AEP Sustainability - Technology & Innovation

Technology & Innovation

Technology and innovation are critical aspects of our strategy to become the energy company of the future. They drive change, improve efficiency and safety, and enhances the customer experience. Accelerating the advancement of technology and innovation transforms the way employees work and deliver new technologies to customers. At AEP, innovation has been part of the fabric of our culture for more than a century.

AEP’s virtual qualified observer training provides a safe and immersive experience for employees before entering an actual job site.

In May 2020, we named our first Chief Information and Technology Officer (CITO) to lead technology initiatives across AEP. This includes information technology, innovation, digital initiatives and telecommunications. The CITO organization developed a five-year roadmap to support transformational programs that are being planned and executed to build the competencies our business partners need. This includes strengthening internal partnerships to identify new technologies that expand or enhance business opportunities. One focus is on how we are transforming our work. It involves looking at end-to-end processes and mapping out how those processes support advanced data platforms, analytics, technology and automation.

Technology advancements in analytics are making things possible today that were unimaginable not so long ago. We are using these advancements to reinvent what it means to be a modern energy company. We are using data and analytics to solve problems, optimize processes and discover new business opportunities. As we continue to improve data management across our company, we are expanding our use of analytics through technology advancements such as automation, robotics, AI and virtual reality. Already, we have completed several initiatives that provide monitoring, prediction and optimization capabilities that did not previously exist. These efforts are enabling us to enhance safety, reliability and customer value.

Examples of our efforts include:

  • Field Mobility – We are reimagining a work system that travels with our field employees and delivers important information on demand, regardless of location. For example, our field employees will have the ability to take photos of a physical asset, such as an overhead line, enter the asset information and associated information into a mapping tool making it widely viewable by other interested parties. The objective is to provide our field workers with the opportunity to do their work more efficiently while seamlessly communicating across all business functions.
  • Radio Program – We are undertaking the largest telecommunications project in our history to improve communications across remote locations in our service territory. Once complete, our new system will enable dispatchers to work remotely, a critical need during times of crisis such as a global pandemic. Our plans include replacing an estimated 5,700 radios, upgrading 360 existing tower sites and creating an entirely new radio network.
  • Reliability Mapping Tool – In 2020, we created a new Reliability Mapping Tool that identifies opportunities for reliability improvements much faster. This could help prevent equipment failures that cause outages. Eliminating the need to reference multiple spreadsheets and databases, the tool brings data from our geographic information system together into one place.
  • Qualified Observer – This virtual reality training module instructs the responsibilities of a line worker performing the role of a qualified observer. Presenting the training via virtual reality reduces potential safety risks through building muscle memory and repeatable exposure. This fully immersive experience allows the training staff to identify and correct behaviors before workers enter an actual job site.

We’re committed to identifying the best energy solutions for our customers that improve the efficient use of energy, reduce our environmental footprint, enhance customer reliability and strengthen grid resilience. We will achieve this through collaborative research development and deployment of technologies that show promise or are capable of being revolutionary. We’ll collaborate with federal, state and local regulators to secure public support. Only then can we arrive at well-researched and tested solutions that balance environmental attributes, cost and reliability considerations.

In 2020, we formed a Grid Solutions team to accelerate the energy transformation and advance a clean energy economy. The team is focused on identifying and implementing the best infrastructure solutions for our customers across the regulated generation, transmission and distribution businesses with an emphasis on seamless integration of the functions. Grid Solutions is responsible for the commercial structuring, acquisition and development of new grid resources, including regulated renewables, dispatchable generation such as natural gas, competitive transmission ventures, distributed generation, energy storage and other emerging on-grid technologies. In addition, they ensure compliance with regulatory and policy requirements while remaining engaged with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and Regional Transmission Organizations (RTO).

We support the continuing development of cleaner energy options through technology advancement. Such advancements will continue to drive favorable economics of existing clean technologies and potentially provide new options in the future. Technologies of interest include:

  • Renewable Energy
  • Energy Storage
  • Nuclear Energy
  • Carbon Capture with Utilization or Storage
  • Hydrogen and Other Chemical Energy
  • Other technologies as they are identified
The 137.4 kW solar array and 560 kW/1,200 kWh battery energy storage system will help the Columbus Zoo cut energy costs and reduce its carbon footprint.

As we introduce more renewable generation into our energy mix, the need to invest in energy storage grows. Energy storage can help smooth the flow of power as generation from intermittent resources such as wind and solar varies over time. Storage technology supports local reliability and demand response for our customers, and it is integrated into our distribution and resource planning processes.

We have several energy storage projects throughout our service territory, including three recent projects in AEP Ohio. This includes a 137.4 kW solar array and a 560 kW/1,200 kWh battery energy storage system for the Columbus Zoo. This microgrid system serves the saltwater life support system providing a constant energy supply to one of the most critical facilities of the zoo. In addition, AEP Ohio has two new microgrids incorporating solar arrays and battery storage at a wastewater treatment facility and a water booster station. Expected to be operational in 2021, both of these projects provide the needed resiliency to endure long-term outages with minimal operational adjustments.

In October 2020, AEP OnSite Partners announced an energy storage plant project that will serve the City of Martinsville in Virginia. The project is the first to leverage technology firm Wärtsilä’s new GridSolv Quantum energy storage system. The installation will enable the city to offset peak load periods and more effectively manage their overall energy usage and costs. It also will reduce their reliance on traditional peak energy resources. The energy storage system is scheduled to be operational in the second half of 2021.

We are also investigating and actively pursuing the application of Bulk Energy Storage Systems as transmission assets in situations where they can help to cost-effectively maintain or improve the reliability of the transmission system, compared to traditional options of building new transmission lines or stations.

We collaborate with technology experts, developers, start-ups and consortiums to co-develop technologies that are not currently available today. We are developing initiatives and forming partnerships in the U.S. and around the world to scout new innovation technologies, validate them fast, demonstrate their benefits to customers and policymakers, secure timely regulatory support or contractual approvals for innovation and deployment, and deploy them at scale.

We are a founding member of the Low-Carbon Resource Initiative (LCRI), an industry and global partnership with the Electric Power Research Institute, the Gas Technology Institute and technology developers. The five-year initiative, which kicked off in September 2020, will provide a framework, coupled with technology advancements, to leverage existing assets and provide the necessary tools to transition to a low-carbon future. Learn more in the Technology section of AEP’s Climate Impact Analysis Report.

We invest in technology funds and start-up companies to enable technology development, gain intelligence about developing business models, and integrate the latest technologies into our business. Examples of our investments include ChargePoint, a comprehensive EV charging network with solutions for every type of business, and Mainspring Energy, who’s dispatchable, linear generator provides the flexibility to generate energy using the cleanest fuels available today and in the future. We are introducing these innovations to our customers to enable them to meet their energy objectives.

We also participate in global technology information hubs. We are the only North American member of the Free Electrons Accelerator, a nine-member global energy accelerator whose mission is to create the future of energy. Free Electrons gives AEP direct access to the world's most innovative energy technology entrepreneurs and their solutions. This program allows us to monitor and test global advancements in energy technologies that can help AEP and our customers meet sustainability and electrification goals.

AEP CEO, Nick Akins, serves as Chairman of the Board of the Global Sustainable Electricity Partnership (GSEP). GSEP is a CEO-led alliance of the world’s largest electricity companies committed to leading the transformation of the global electricity industry and the energy transition through accelerated clean energy electrification. GSEP provides a forum for CEOs to share their challenges and solutions with each other and with external stakeholders. Through research studies, work programs and their first ever public annual CEO meeting held in May 2021, electric utility members are working to identify sustainable solutions to electrify businesses and communities around the world.

By collaborating with stakeholders, it will be possible for low-carbon, affordable, resilient and reliable electricity to be the lifeline of a modern decarbonized global community and the backbone of digital and connected cities of the future.