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Adopting Grid Enhancing Technologies to Empower our Renewable Energy Transition

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Nora Brownell's picture
Founder, Espy Energy Solutions
  • Member since 2021
  • 1 items added with 1,691 views
  • May 26, 2021

This item is part of the Grid Modernization - May 2021 SPECIAL ISSUE, click here for more

The renewable energy transition isn’t coming—it’s here. On Tuesday, May 11, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) gave final approval to the nation’s first utility-scale offshore wind park, the 800-megawatt, 62-turbine Vineyard Wind project. And this is just the start. According to Recharge News, state offshore wind capacity commitments now total about 23,000 megawatts, most of these backed by power purchase agreements from guaranteed offtakers. Legions of residential PV solar systems are being installed daily, increasingly paired with large home battery storage systems. Utility-scale and community solar projects are multiplying. Electric vehicle purchases are increasing at scale, and entire companies such as Amazon as well as government agencies and transit systems are moving to all-electric fleets and too many utility scale wind projects are just sitting in a queue waiting for enough transmission capacity to be built, delaying thousands of jobs. 

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Promising as these projects are, as part of the Biden Administration’s renewable energy goals and its defined and focused effort to halt the creep of global warming and climate change, interconnecting them to regional bulk power grids is putting more strain on an already-taxed transmission network. Utilities and regional grid operators see the societal benefits of these new renewables, EVs, and other distributed energy resources, while moving away from coal and other fossil generation. But this transition is moving quickly, and we need to support these changes by recreating the grid and the organizations that manage it to manage a repurposed delivery system.  We must adopt new grid enhancing technologies to manage these new realities - which we can do right now while creating tens of thousands of jobs across America. 

At the same time, factory, household, and rural electrification is expanding along with new distributed energy resources that further tax the transmission and distribution systems, creating constraints and expensive congestion costs – totaling as high as $8 billion annually - that typically fall back onto ratepayers. And in the wake of the historic February 2021 Texas blackout, it’s likely that ties between and among other regional grids will be increased, enabling power to be routed to and from those areas as loads change.   

Surely realizing the grid itself is perhaps the largest obstacle to a clean energy economy, the Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office is seeking applications for up to $5 billion in loan guarantees to support innovative transmission projects. These include high-voltage direct current (HVDC) systems, transmission to connect offshore wind, and facilities sited along rail and highway routes. According to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, “DOE is making financing available for projects that improve resilience and expand transmission capacity across the electrical grid, so we can reliably move clean energy from places where it’s produced to places where it’s needed most.” And in late April, the White House announced the formation of a Grid Investments Advisory Council, backing the expansion and modernization of the grid, with a special focus on the large-scale deployment of smart grid technologies that will increase capacity in the near term “while building flexibility and resilience into our national grid.” 

The DOE also recognizes the critical issues facing the electricity system, including the increasing electrification of infrastructure and the need for resilience. In September 2020, the DOE issued its National Electricity Transmission Study, concluding that “Transmission’s role in reliably, securely, and economically adjusting to anticipated changes in the composition and location of the future fleet of electricity generators” are important considerations, and “As the electricity sector continues to evolve, unanticipated events could drive further changes in transmission needs.”  

And the needs are significant now. According to the Center for American Progress, the United States now experiences more blackouts than any other developed country, with more than 2,500 major outages reported since 2002. Many industry observers see an inefficient, aged, and unreliable transmission system that will struggle to support broad deployment of renewables, climate-driven weather extremes, security attacks and other externalities. And even with the DOE’s new transmission loan programs and increased investment by utilities and grid operators, the costs and time-lags involved in siting, permitting and construction point to one thing: we must get the most out of our existing grid system while we build new transmission.  

Fortunately, the means exist already to do just that. Grid Enhancing Technologies (GETs) are of special focus right now among utilities, policy makers and technologists. GETs are designed and deployed with a singular purpose: dramatically reduce or eliminate congestion on power lines. One particular cost effective “GETs” technology in focus is the use of DLR or Dynamic Line Ratings which offer the ability to transmit more megawatts through an existing conductor at a fraction of the cost of building new transmission. This technology collects real-time data on critical parameters of overhead power lines, including line temperature, sag, horizontal motion, and anomalous motion, supporting the safe use of DLRs vs. typically inaccurate and lower-than-necessary static line ratings.

DLR applications have already demonstrated a 20-30% increase of average annual transmission capacity above static ratings while maintaining system reliability, according to a 2021 report by the New York State Department of Public Service. One recent deployment of this non-invasive technology in Colorado, Minnesota and Wisconsin helped unlock additional capacity on Xcel Energy’s transmission lines, allowing more renewable energy sources to be added to the grid. And according to a recent study by the Brattle Group, grid enhancing technologies like Dynamic Line Ratings can double renewable energy installations on the grid right now.

Advanced line ratings like DLR are so compelling, in fact, that FERC has proposed rules mandating the use of the technology by utilities and more recently proposed a workshop on possible new performance-based rates to incentives the deployments of GETs.  A variety of utilities like Xcel, National Grid, Dominion, TVA and countless others have already deployed devices across transmission lines that will enable DLR - which also can help prevent conditions that can spark wildfires from power lines.

In an era of 100-year storms annually, rapid electrification of society and massive new sources of electric generation including utility-scale renewables, dependable and resilient power grids are an absolute necessity. The United States has the means and access to the technologies that can make this happen. We simply have to use them. And now.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on May 26, 2021

These include high-voltage direct current (HVDC) systems, transmission to connect offshore wind, and facilities sited along rail and highway routes.

I've heard a lot of buzz about HVDC, but it's always seemed a step too far for the U.S. grid. Do you think now it's really in the grasp? Perhaps the silver lining of the economic downturn is the federal government is looking for major projects to inject spending into for jobs, manufacturing, etc.? 

Dave Bryant's picture
Dave Bryant on May 27, 2021

Very insightful article about the importance of leveraging technology to advance our grid and reduce GHG emissions. In addition to DLR and other technologies many Utilities such as AEP, SCE and 250 others in 60 countries are doubling the capacity of their existing transmission lines using ACCC Conductor to alleviate congestion, access more renewables and reduce consumer costs. This conductor technology also mitigates sag to reduce fire risks and sag-trip outages. It also REDUCES LINE LOSSES BY 30% which save boatloads of dollars and emissions while freeing-up generation assets otherwise wasted. All of these technologies can work well in unison. Check out a recent article written by Mustafa Ali at SCE: Reconductoring vs. Rebuilding


Peter Esposito's picture
Peter Esposito on Jun 2, 2021

As you know Nora I've been a fan of the regulatory paradigm FERC adopted in the late 80s/early 90s for interstate gas pipelines, specifically, unbundling merchant service and the elimination of periodic rate case requirements.  This spurred pipelines to increase throughput by eliminating bottlenecks in a cost effective manner, mainly by targeted looping and the addition of compression.  While increasing their returns, they didn't raise rates and in many cases provided incremental service at discounted rates and made more than their ROE.  Wins for everyone. 

I've always thought the model would work for power transmission, but in recent years the increased use of formula rates is going in the exact opposite direction of what is needed for this model to work.  This has left me questioning whether I should give up on my advocacy of the pipeline model. 

Before I shut up, I thought I'd investigate how much of the equivalent of looping and compression can actually be achieved on power transmission lines but hadn't really found anything, until now.  Indeed, it looks these improvements now have a name - Grid Enhancing Technologies (GETS) - their potential is huge, and unless I'm missing something, the siting delays and environmental impacts of their installation and operation should be minimal. See Slides 9-14.  Thank you Brattle.

Of course, under the existing regulatory paradigm, utilities have little or no incentive to install GETs if they face the risk of a prudence or other challenge or competition to their own generation, and have no upside because of required periodic rate cases.  And, if they can convince Congress to give them ITCs for massive new transmission investments, why even think about GETs? 

Bottom line:  The obstacles to adoption of this paradigm continue to grow, but the now documented payoff in terms of potential to win the climate change war in a cost effective, environmentally benign manner (before consumers rebel against rate increases) has reinvigorated my enthusiasm.  I'll say it till I die:  It's time we changed the paradigm and reward utilities for adopting creative fixes that increase transmission utilization and reliability. 

Nora Brownell's picture
Thank Nora for the Post!
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