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The Grid’s Delicate Balancing Act

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Paul Korzeniowski's picture
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Utilities find themselves in a conundrum of conflicting objectives when they examine how the energy grid will evolve. They need to balance availability, resilience, sustainability, and costs when evaluating how to deliver their services to consumers. The various drivers present them with tradeoffs and decisions that will impact themselves and their customers in the short and long term.

Grid Dependability

Availability has been a hallmark with the grid historically. When consumers plug an item into a socket, electricity flows. Best practices have been developed with traditional fossil fuels, so they understand how to deliver power under such demanding requirements no matter what the circumstances are.

Resilience is an availability tentacle. In some cases, demand will spike or distribution problems will arise. Energy producers have best practices to circumvent such hurdles. Energy flows from areas with an abundance to one in need, often automatically. The rise of smart meters is helping them gain more insight into how supply, demand, and grid fluctuate, so they manage  challenges more proactively.

Changing Availability Metrics

In the long term, the industry would like to migrate away from fossil fuel to renewable energy sources, like sun and wind. The challenges are many, with availability a prime one. Unlike fossil fuels, utilities do not control the wind and the sun, so, they lose the plug-and-play capability found with fossil fuels. Compounding the problem, utilities find it difficult to store renewable energy generated during peak production periods. Breakthroughs are needed in battery technology in order to simplify the process. While a lot of time, effort, and money are being invested in this area, no silver bullet exists today.

Those limitations and the immaturity of renewable energy sources lead to high prices. Currently, the cost for fossil fuels is more than renewables. Without government incentives, utilities are hard pressed to convince consumers to invest in the technology. While consumers seem interested in helping the environment, that desire falls stops when they have to reach into their pockets and pay extra for green energy or electric vehicles.

The end result is that utilities find themselves entering an interesting crossroad. They understand that the future lies in renewable energy but until the renewable barriers fall, it is difficult for them to fully embrace the technology.

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