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Incorporating Renewable Energy Sources and New Tech into the Electric Grid

Aug. 25, 2022
With society calling for more sustainable energy solutions, the utility industry and the entire energy production, transmission, and distribution system are undergoing a fundamental transformation.

For nearly 140 years, a network of large, centralized power plants, composed of synchronized, spinning generators has been the dominant electric power industry model. With society calling for more sustainable energy solutions, the utilities industry and the entire energy production, transmission, and distribution system are undergoing a fundamental transformation to the use of new technologies and a higher level of decentralized energy infrastructure and customer participation in the power system.

As these trends grow, so also does the need for standardization of requirements for efficient implementations and operations of these systems. IEEE Standards Association (IEEE SA) is at the forefront of developing industry standards that guide system-wide changes to facilitate equipment interoperability between new renewable energy technologies and the traditional power grid. These system changes are also enabling a much-needed collaboration among different industry sectors and domains, encouraging a more sustainable future for the energy industry.

To understand the industry’s shift toward the use of new technologies, it’s necessary to look at the changing energy resources being utilized to power the grid. The quest to find more sustainable ways to produce electricity has led to an increase in the use of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, and to the development of new technologies to offer flexibility such as fuel cells and battery storage. Solar photovoltaics and battery storage are inverter-based resources (IBRs), meaning they have different characteristics that affect how they are interconnected and operated on the power system. Each year, IBRs account for an increasing percentage of the power fed into the electrical grid, while the renewable energy they deliver contributes to societal sustainability goals.

In addition to the changing types of technologies, there is also a shift toward greater use of IBRs that interconnect and operate differently than traditional spinning generators, and greater customer participation through demand response and the adoption of electric vehicles and other programmable electric loads. All of these changes together increase the number, type, and complexity of challenges that power system operators face in balancing the system and delivering reliable, affordable power. 

This complexity is the greatest challenge for the deployment and use of IBRs and other new technologies. Electric utility systems in general are already complex, and the addition of inverter-based renewable energy and energy storage systems introduces another layer of complexity as they connect to the grid asynchronously as opposed to synchronously, like traditional generators. Large-scale use of asynchronous technologies is a relatively new phenomenon and can lead to service disruptions and reliability issues if designed incorrectly.

A core set of industry technology standards and requirements, such as those developed by IEEE SA are pivotal to encouraging rapid, large-scale renewable energy adoption. These universal requirements incorporate widely agreed-upon rules that standardize the implementation and operation of these technologies within the grid. As these requirements are adopted in systems across the industry, they help enable the safer interconnection of IBR systems to the larger grid and foster equipment interoperability. Thus, these new standards can make integration of renewable energy sources into the grid easier and safer, encourage their adoption, and further support industry sustainability goals.

The standards being implemented across renewable power systems and other grid technologies are also significant because they are enabling increased collaboration among key players in the industry. In the past, different sectors and domains of the industry such as production, transmission, distribution, utility operations, markets, and even customers have not had much interaction or mutual collaboration.

However, the technology changes and technical requirements specified by the new industry standards target multiple systems within the industry, from production all the way to customer service. Standards also offer structures for technical training, test development, and certification; implementing these standards often requires collaboration between regulators and power system operators. The engagement of multiple sectors at once is facilitating collaboration for solving common challenges and working towards a common sustainability goal at a level that has never occurred before.

Additionally, more resilient communication systems with embedded security are being incorporated in all elements of the electric power system. Adopting new communication technologies provides secure communication to and within the system, which promotes safer operation and more effective communication between technologies at different points in the power system. This increased ability for widespread communication helps sector professionals more quickly identify and solve problems, leading to wider and easier adoption of new technologies.

Organizations like the Global Power System Transformation Consortium  (G-PST) are also encouraging cross-sector collaboration by advocating for universal system-wide requirements. In addition to supporting standards development and implementation, G-PST fosters power system research and technology pilots, workforce development, the deployment of open-source tools, and technical assistance to system operators around the globe. IEEE SA works closely with G-PST to implement existing standards in more power systems and to bring additional  stakeholders into its processes for continuously developing and improving energy system standards.

More specifically, there are many IEEE standards that outline the interoperability-related, system-wide changes recommended for the new technologies that are being incorporated into the grid. For example, IEEE 1547-2018 Standard  details requirements for the interconnection and interoperability of distributed energy resources with associated electric power systems interfaces. In effect, this standard specifies how to universally connect DERs and other new technologies into electrical power systems within the grid. It provides uniform requirements relevant to interconnection and interoperability performance, operation and testing, and to safety, maintenance and security considerations. This standardization of requirements for interconnection has led to a cross-industry systematization of the implementation and maintenance process, thus allowing different sectors to communicate and install these systems on a wider scale more easily.

Another standard that specifies the process for implementing and maintaining these new systems within the grid is IEEE 2800 Standard. This standard also focuses on interoperability and system-wide changes as it details the uniform minimal requirements for the interconnection, capability, and lifetime performance of IBRs interconnecting with transmission and sub-transmission systems. The standard establishes industry-wide requirements for reliable integration of IBRs.

As the energy industry continues to work toward a more sustainable future, we can expect to see an increase in renewable energy systems and other new technologies being introduced into the grid — as well as the need for new standards and the people who develop them.

To learn more about energy trends or become involved in IEEE SA’s energy and sustainability work. visit the IEEE SA Energy Practice page for more information.

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