Powering Strong Communities
Grid Modernization

Matching Research and Development with Public Power Priorities

The electric industry is undergoing rapid transformation as new technologies — or newer applications of existing technologies — emerge to help reduce emissions, improve reliability, and enhance customers’ experience. In many respects, this transformation has only just begun.

Through conversations, working groups, and member surveys, a consensus has emerged on the topics and technologies of most interest to public power. These include:

  • Building and transportation electrification, 
  • Energy storage, 
  • Demand and load management, 
  • Low-emission resources, and 
  • Rate design.

This is not to say that other issues and emerging technologies are not of interest, but those listed above are clearly areas where public power providers are looking for more information, research, and solutions. This is where APPA’s Demonstration of Energy and Efficiency Developments (DEED) program comes in. For over 40 years, research associated with the DEED program has enabled public power utilities to test out new and improved technologies, thereby improving their efficiency and providing enhanced customer experiences. Most importantly, it is not just the utility that receives funding that benefits; rather, the lessons learned in these projects get imparted to other DEED members through reports, webinars, conference presentations, toolkits, and other resources.

Bringing Your Ideas to Life

Utilities that are thinking about investigating any of these topics — or that have even started a project — are encouraged to consider applying for a DEED grant or an internship. Projects can range from conducting small investigations into a new process or analyzing available technology options to deploying a pilot program. While there are generally high hopes around electrified resources, many utilities are also concerned about how they will be able to accommodate increased demand from these resources. Managed charging, variable rate design, and vehicle-to-grid deployment are some of the potential solutions, but research into these solutions is still in its relative infancy. Early adopters and pilot testers of these types of programs could thus provide invaluable insight into their broader application. Research in these areas could yield valuable results, demonstrating how particular technologies or applications may or may not be suitable or adaptable for public power.

Potential applicants should not feel that they are restricted to completely new projects or ideas. Even if the project is something you were planning on doing without DEED funding, or is a project that is already underway, you may want to consider DEED funding if the project is something that aligns with DEED’s mission. 

It helps if the project has a deliverable that is transferrable to a broad range of public power utilities. For example, American Municipal Power (AMP) and the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities (IAMU) used DEED grants to develop electric vehicle toolkits designed to assist public power utilities in evaluating how EVs can be incorporated into their service territories. IAMU is now working on a new DEED grant-funded project to release another EV-related toolkit that more closely examines the effects of transportation electrification on the electric grid.

Toolkits are not the only way to share information and impart learnings to other utilities. Another recent grant recipient, the Northern California Power Agency, completed two grant projects related to the conversion of a natural gas plant to hydrogen. These projects have produced encouraging results, and NCPA continues to study this conversion. Other DEED members can read the report (download from the DEED Project Library) and assess the possibility of applying this research to their own utilities. 

Some utilities hesitate to apply for grants either because they worry about the reporting requirements or are concerned about the expected turnaround. Approved applicants are only required to file quarterly reports while the project is active, and these reports are principally status updates. As for the expected completion timeline, while projects cannot be open indefinitely, grant recipients should feel they have as much time as needed to complete the project. Timelines may be extended due to circumstances beyond the recipient’s control, and awardees can work with APPA staff to determine an appropriately adjusted timeline or even to talk through challenges to see if additional help is available elsewhere. 

Considerations When Applying

Applications are currently open for the Spring cycle through February 15, 2024. If that turnaround seems too soon, then the Fall application period for grants will run from May 1-July 15, and from July 1-October 15 for scholarships and internships. 

Applying for a DEED grant, internship, or scholarship is relatively simple. Grant applicants need to clearly explain the project, the project’s expected outcomes, how the proposal demonstrates some type of innovation, and how the results will be transferrable to other members. Applicants should demonstrate familiarity with related research, including whether there have been other similar projects funded through DEED, and explain how the award money would be allocated. Finally, applicants should consider how much funding they require. While $125,000 is the maximum amount that can be awarded, applicants can and do request smaller amounts to reflect the scope of the project.

Also, members should be aware that the application process can be iterative. There have been many instances when projects that were not awarded funding on the first try were subsequently funded following discussions with other DEED members and APPA staff to rework the application and project to fit the criteria. Reaching out to staff or a regional advisor is a good way to assess whether your application is on the right track or if your project will be a good fit for DEED funding.

A DEED grant can open the door for a public power utility to bolster its own operations as well as to increase awareness and knowledge of other utilities. While there are other ways for public power utilities to exchange knowledge, DEED’s 40-year history of sparking innovation and sharing insights has helped keep public power on top of the latest practices and technologies in the energy industry. How will you help continue this tradition?