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Which R&D and Demonstration Priorities for 2019? Part I

Feb. 5, 2019
Tomorrow's grid must rely on technology to meet ambitious goals

Tomorrow’s grid is being envisioned in ways that enable it to provide enhancements which, in turn, make it possible to simultaneously achieve some very ambitious goals:

  • To ensure higher levels of security, quality, reliability and availability (SQRA) of electric power
  • To improve economic productivity and quality of life
  • To improve the efficiency of and asset utilization in the power system
  • To reduce environmental impacts and facilitate the integration of renewable resources and variable net demand
  • To enhance customer choice and control
  • And, to ensure safety.

Achieving this vision will require careful policy formulation and accelerated infrastructure investment. It will also require a greater commitment to public/private research, development and demonstration (RD&D) which overcome major barriers and vulnerabilities. The required RD&D is substantial and it will demand participation from many organizations and institutions. This includes a major multi-year commitment to support the development of information systems and control systems that integrate dynamic transmission and distribution and distributed energy technologies into system planning and operations.

Objectives for the future grid, as set forth by some of the world’s most agile utilities, rely on using technology as an enabler. Utilities and their regulators are being challenged by the need to maintain utility-scale electricity production and delivery, while also accommodating policy imperatives that embrace end-user electricity production PLUS a steady move towards deploying carbon-free sources of electricity production. Technology is the key enabler for these goals to be realized.

Efficiencies can be gained if key objectives are met during the same time when utilities are continuing to invest in the evolution of their own critical systems.

Some of these objectives are as follows:

Support active participation by consumers

The smart grid should engage customers and the increasingly intelligent energy technologies in their homes and businesses. The ready availability of information on the Internet of the best, least-expensive, most-unique, and most customer-relevant products and services has produced increasing customer expectations. The power industry is not immune to these trends. The smart grid customer will expect technology to efficiently manage their comfort and energy choices, to be informed regarding and experience reduced incidence of service interruptions, and to be offered choices for controlling and modifying the way they use and purchase electricity. They increasingly will expect and have choices, incentives, and social media interactions regarding the adoption of intelligent devices and modifying their purchasing patterns and behavior. These choices help drive new technologies and could fundamentally change power system operations.

Support new products, services and markets

The smart grid should be able to support a market system that provides cost-benefit tradeoffs to consumers by creating opportunities to bid for competing services. As much as possible, regulators, aggregators and operators, and consumers can modify the rules of business to create opportunity against market conditions. A flexible, rugged market infrastructure exists to provide different service levels of electricity reliability and quality that are tailored to meet individual customer needs. For some consumers this may entail ensuring continuous electric service and reliability, while also providing revenue or cost reduction opportunities for market participants.

Accommodate and optimize the use of intelligent devices that reside at different points within the grid

While the grid of the future is likely to contain billions of intelligent devices, the architectures to control or coordinate the operation of these devices consistent with system reliability is not yet certain. Some central station generation and network equipment is likely to continue to be centrally dispatched. Control over other devices and end uses could be distributed to substations and micro-grids to address market structure, reliability or latency concerns. Other devices and end uses may transact directly with one another creating a form of distributed coordination through localized markets or so called, master controllers. These controllers would control local distributed energy resources (DERs) and utilization in buildings, campuses or industrial parks by communicating with one another as well as with the grid. Some devices could independently respond to local grid conditions without any outside direction, in much the same way that a school of fish may change direction with each individual responding to its neighbors without any centralized leadership or control.

Make appropriate use of open standards

Standards will be key to ensuring the interoperability of the different power and information systems needed to maintain the power grid. The continued ability to lead and influence standards development will be a major factor in the ability of companies to participate in, and to benefit from, larger-scale global initiatives to build and modernize power systems.

Integrate new and legacy technologies

The smart grid will develop over time. It requires a clear roadmap and transition path to the future. At each point along the way, next-generation systems will have to interoperate with legacy systems.

Provide power quality for the digital economy

The smart grid, at its essence, must continue to provide reliable power, power that is “clean” with minimal disturbances. Global competitiveness demands relatively fault-free operation of the digital devices that power the productivity of our 21st-century economy. System models are needed which support integration of DERs — if it isn’t planned, it will never be integrated.

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