Multisource advanced energy.

Reimagining The Future Grid

April 17, 2024
Governmental inducements along with private investments are having a major impact in every sector of the grid. The DOE calls it 'reimagining and rebuilding the power grid,' and it's coming at an opportune time It’s not, however, without its challenges.

Modernizing and decarbonizing the power delivery system has never been for the fainthearted, but incentives are definitely making it more palatable. Federal and state governments have made available billions of dollars in financial inducements and tax credits. Utilities, grid operators and their customers have access to mechanisms  like the IRA (Inflation Reduction Act), IIJA (Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) and state tax related tax inducements. There are also grants from the Department of Agriculture to encourage rural and tribal utilities to deploy renewable energy systems.

These measures are providing stimulus that’s encouraging clean-energy and the more efficient use of that energy. The incentives are seen as a once-in-a-lifetime boost to upgrade the power system and improve the efficiency of power consumption. Distribution energy resources (DERs) are critical elements in this process and the consumers taking advantage of them. Governmental inducements along with private investments are having a major impact in every sector of the grid. The Department of Energy (DOE) calls it “reimagining and rebuilding the power grid,” and it's coming at an opportune time It’s not, however, without its challenges.

Success is Costly 

Interestingly, the customers’ purchases of electric vehicles (EVs) and chargers, heat pumps, DERs, and other efficient devices is having a surprising effect. It’s been reported that after several decades of flat electrical demand, the power grid is now experiencing an increase in demand, which is approximately 4.7% per year. A recent Washington Post headline said, “Amid explosive demand, America is running out of power.” The gist of the story was that utilities are scrambling to find more capacity in their aging transmission grids and distribution networks.

In addition to those future grid reimagining issues there is the pesky fact that the environment has not reached the new normal, climate change is still accelerating. The agencies setting policy to deal with this are shifting targets on what needs to be accomplished and/or when. Recently, one body said the world must add or replace about 50 million miles (80 million km) of transmission lines by 2040 to meet the world’s climate goals. Another group set 2030 as the necessary date for tripling the world’s installed renewable energy capacity to meet climate challenges, which in tangible terms is approximately 11,000 gigawatts.

The bottom line here is that there are a lot of thorny issues to deal with and shifting goals are better than the alternative. As long as global warming and climate change continue growing, the targets and goals need to be shifting. Thankfully the technological toolbox is bulging with adjustable techniques for addressing those quirky issues. One of the most adaptable are the grid enhancing technologies (GETs). They are designed to move right along with the varying targets and keep them within reach (see “The Impossible Takes Longer,” December 2023, T&D World for details).

It's All Manageable 

DOE says GETs “maximize the electricity transmission across the existing system.” These technologies include dynamic line rating systems, power-flow control systems, smart meters, and energy management systems (EMS) to name a few. Their aim is to meet the growing demands without necessarily having to build more time consuming infrastructure. GETs cover a great deal of smart grid applications, so let’s concentrate on one of them attracting attention: the advanced EMS. These platforms are becoming so popular that they can be found at all levels of the grid, from the transmission system to the distribution network and beyond.

Some are designed for specific utility customer types (i.e., industrial, commercial, and residential applications) while others are suitable for grid-scale operations. This set of technologies takes advantage of cloud computing, sophisticated software, and artificial intelligence. Real-time data and analytics provide the technology with advantages over the more traditional methods. Controlling all elements of a power grid transitioning to a modern interconnected system can be simple or complicated depending on the sophistication of the system doing the managing.

With that in mind, “Charging Ahead” contacted Hitachi Energy’s Michael Atkinson, Senior Vice President Grid Automation: North America Market, to understand the technology firsthand. Our discussion began with Mr. Atkinson saying, “Not too long ago we ran the power grid with 15% to 20% spare capacity because we really didn’t have good control, metering, measuring, etc. to operate it with less of a cushion. As technologies improved, it was possible to operate with closer margins and operating margins were reduced to 10% and in many cases around 7%. But the success came with costs, and you can only control so many elements at the transmission level.”

Atkinson continued, “When digital technologies found their way to the distribution level, advanced distribution management systems (ADMS) were required by the distribution network. As the distribution system became more diverse and multi-directional with greater deployments of distributed energy resources (DERs) and energy storage, it became apparent a third level of control was needed. It was also evident that the control had to be much closer to those assets. For efficient operation, these controls had to know exactly what was going on and where they were as opposed to an average understanding of an overall view. Hitachi Energy’s e-mesh was designed to operate with that level of accuracy.”

Atkinson explained, “e-mesh is specifically designed to manage multiple sources such as renewables, conventional power generation, DERs, and controllable loads like relays and electric vehicle (EV) chargers. In addition, leveraging the e-mesh PowerStore battery energy storage system (BESS), it can better manage these assets to solve the technical problems of the day. The e-mesh portfolio can improve power import capabilities while supplying frequency support, voltage control, and reactive power support. The combination also stores clean power generated overnight by wind turbines for use when the load is going up during the day. Customers are finding value in the non-wire options available.”

Atkinson pointed out, “The grid has been under invested in for years, which has led to problems providing the capacity needed for the influx of renewable energy generation and new electric loads like EVs, but that’s changing. Using the e-mesh portfolio to unlock the benefits of BESS delivers the ability for renewable shifting and peak shaving for base load leveling. The technology has been configured to function as a microgrid for islands in the event of extreme weather, as one example. Microgrids have also allowed utilities to delay the need for reconductoring an existing feeder. In some cases, the microgrid is a more cost-effective alternative to building another line for a remote load, which helps to defer capital investment and stretch the operating budget.”

Growing Market

EMS platforms offer a versatility needed for reimagining the future grid, which explains why they are generating so much global interest. Advanced EMS platforms with connectiveness provide the situation awareness needed for climate change. It helps that utilities add renewables plus storage, which makes those installations more efficient. A good example is PG&E’s Calistoga substation microgrid. The 293 megawatt-hour microgrid consists of a hybrid-hydrogen fuel cell and a BESS that can supply power for up to 48 hours. The system is controlled by Energy Vault’s advanced EMS platform and is expected to be in service in 2024.

Late last year, Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) energized its Fairhaven substation’s 2.5 megawatt BESS to meet high electricity demands during the winter months. The BESS is a Hitachi Energy e-mesh and PowerStore BESS scalable microgrid. BGE installed the system to improve year round reliability and solve a specific winter peaking issue. This area had a spike in winter demand due to the customers’ use of electric heating. There were times that demand surpassed the capacity of the single 34.5 kV line feeding the area. Hitachi Energy’s EMS and BESS solved the problem and allowed BGE to forego the expensive underground upgrades for 10 miles of electric distribution equipment.

The potential for EMS platforms has come into focus at last, which is good for both the technology and the power grid. According to MarkertsandMarkets’ 2023 research report “Energy Management System Market,” the global EMS market size was estimated at US$40.7 billion in 2023. It’s projected to grow at a 13.2% CAGR (compound annual growth rate) reaching US$75.6 billion by 2028. It will be interesting to see how the revised targets for millions of miles of transmission and thousands of gigawatts of renewables will affect these spending projections.

Those global warming goals moved to 2030 are somewhat unsettling. After all, 2030 is less than six years away, but maybe that’s not as bad as it seems. Humans tend to ignore project schedules with long due dates such as the 2050 climate change goals. Maybe a five-year goal will inspire action; ultimately we are talking about reimagining the future grid. It’s like that old saying, “the longest journey starts with the first step.” Luckly these advanced EMS platforms are off-the-shelf items and are available worldwide from a variety of suppliers. Reimagining the future grid is possible with tools like these!


Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of T&D World, create an account today!