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Where the US Stand on Load Management and Innovation

Todd Carney's picture
Writer Freelance

Todd Carney is a graduate of Harvard Law School. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Public Communications. He writes on many different aspects of energy, in particular how it...

  • Member since 2021
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  • Jul 19, 2022
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The record heat this summer is exhausting grids. Although a major catastrophe is unlikely to occur in the next few months, the market and governments need to promote greater innovation in order to better craft load management to ensure grid capacity continues to meet our needs. In an age where new platforms and inventions occur every day, it would seem that innovation for grids comes easily. Well sometimes it does, but other times there is a lack of innovation, and that impedes grid security. This article looks at where the US is succeeding and failing in terms of innovation and how it impacts load management.

Successes

In Texas, an energy company, El Paso Electric, is carrying out a study that looks into ways to decrease overall energy demand, while also coming up with ways to shift usage to “non-peak” hours. The study is in its early stages, as they are still planning out ways to properly administer it. But the fact that a company is willing to invest real money into helping solve this problem offers hope that more companies will want to join in. 

Financially it makes sense that an energy company would want to invest in ways to balance out the grid. While more demand is generally good for an energy company, if they reach their peak during some hours but not others, then they are essentially burning money. Additionally, if the grid goes out and people lose power, then that will make people think poorly of the company.

A more concrete sign of these kinds of investments paying off is the fact that the US’s energy storage capacity tripled in the last year due to further developments in battery technology, and solar and wind power. This is creating an increased demand for batteries, which is causing the price to increase. Hopefully these price increases will incentivize more companies to develop this kind of technology.

Setbacks

Despite these successes, grid failures are occurring. Some in the energy space take the view that these crashes are occurring because there is not enough innovations. Some trade associations have even issued warnings that the current infrastructure is not up to par to handle the extreme weather conditions the world has seen lately. Experts have noted that the US is particularly sensitive to these kinds of threats because the United States is vast, and has different climates. 

The group, the American Society for Civil Engineers, project that the US is faced with a storage of $130 billion to deal with the maintenance of power lines. Unfortunately “powerline maintenance” is not something inherently interesting to politicians because of all the issues at the forefront of the US. But politicians from states where there are more serious problems with the grid, such as Texas, California, and Ohio, are causing their politicians to care more about maintaining the grid.

On top of maintenance, historically companies have not invested a lot of money in grid innovation. While energy itself attracts a lot of money, the other facets of the energy industry have taken priority over the grid. Some companies are not interested in working on the grid directly because the regulatory structure of grids is complicated since they can span multiple states. This has caused some experts to push for deregulation to make it easier for investments to occur.

Despite the general lack of federal investment, Congress has allocated some money towards updated grids. Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in 2021, and in it they included $12 billion towards updating grids. But based on the figure above, both the private and public sector will need to allocate a greater amount of money.

Outside of physical infrastructure, advocates want the US to develop better ways for load and demand centers to coordinate. This gets at what some of what El Paso Electric is attempting. Having this kind of communication could ensure a better understanding of when demand peaks and how to decrease that demand.

The US has long prided itself on being a nation of inventors. Many of the most groundbreaking technological developments have come from the US. The issues with the grid are similar to problems that the US has solved in the past, and with the right kind of investment, the US can fix this issue.

 

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