Electricity’s New Reality: The Balancing Act
The power delivery system is the largest, most complex machine ever built, and the world has transformed around it. Now, an ongoing revolution in renewable energy sources and distributed generation options is changing the structure of that machine. Power delivery must adapt to these new realities and grid modernization is the key.
The grid’s transformation is in part a response to the rising utilization of distributed generation (DG) in all its forms, from wind farms to residential and commercial solar panels and more. DG is just one leg in the distributed energy resources (DER) triad along with storage and demand response. A host of other factors also are driving the changes, including grid automation, customer expectations, communications, electrification of transportation, microgrid implementations, breakthroughs in large-scale energy storage, and sweeping technological improvements.
When anyone can be a producer of energy — say, by installing photovoltaic (PV) panels on a roof, or by keeping electric vehicles plugged into the grid when not in use — how does that affect the power delivery system and associated business models?
To maintain the reliability and resilience of the system and services customers depend on, the grid requires continuous improvements. And while the essential mission for the power delivery infrastructure is unchanged — it must get electricity from the points of generation to the points of consumption, instantaneously balancing supply and demand — we must take a new approach to the way we plan, construct and operate the distribution system.
There are fundamental components that should be considered for every project:
Make it Strong. In developing grid plans utilities should move beyond concerns of “overbuilding” and critically explore approaches and options that will result in a grid built to last. It is critical for utilities to strengthen physical assets, size the grid to meet even unforeseen future demand and standardize progressive gird improvements wherever possible to simplify operations and reduce costs.
Make it Smart. Grid modernization that is truly smart goes well beyond automated metering. Building it smarter affords utilities the opportunity to fundamentally improve operations through outage tracking, analysis, reporting and utility response planning. To be effective, it is important for utilities to zero in on the simplest and easiest applications that quickly add value and increase grid efficiency.
Make it Sustainable. Modern grid sustainability encompasses environmental responsibility, as well as improved operations and management. By focusing on both, an advanced grid can be kept strong and smart over time.
Planning that focuses on making the grid strong, smart and sustainable will help achieve a modern grid that is reliable, resilient, easier to operate and maintain, and environmentally responsible.