T&D World has just started a new e-newsletter segment we are calling Grid Innovations. We intend to continue covering topics found in the Grid Optimization blog, including cyber security, IT and OT integration, demand response, smart utility topics like AMI and automation, etc. Our coverage of technologies impacting our electric systems will also extend, as in the real world, to the interface of our electric systems and our customers’ systems and even beyond the so-called grid edge. Examples include electric storage, distributed energy resources like renewables, microgrids and even gas turbines and cogeneration. These are all examples of technologies that utilities are both using and seeing in greater numbers and that can improve our systems or lead to complications. We will use our best efforts to provide news and commentary that yields insights helpful to succeeding in this changing environment.
The encompassing coverage of grid-“related” innovations isn’t really new ground for T&D World magazine. For example, DERs go beyond the traditional view of T&D systems and we have covered them for years. The fact is, a growing utility point of view (POV) is where do we get the most bang for the buck, whether measured as economy, reliability, resiliency, environmental benefits or other attributes of value to the ultimate arbiter, our customers. This broad prospective may flow against the prevailing tide at times, so expect periodic “healthy debate” as our viewpoints and the power industry evolve.
Most industry stakeholders have long accepted that grid-beneficial innovations include technologies and solutions tied directly to the grid and ones that are not grid-connected, but nevertheless help us optimize power use. Take demand management as an example. We see program successes around the country involving gas and electric demand side management, reducing peak loads and helping avoid investment in pumping stations, increased distribution capacity and new electric substations. Not too controversial, right? And demand side efforts involve electric and gas, large and small utilities and urban and rural customers. The involved utilities are focusing on what is of greatest value to their customers.
Let’s look at another example: electric vehicles (EVs). We have EV advocates in utilities around the country that appropriately recognize that EVs are of interest to their customers and of value to their businesses. That’s fine. However, some strong EV advocates appear to believe that the choice to invest in the EV market is not up to individual utilities and their customers. Rather, the decision is a societal call and these EV advocates believe every utility should be towing the EV market line. Accordingly, they are critical of power companies, particularly municipals, co-ops and smaller electric providers in more rural areas that are not preparing for the coming “wave” of EVs.
Taking a strident position on EVs or any specific technology decision seems short-sighted. While the EV market may be improving with advances in battery technology, it is worth recalling that EVs have been around since 1895 and for at least a quarter century advocates have been saying their use will explode. We have actually experienced an economically and behaviorally restrained pattern of modest growth. However, potentially more important is the argument that rural electric providers likely have other programs of greater benefit to their customers than EVs. Energy efficiency, demand management, geothermal heat pumps and other residential energy switching options are possible examples.
EVs may very well fit the description of a grid innovation for some utilities, leading to meaningful off-peak load, electric storage optionality and other benefits. However, grid innovations are not a one-size-fits-all proposition. During his year-end Department message, Secretary Perry shared his view that the U.S. remains a world leader in using energy more cleanly and more efficiently by employing an all-of-the-above strategy from fossil fuels to nuclear, solar, wind, hydro and battery storage. Increasingly, new grid innovations will be added to the proverbial tool bag and used selectively to help produce and use power more economically and sustainably. Our job is to diligently explore as many options as possible and make our selections based on what is of greatest value to our customers.