Newsbrief Archive

Electric Currents News - February 2016

Grid Modernization Program is Underway

Because our country’s current electric grid is still using infrastructure and technologies that date back nearly a century, grid modernization has been on the radar for years. With major advances in science, technology, and engineering, the opportunity now exists for significant, and strategic, changes in our complex electrical system.

This includes improved storage systems, clean energy integration, increased utilization of “smart” buildings and an electric grid that is more resilient, with a greater ability to resist cyber attacks, terrorism, and climate change.

For customers, this would mean:

  • Lower energy bills
  • More energy choices
  • Increased system reliability
  • Fewer and shorter power outages

 

It is, however, a tall order, one that will require time and considerable effort from many stakeholders, including utilities, energy consultants, manufacturers, and government officials. To facilitate this challenge, the Dept. of Energy launched the Grid Modernization Initiative (GMI) in the fall of 2014. The GMI is charged with developing a comprehensive plan for grid modernization.

In January of this year, the DOE unveiled its Grid Modernization Multi-Year Program Plan and authorized up to $220 million in funding for this project over the next three years. The grant will support research and development by DOE’s national laboratories and partners. Additional programs and funding are expected to be announced in the near future.

‘Smart’ Systems

The generation, distribution, and use of electricity is not as efficient as it could be, resulting in higher costs and energy usage. Grid modernization has the potential to provide electrical systems that “talk to each other,” thus allowing grid operators to more accurately monitor demand and supply in real time. This can significantly boost system efficiency and reliability, decreasing costs for utilities and lowering utility bills for customers.

Using funds from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the DOE initiated this type of shift by distributing more than 16.6 million “smart meters,” aimed at providing real-time communication between electricity users and suppliers.

Distributed Generation

Effectively integrating outside generation sources, such as solar and wind power, with the electric grid is another challenge–as well as an opportunity to further improve our energy resources. With the growing feasibility and usage of renewable energy comes a need for balancing it with traditional utility generation.

Grid modernization provides an avenue for outside energy sources to become incorporated into the main grid, decreasing the costs involved with renewable energy and making them more available to the average American. This has the potential to cut utility bills and decrease pollution from electric plants.

Energy Storage

If and when renewable energy sources become viable for utility generation, energy-storage technologies and infrastructure will become critical. An improved, modern energy grid will be able to capture wind and solar energy when it is available (i.e., the sun is shining and the wind is blowing), then store the electricity for times when it is needed most. This also ensures system reliability and dramatically reduces the chances of power outages.

For more industry-related news watch for the next Electric Currents e-newsletter.

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