AEP Sustainability - Technology & Innovation

Technology & Innovation

From generation to transmission and distribution, we are taking bold steps to create new solutions for our customers. We are leveraging the power of data analytics to better understand our infrastructure and machine learning and artificial intelligence to integrate and optimize our assets. We are partnering with our communities and entrepreneurial businesses and using next-generation tools, including virtual and augmented realities, robots and more, to propel our solutions forward.

In May 2020, we named our first Chief Information and Technology officer, who will lead technology initiatives across AEP. This includes information technology, innovation, digital initiatives and telecommunications. We believe AEP is well-positioned to leverage our scale, industry experience and skilled workforce to achieve our goal of being the energy company of the future. While we have come a long way in our innovation journey, we remain committed to leading the energy industry and providing customers with innovations that will power their 21st century needs.

A Culture of 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. AEP has dedicated teams working to identify, create and execute on opportunities at local and global levels.

Our Innovation and Technology operating model focuses on scouting new technologies, validating them fast, partnering with AEP business units to demonstrate their benefits to customers and policymakers, securing timely regulatory support or contractual approvals and deploying them at scale.

We currently use three technology accelerator programs to cost-effectively scout for start-up technologies in the U.S. and internationally and to validate the benefits of their technologies. Validation is achieved through short-term pilots, in collaboration with practitioners and experts in AEP operating companies and business units.

Our main focus on innovation is to create cost-effective benefits for customers, such as piloting microgrids. AEP Ohio installed a microgrid at the Columbus Zoo and received regulatory support for this first-of-its-kind technology. We believe that microgrids eventually can help increase the resiliency of energy systems by maintaining power in areas where critical public service facilities, such as police and fire stations, medical facilities and emergency shelters, are located.

AEP Charge leverages transformative technologies in order to deliver timely, cost-reducing innovative capabilities for our customers and employees. Charge engages the business at large, ranks opportunities against an established prioritization framework, and rapidly creates technologies for immediate consideration and implementation. Once a solution is successfully rolled out and benefits realized, Charge partners with IT to scale the solution for broader consumption.

Charge’s goal is to achieve $200 million in savings for AEP by 2023. Through 2019, Charge has delivered more than $40 million in estimated value across the Company. Some of the Charge projects in 2019 included:

  • CircuitSafe™ – A new desktop and mobile app for AEP dispatchers and line workers that improves the safety and efficiency of Distribution log on/off activity. The app uses direct web portal access and GPS to allow line workers to quickly and safely do their work. This application has been deployed to our Distribution dispatchers and line workers across the entire AEP footprint.
  • Digital Commissioning Checklist – A comprehensive checklist that summarizes the required tasks for testing and commissioning substation assets. The new digital checklist provides enhanced transparency and more effective process controls to ensure assets are documented and tested, driving grid reliability and safety. The digital checklist enhances communication between construction teams, and it drives efficiency by reducing oversight and possible rework.
  • Safety & Health Dashboard – A new tool that enhances the visibility of analytics following a safety incident. This dashboard helps us identify proactive safety actions and training opportunities in support of Zero Harm.
Charge refactored its 3D printers to produce 1,200 face shields during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the wake of COVID-19, the Charge team piloted several products to help AEP and others efficiently handle the impacts and threats of the virus. In response to recommendations that business owners check the temperature of workers before they arrive at work, the Charge team researched and launched a pilot on wearable technologies that enable essential workers to self-monitor their temperature. This eliminates the need for them to come into a central location, risking exposure to others.

To help supply critical medical supplies for front-line workers, Charge refactored its 3D printers to produce 1,200 face shields that were distributed throughout our service territory. Charge also helped with business continuity planning by creating and updating digital tools to survey and document business issues impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. This included developing an app, logic and analytics for business leaders to manage multiple scenarios across multiple business units, helping to ensure work could continue.

Charge is continually seeking to develop internally generated intellectual property and to build collaborative partnerships in the Columbus, Ohio area to potentially co-author new technology offerings. We are also investigating ways of sharing the solutions we develop with others in our industry and beyond. New technology offerings may present new pathways to generate revenue for AEP. As our need for digital advancement evolves, the Charge team will continue to develop or recruit the talent needed to apply new advancements in areas such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analytics.

The CEOs of AEP, Enel (Italy) and Hydro-Québec (Canada) formed the International Energy Innovators Consortium to co-develop technologies that are not currently available. This collaboration of technology experts in microgrids, big data analytical tools and e-mobility yields joint initiatives with the potential to serve the customers of all three companies.

We are also partnering with Enel-X (Italy), Innogy (Germany), ESB (Ireland), China Light and Power (Hong Kong), Hydro-Québec and other international utilities to identify opportunities to co-validate, co-develop and co-invest in new technologies.

In addition, the CEO-led Global Sustainable Electricity Partnership provides access to a global information hub for innovative technologies, business models and public policies that are enabling development and deployment of new technologies. AEP has been a member since the 1990s and gains valuable insights from other international CEOs on how they are solving similar challenges to those facing our customers.

AEP was a foundational partner with Columbus, Ohio, in the city’s successful bid for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Smart City Challenge grant in 2016. The Smart Columbus project has helped community leaders and organizations take a fresh approach to mobility, local economic growth and fostering a sustainable community. The goals of the program align with AEP’s efforts to increase the electrification of the transportation system and make the electric grid smarter and more efficient.

AEP Ohio, the local utility serving Columbus and communities in 61 of Ohio’s 88 counties, in 2018 launched an electric vehicle (EV) charging station rebate program that provided $9.5 million in incentives to install charging stations for public use, at workplaces, in multi-family housing units and in low-income areas throughout the service territory.

In the two years the program has been active, more than 300 chargers have been installed, including approximately 290 level 2 chargers and 25 DC fast charging stations. Applications to reach the original target of 375 total chargers have outpaced the outstanding available funds, with more than 200 projects in the pipeline.

Data collected about charger utilization will help Columbus and other cities around the nation make better decisions about where to place charging infrastructure. While EV adoption is on the rise, many drivers point to charging station availability and “range anxiety” as barriers to making the switch to an EV. Through data collection, analytics and collaborative efforts, we can ensure that investments in EV charging occur in the right places from a system and customer perspective.

Learn more in the Grid Modernization section.