Newsbrief Archive

Electric Currents News - February 2017

Grid Modernization: Keeping up with Technology

The smart grid of the future may look very different than the one we have today. Continual innovations in technology and new sources of utility-scale renewable energy are just a couple of the things demanding grid modernization.

As utilities work to extend new lines and continue smart meter rollout, implementing modernizations, including two-way flow capacity and distribution management systems, will be critical to managing future increases in renewables, distributed energy resources, and additional capacity from grid scale batteries. The International Energy Agency estimates that the US will need to spend $2.1 trillion by 2035 on grid modernization technologies and infrastructure. While grid modernization programs take many forms, most will be built with an objective to optimize reliability and operations. Two market disruptors being explored by utilities of all sizes as they build their modernization plans are:

Grid Scale Battery Storage

A hot topic not only because Tesla, a California-based automaker and energy storage company, is making strides in residential batteries designed for off-the-grid backup power and linkage to home solar systems, but also because utilities recognize its potential to help them manage their top priorities going forward, improving reliability and operations. Benefits are expected to:

  • Smooth out the peaks and valleys from variable generation, like wind and solar
  • Provide a reliable demand response resource
  • Deliver backup power during outages
  • Provide frequency regulation
  • Enable voltage control
  • Bid stored capacity into energy market


Distributed Energy Resources 

The implementation of distributed energy resources is well underway in the US, and while utilities may disagree on where it falls in the list of modernization priorities, market leaders agree that new functionality needs to be built into the grid to handle their expected growth.

Advanced technologies, such as distribution management systems, high-speed communications, advanced sensors, and energy storage systems will enable utilities the capacity to manage, coordinate, and aggregate these renewable energy sources. Not only will they enable significant advances in overall demand response, but it may also encourage broad implantation of innovations, such as community-based microgrids that can connect and disconnect from the centralized grid, and ultimately, minimize environmental impact.

No matter what form your utility’s modernization plan takes, it’s clear that grid modernization has evolved into an industry of its own. According to the Department of Energy, there are now 860,869 people employed in the electric power sector, an increase of more than 101,000 jobs from 2015. Most of this surge has been provided by the construction of solar, natural gas, and wind power plants. The recent election may have injected some uncertainty into the energy market; however, investments in grid modernization will ultimately make electric power systems more flexible, reliable, and customer centric.