Company: Gridco Systems
Source: Transmission & Distribution World
By Naimish Patel, CEO, Gridco Systems
This article, the first in a three-part series, focuses on the need for a new class of distribution grid infrastructure, one that enables distribution utilities to dynamically manage power flow from sub-station to load, ensures end-to-end power quality and reliability in the face of increasingly dynamic grid conditions, and drives greater systemic efficiencies, all based on a business case that stands alone without reliance on subsidy.
The electric grid is a remarkable feat of engineering – so ubiquitous, reliable, and economical in its delivery of power that it is generally taken for granted. It is a true testament to the expertise of its utility engineers and operators. As robust as it generally is, a number of trends are beginning to stress the grid:
• Adoption of increasingly cost-effective, customer-owned distributed generation is affecting grid reliability, not to mention reducing volumetric utility sales revenue
• Increasing severity of weather systems is giving rise to larger scale power outages of longer duration and higher societal cost
• Increasing transmission and base-load generation capacity constraints are necessitating deeper levels of demand curtailment during peak periods
• Emerging load types, including electric vehicles and data centers, are introducing geographic pockets of intense load growth that can exceed existing thermal capacity limits, accelerating the aging of associated infrastructure or causing catastrophic equipment failures
• Increasing diversification of customer needs and the challenge of delivering consistent service levels across an entire service territory (due to weather-susceptible areas for example) are exposing inadequacies in the traditional rate-based recovery model in aligning localized customer needs with associated investments
• Increasing frequency of cyber-attacks targeted at the energy industry is threatening national security
Each of these trends contributes to the same fundamental challenge: How can utilities reliably and economically balance supply and demand in an environment characterized by decreasing direct control over supply, decreasing predictability of demand, tightening capacity constraints, and increasing susceptibility to outages and attacks?
Although every utility experiences these challenges to varying degrees, the directional trends are unwavering and ascendant. To witness the leading edge of such trends, one needs only to look to where both renewables penetration levels and electricity prices are highest. High electricity rates amplify the utility’s economic challenge, not just because of the higher rate pressures and associated political obstacles to further investment, but because higher electricity prices induce customers to more likely adopt distributed generation and/or combined heat and power systems, which in turn reduce volumetric sales, an economic spiral that feeds on itself. In such scenarios, solutions are needed now – solutions that consist of new technologies to cost-effectively address technical challenges like time-varying voltage rise and reverse power flow, and enable financial recovery mechanisms that allow utilities to transform the unidirectional distribution system of today into a bidirectional power exchange of tomorrow.