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What to Advise Governments About Building a Smarter Grid?

Each national government must lay out a roadmap to achieve the collective vision for the electric smart grid.

For the last century, the electric grid’s steady development has been vital to the prosperity of key national economies, especially in the European Union (EU) member nations, the United Kingdom and Ireland, China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and North America. With advances in technology and changes in environmental priorities, each of those countries will need to ensure the preeminence of their electricity supply by meeting challenges created by vast changes in policy and the operating environment and by the increasing need for this vital resource.

What is the collective vision for the electric smart grid? Whatever that vision might be, it must define the objectives and benefits of the future grid to ensure that our country continues to empower its people and economy, and continues to serve as a model for the world in providing electricity that is reliable, secure, safe, affordable, and sustainable. Each national government, working solo and through a collective effort, must also lay out a roadmap to achieve that vision.

National governments must identify those challenges the solutions of which it believes would have the greatest positive impact on the economy, resiliency, and security of the United States and describe how each solution would facilitate smart grid adoption nationwide and/or how the nation could overcome any barriers to the solutions' implementations. For each of these challenges, the Department of Energy (DOE) should identify which solutions are already successful in the U.S. market economy and which are expected to grow in penetration, providing their own monetization. In addition, the DOE should identify those disruptors it expects to facilitate the greatest progress in building the future grid.

For those solutions which the DOE believes have high value but will require support to successfully achieve, it should suggest actions it could take to support the development of those solutions and estimate what impact such solutions are likely to produce.

Standards

In the 2020 report, the DOE should identify the standards that could most benefit from improvement in order of those with the greatest to least potential impact on the pace of smart grid deployment.

Conducting a gap assessment may aid in identifying these standards. The DOE should also identify the areas where a lack of appropriate standards may be considered a barrier for future deployment of the smart grid.

The 2018 report emphasized the need for "continued assessment by the federal government…[to] ensure that interoperability and cybersecurity standards evolve and are implemented at a pace sufficient to support needed technology deployment." The 2020 report should recommend further development of industry standards governing operational practices, the manufacture of equipment and technical codes, especially as they relate to the interoperability and security of emerging communications technologies.

Tools and Technologies

In the 2020 report, the DOE should consider addressing several tools and technologies not mentioned or only briefly mentioned in the 2018 report, including:

Operations and markets

  • Evolving technologies necessary to fully realize the modernization of the grid, focusing on those that aid in a more seamless integration of distribution and transmission operations, and market solutions for optimal grid reliability and efficiency.
  • An update on next-generation energy management systems, focusing on the integration of data from phasor measurement unit (PMU) devices, smart meters, and other developing sensor infrastructures. The DOE should also discuss alternatives to energy management systems, distribution management systems, market management system designs, and alternative technological options.
  • Tools addressing the complexities of coordinating traditional wholesale markets as well as the emerging transactional marketplace in order to maintain reliability and take advantage of potential financial benefits.
  • Tools enhancing the capabilities of distributed energy management systems, which coordinate the operation of distribution and transmission networks to optimize grid performance while taking full advantage of the capabilities of distributed energy resources (DERs).

Planning

  • Examination of new technologies in the distribution, substation, and transmission areas and, based on customer needs and choices, how to best deploy those technologies with current designs and equipment.
  • Next-generation probabilistic planning models and tools required to accurately optimize the collective available resources during system planning activities at the transmission and distribution levels.

Design

  • Technology platforms that take advantage of evolving computing capabilities, including for resiliency assessment, legacy system cataloguing, real-time visualization, and threat pattern analyzation.
  • Big data analytics tools with the potential to be applied across the value chain, including those that can identify externalities that impact the production and use of energy and its related infrastructure.

Cyber-physical security

  • Tools and technologies that enhance cyber-physical security capabilities and identify vulnerabilities as they relate to supply chain concerns.
  • Tools for secure and cost-effective communications between customer, third party sites, and utilities’ operational systems.

Clarifying Jurisdiction

In the 2020 report, the DOE should include a more in-depth examination of ambiguity in federal versus state jurisdiction, especially as it relates to DERs.

Workforce Development

The DOE should provide insight into gaps in workforce development in the 2020 report. This includes early stage (K-12) development as well as opportunities in the continuing development of adaptation, innovation, and collaboration skills for the existing workforce.

The DOE should recommend specific efforts to restimulate interest in the physical sciences in general and power systems specifically, not only at the high school and college levels, but also at the elementary school level. Efforts similar to the Campus America program in the 1980s and to the space-age efforts to emphasize science during the 1960s should be considered. All too often math and science are turned into drudgery by uninspired teaching. Providing teachers training in how to reveal to students the joy and accomplishment of working in the sciences should also be emphasized. Success should be measured and only successful efforts continued.

The DOE should more deeply examine the actions necessary to evolve market structures alongside the smart grid. In the 2020 report, the DOE should consider including:

  • An examination of viable business models in light of changing customer behaviors, considering factors such as rate fatigue, grid parity, and revenue erosion.
  • New approaches to integrated planning and operation necessitated by DER penetration.
  • An examination of data governance and consumer protection as it relates to customer and system data, including responsibility for data applicable to grid optimization (for example, smart inverters).
  • Suggestions for operationalizing concepts outlined in the report.
  • Correlation of smart grid investments to business drivers, including impacts on efficiency, reliability, and resiliency.
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