By Hala Ballouz
President, Electric Power Engineers
If you’re watching the rapid evolution of the power grid, it’s pretty clear we stand at the edge of a huge transformation to a grid that will be cleaner, more efficient & reliable. Or not. It all depends upon how we plan it.
We already see numerous early data points that clearly suggest that many functions of the distribution grid and bulk power systems are starting to overlap. Consider just these few facts:
1) One day in April last year, New England’s power grid saw 2:30 PM net demand lower than that of 2:30 AM. Why? An estimated 2,300 MW of on-site solar did the trick.
2) As of mid-2019, California alone boasted over on-site 987,000 solar projects totaling 8,240 MW.
3) The U.S. sold 361,000 Cvs last year, up from 200,000 the prior year. The number is going up again this year.
4) In Utah, one of the lowest cost power markets in the country, Rocky Mountain Power recently paid over $3 million to control an aggregation of 600 behind-the-meter battery storage units totaling 5 MW and 12.5 MWh. These are installed in a master planned residential unit, combined with a 5.2 MW solar array. Soon, this type of arrangement will be commonplace.
These types of activities are leading us to a completely new and very exciting future, where the grid edge is going to be populated with connected ‘smart’ devices that produce, consume, or store energy at different times, responding to various signals. A future state may well look like Hawaii, where planners expect as much as 50% of the energy in the grid to come from the customer side of the meter by 2045, the year set for Hawaii’s carbon-free goal. Or it may look like New York’s Reforming our Energy Vision (REV) model, where the utilities become “Distribution Service Platforms” and serve as intermediaries and facilitators for vendors bringing thousands of distributed energy resources onto the grid. This future ecosystem may ultimately involve tens of millions of these smart and responsive resources within a single utility’s network, bringing new economic efficiencies and levels of reliability to the grid.
Exactly what models will emerge, and which will be most successful is still unclear. What is abundantly clear, though, is that this has the potential to be either highly efficient and successful, or hugely chaotic and problematic. That success or failure will depend largely on the ability to capture the repercussions of each change, as well as its impact on the interconnected system through our market structures.
It is our responsibility to deliver ample studies and simulations of how our future energy market shall be structured, and make sense of enormous amounts of data to plan the future grid carefully, guiding and calibrating our design through dynamic transformations.
How we look at and use that data will be critical. We will need to be able to view it within different hierarchies. We will need to manipulate it based on location, type of asset, capital costs, avoided costs, reliability implications, and many other criteria, so how we set up and view it for our decision-making processes will be critical. The software we use to analyze, plan, and study our transforming grid will need to be continuously reconfigured. We must own it.
Image: Proprietary Visual Analytic Platform integrated with Power System Planning Services
It will need to be modular. And it will need to be connected. This will enable us to ask the right questions and obtain meaningful answers. At EPE, we have been in the information and data game for over five (5) decades; we have had to be in order to serve clients in everything from interconnection studies to power system planning exercises across Transmission & Distribution. So, we know what it means to have the right information, and we appreciate the pain experienced when data is not accurate, accessible, or managed properly.
We also know that this global power grid transformation is just beginning, so we are investing to develop a platform that will allow stakeholders to connect all the dots that matter to them, clarify the critical relationships, and separate signal from noise. We know that our ability to lead as consultants in this industry is fueled by the ability to marry our consulting with our modular intelligent and configurable software tools. We believe this software should function much the way the Internet does: searchable, connected, and efficient, so that we can quickly grasp the relationships that matter to our grid planning and operation.
Image: Significant variance in consumer device usage
Creating the optimal modular software engines is no easy task, but we can’t shape the grid that we want if we don’t allow our development of intelligent software to continuously evolve with emerging technology and the challenges it brings. To that end, we are working with some of the best institutions in the industry, including universities and research organizations from around the country. And we have put the first modules of that software into practice with our client partners to help them better serve thousands of customers.
In our next conversations, we will unveil some exciting partnerships, and share case studies of what our software service does for our clients today, and where we intend to take it tomorrow. Stay tuned.