The electric industry is at a major crossroads, and traditional approaches to problem solving are being replaced by new technologies, including distributed resources, microgrids, storage and demand response. The traditional grid was originally designed for one job: to deliver electricity one direction to customers from a handful of power plants. It didn’t have to be flexible or adaptable or transparent, it just had to be strong and reliable. The steady, one-way flow of electricity that has been around for more than a century is transforming into an active, multidirectional stream of power that shifts back and forth between customers across the utility grid. Additionally, the penetration of wind, solar, storage and load response are contributing to reshaping power-system analysis.
Decisions affecting the T&D networks made today will affect how power is supplied for decades to follow. Software developers, planners and designers must recognize the need to update T&D technologies along with models driving the grid now. Both power suppliers and consumers are responding to the rapidly changing environment and market.
Increasing distributed renewable sources requires a fundamental review and continuous evaluation of the existing infrastructure that transmits and distributes electricity to accommodate these new sources of energy. T&D system planning, the way we know it today, must change and adapt to the dynamics of this new energy market to allow full technology integration. Capital projects along with communications systems must be planned and executed today with consideration of future growth of distributed sources.
Big changes are also fueled by IoT, smart grid, block chain, big data and data analytics. Modern network devices will be triggering actions with no human interaction that will contribute to mitigating adverse impacts or avoiding power outages. At the same time, generation systems will be optimizing cost across a diverse portfolio of sources, including renewables, microgrids, storage and load, all on top of traditional resources.
Tomorrow’s modern power system will be a mix of generation sources, including microgrids, working together and delivering energy in multiple directions. Technology is reshaping operations providing capabilities for energy providers to tap into new sources and collect more data for a new era of power systems analysis and design. Application of advanced methodologies will provide us with even more information, including predictive and prescriptive analytics, forecasting and optimization of operations. The prospects for analytics are expanding because of the increasing availability to develop better models and software.
The number of reasonable variations in our planning and operating studies is growing exponentially and swelling the number of scenarios directing actions. Planners and operators of the electric grid can no longer exercise their experience to make quick or "gut" decisions in response to these changes. Instead, power system engineers must resort to building new sophisticated and powerful optimization tools. Along with smart, advanced control and communications, these innovative resource pools with varying types, along with diverse locations and ancillary services, must be configured to provide enhanced grid resiliency for extreme events.
In modern power systems, microgrids will be providing enhanced resiliency for some consumers. They will be owned by utility customers, third parties and/or agencies providing life safety services, and they will be an expanding part of capacity on the grid. Though relatively small in scale, so far, many commercial and industrial customers are evaluating the feasibility of microgrids, and this trend is only expected to grow. Power cost, reliability and environmental sustainability are growing concerns that are the primary drivers for microgrids. Adverse weather events and increased cybersecurity threats only strengthen the need for a better solution to today’s power grid.
Overall, our planning, design and operation of the modern power system should be guided by the following principles:
• Maintain and enhance the safety, security, reliability and resiliency of the electric grid, at fair and reasonable costs, consistent with customer goals
• Facilitate comprehensive, coordinated, transparent and integrated grid planning across T&D and resources
• Ensure optimized utilization of resources and electricity grid assets to minimize total system costs for the benefit of all customers.
Our software, models, planning, design and operations must transform now to reflect modern power systems. Individual power system components (generation, T&D and load) can no longer operate and plan independently of one another. With these integrated resources and intelligent, dynamic system operations software, secure cross communications throughout the industry will be a necessity to ensure the guiding principles can be maintained.
The power industry’s approach needs to recognize T&D grids as a much more complex combined power system with no clear separation of functions. This change is a catalyst for the future, and we must become a champion for creating projects and programs that deploy advanced analytics, communications and controls. Each of us has a duty to encourage talks allowing new innovative ways of planning, design and operation to move forward swiftly and positively. Our challenge is to define practical implementable steps supporting our goals along with being cost effective; the longer we wait, the harder it gets. ♦
Ken Donohoo joined Electric Power Engineers Inc. in October 2017. He retired from Oncor Electric Delivery Co. in May 2017 as director, assets planning, distribution and transmission.