Modernizing The Power Grid

The US grid modernization plan provides a blueprint for other utilities and countries.
Published: Fri 22 Jan 2016

A key issue facing the industry is how to transition to a modern grid that meets the demands of the evolving electric sector.

A changing generation mix with distributed and clean energy, the need for more resilience and security, growing supply and demand-side opportunities for customers to participate in electricity markets, the emergence of interconnected systems and control and ageing electricity infrastructure are all impacting the need for transformation globally. Just their pace and consequent impact and relative importance vary between countries and regions.

With the stimulus from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, there has been growing development of smart grids not only in the US but globally. But despite the considerable advances from the many pilot projects and other subsequent developments, there appears to be still a good deal we need to learn and understand to build out the modern, 21st century grid.

Grid modernization plan

In a move which is set to have as much impact on the next phase of grid modernization as the ARRA activity has had so far, the US Department of Energy has developed the Grid Modernization Multi-year Program Plan setting out the key developments that are seen as necessary to advance to a modernized grid.

The plan, with a focus primarily on achieving greater insight and control along with the necessary institutional conditions. covers six technical areas:

1. Devices and integrated systems testing, i.e. the new distributed devices and systems that will help deliver the flexibility required by the future grid for managing variable generation, engaging consumer, and enhancing reliability and resiliency while keeping electricity affordable.

Specific activities will include development of advanced storage systems, power electronics and other grid devices, precise models of emerging components and controllers, and standards and testing.

2. Sensing and measurements, i.e. measuring and monitoring of the vital parameters throughout the electric power network necessary to assess the health of the grid in real time, predict its behaviour and respond to events effectively.

Specific activities will include improved sensing for devices, buildings, and end-users, enhanced sensing for transmission and distribution systems, and development of data analytic and visualization techniques.

3. System operations, power flow and control, i.e. the new control technologies to support new generation, load, and storage technologies.

Specific activities will include development of grid architecture and control theory, coordinated system controls and enhanced power flow control device hardware, and improved analytics and computation for grid operations and control.

4. Design and planning tools, i.e. the next generation of modelling and simulation tools needed for power system planning.

Specific activities will include scale tools for comprehensive economic assessment, development of tools for improving reliance and reliability, and building computation technologies to speed up analyses.

5. Security and resilience, i.e. to meet physical and cybersecurity challenges posed by the increasing natural and man-made threats to the electric grid.

Specific activities will include improve ability to identify and protect against threats and hazards and to respond to incidents.

6. Institutional support to key decision-makers.

Specific activities will include workshops and dialogue and other forms of technical assistance including new analytic frameworks for key grid modernization issues.  

Integrated regional demonstrations

The technologies, tools and analyses that will be developed in the six technical areas above will feed into real-world regional demonstrations designed to accelerate research outputs to widespread deployment.

Three specific concepts are envisioned for the first round of demonstration projects:

• Transmission and distribution system operating reliably on a lean reserve margin, with full visibility of the power system from real-time sensor networks enabling new approaches to system design, control, operations, protection and optimization.

• Resilient distribution feeders with high percentages of low-carbon distributed energy resources incorporating advances in real-time system monitoring.

• Advanced modern grid planning and analytics platform coupling high-performance transmission, distribution and communications.

These will begin in the 2019-2020 timescale and will run through 2025.

US$220m for grid modernization

Putting its money where its mouth is, the US DOE announced, along with the release of the Grid Modernization Plan, the award of up to US$220 million over 3 years to 88 grid modernization R&D projects.

The funding falls under the Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium, which was formed in November 2014 as a partnership between DOE headquarters and the 14 national laboratories and other partners to bring together leading experts and resources to collaborate on the goal of modernizing the nation’s grid.

Subsequently a further US$11 million has been announced through ARPA-E for seven projects focused on new data models and repositories and US$18 million has been announced under the SunShot initiative for six projects focussed on the development of solar storage solutions.

Further programmes, initiatives, and funding opportunity announcements for the initiative are anticipated.

Further reading

US DOE: Grid Modernization Multi-year Program Plan

US DOE: Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium R&D project awards