above, our iSOC uses predictive analytics software to forecast and prevent issues affecting our power plants, substations and transmission lines. The iSOC is unique because it's end to end – monitoring our generation and transmission assets, customers, cyber security, physical security and our communications network. And, if there is an emergency, it becomes our emergency operations center. The iSOC currently looks at over 24,000 data points from our generation and transmission assets.

Our Advanced Grid Innovation Lab for Energy (AGILe) is a digital model of the New York power grid created under a partnership with the other New York utilities. AGILe lets NYPA and its partner utilities simulate large portions of the transmission grid, testing the impacts of technologies such as distributed energy resources, electric vehicles, and energy storage.

And our New York Energy Manager (NYEM) platform gives customers unprecedented insight into their electricity consumption, allowing building managers to use real-time data to improve building energy performance, reduce environmental impact, and lower energy bills. Today, NYEM monitors 11,000 buildings and counting!

Pernick: Is there something unique about the structure of being a public utility, versus an investor owned utility (IOU), that puts you in a strong position to reach your digital ambitions?  

Quiniones: Public utilities don’t have shareholders who demand specific monetary returns. NYPA’s focus is on benefitting New York State customers and stakeholders. Our goal is to ensure they receive the best possible value on their energy bill. Our clean power programs help support 840 customers and 400,000 jobs.

NYPA’s status as a public power entity allows us to take a longer-term view of projects than traditional IOUs can. One of NYPA’s major priorities involves helping New York achieve its goals under Governor Cuomo’s Clean Energy Standard, which calls for 50 percent renewable electricity and 40 percent greenhouse gas reductions below 1990 levels by 2030. NYPA is leading by example to help the state achieve its ambitious REV goals.

A digitized NYPA delivers on our promises to our customers in our refreshed Strategic Vision 2020 plan. These include becoming a market leader in energy efficiency and renewable energy services, offering the best deal for our supply customers, having the largest market share of new transmission and large-scale renewable projects, and leading in energy storage and electric vehicle infrastructure and services.

Pernick: NYPA was one of the first utilities to send crews to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria knocked out the island’s power grid last year. You’ve been to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of the disaster, and have called on the federal government to help harden and modernize the island’s grid. What exactly do you envision? 

Quiniones: After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, NYPA--following the leadership of Governor Cuomo--sprang into action, working closely with the other New York IOUs to coordinate mutual assistance. The New York State Electric Utility Contingency is 457 employees strong and supported by 330 utility vehicles, of which NYPA deployed 27 employees and 37 vehicles.

NYPA also helped develop a report, “Build Back Better: Reimagining the Power Grid of Puerto Rico,” that outlines a $17.6 billion plan to help harden and modernize Puerto Rico’s electric distribution system. That money would be spent in many ways: rebuilding overhead transmission and distribution (T&D) wires, putting in some underground T&D, substation upgrades, generation asset repairs, and more than $1 billion for distributed energy resources. This includes microgrids at critical facilities like hospitals, police and fire stations, water treatment plants, airports, and in remote communities that are more vulnerable to extended power outages from storms. We believe this plan will create a more resilient grid for Puerto Rico and reduce the $2 billion Puerto Rico spends annually on fossil fuel imports.

Pernick: New York has always been a hotbed of electric utility innovation. Manhattan was home to the first commercial central power plant in the U.S. (Pearl Street Station), the first transmission of electricity happened between Niagara Falls and Buffalo, and New York was the birthplace of General Electric. How is NYPA working with electricity inventors and innovators today to continue this tradition?

Quiniones: Our iSOC is co-located with our other two digital hubs, AGILe and NYEM, along with a cross-functional team of data scientists, IT specialists, cyber security, physical security and emergency management experts, strategic planning and operations personnel, and research and development staff. We housed these groups and cutting-edge technologies on one floor to stimulate collaboration and innovation. 

NYPA can’t help the state achieve Governor Cuomo’s REV and Clean Energy Standard goals alone. Our new digital hubs will allow us to partner with utilities, other external organizations, and our customers to both reduce our costs, make the grid cleaner, and create new products and services.


Gil C. Quiniones is President and Chief Executive Officer of the New York Power Authority (NYPA)

He was a speaker at gridCONNEXT 2017 in Washington, D.C. The conference provides an unprecedented opportunity for utilities, policymakers, regulators, investors, businesses, service providers, end-users, and other stakeholders to explore policies and share best practices on building a modern 21st century grid. For more information, visit www.gridconnext.com.