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Making Connections That Matter

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Nevelyn Black's picture
Writer, Independent

Nevelyn Black is an independent writer with a background in broadcast and a keen interest in renewable energy.  In the last few years, she transitioned from celebrity interviews and film shoots...

  • Member since 2017
  • 911 items added with 525,361 views
  • Feb 23, 2023

“The grid is going to need to produce and transport much more electricity than in the past,” said Dan Madey, senior solution architect for Cisco.  The International Energy Agency (IEA) said demand will increase across the nation “at a much faster pace.”  In the U.S., growth was driven by higher residential use during heatwaves and an exceptionally cold winter. How will the U.S. grid provide more power, improve transmission, and increase security to the millions depending on it? 

With A Little Help

“Expanding and strengthening our power grid means we can get Americans power where and when they need it most, and in so doing deploy the clean energy we need to reach our climate goals and ultimately bring down energy costs,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm in a statement. “With nearly 70% of the nation’s grid more than 25 years old, the president’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is a pivotal catalyst for transmission projects across the nation.”   

Historically rich and known for its beautiful farmland, bluegrass music, and Appalachian Mountains, rural Virginia is looking to expand and modernize its grid. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is making a $2.7 billion investment toward 64 electric cooperatives and utilities across the country.  The Central Virginia Electric Cooperative is one of three electric cooperatives in Virginia that will get funding.  Virginia is not alone; the money will benefit nearly two million residents and businesses in rural areas in 26 states. 

The World’s Smartest City

In Virginia, the Electric Loan Program includes $613 million to help rural utilities and cooperatives install and upgrade smart grid technologies.  “A lot of these technologies can enhance reliability and respond to outages,” says Paul Zummo, director of research and development for the American Public Power Association. 

  • Smart meters provide data on energy use to help with energy management.  Rochester Gas and Electric Corp. announced that it will install 26,000 smart electric meters for the first time in the region.
  • IoT sensors are helping property managers control building energy use.  Florida Power and Light Co. (FPL) is expected to rollout advanced sensors known as Phasor Measurement Units (PMUs) that among other things, allows operators to assess grid stability and employs relays that sense and recover faults or re-route power around problems.  The Edge in Amsterdam has more than 28,000 sensors and actuators to track the flow of energy, data, and heating.
  • Acting as an intermediary, grid edge computing facilitates storage and communication between computing recourses and the smart grid.  “Moving forward, there will be a mix of cases where edge computing makes more sense than feeding raw data into a hub and creating new analytics centrally,” said NYPA spokesperson Alex Chiaravalle. 
  • Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have already found their way into the energy sector.  Hydro-power stations operators hope to apply machine learning to axis failure prevention in the hydro-generator unit. Nuclear power plants are using ML algorithm to identify patterns and anomalies and to optimize performance and safety.  In Australia, Colin Packham Energy and resources reporter, pointed to Essential Energy and Neara for using AL and ML to create an interactive three-dimensional model of its network, covering 900,000 homes and business.  “The way that AI helps, as suggested by many recent studies, is to replace numerical optimization with methods like reinforcement learning. Reinforcement learning models can be trained on numerous operation scenarios, and once trained, they can make scalable decisions in very short time,” said Mehdi Hosseini, a data scientist with Beyond Limits.
  • Singapore is leading the way as ‘The World’s Smartest City.’ It has introduced a wide range of smart technologies in both its public and private sectors.  Now, in connection with two iniatives, AI for Everyone and AI for Industry, the city will support 12,000 professionals and students to learn AI.  New York City ranks top for smart cities in the U.S., with various programs to improve the infrastructure.  A smart city is filled with smart buildings that can reduce or increase consumption upon request while maintaining a balance and not putting too much stress on the grid. 

A Smarter Grid

From smart meters and outage sensors to edge computing, and machine learning, the technology exists but execution can be a challenge.  At Virginia Tech, they’re working on a solution.  The four-person team is researching how to transform a system that supports a coal-fired plant to a vehicle that easily carries power generated from renewable energy sources.  Head of the project and an assistant professor in Virginia Tech’s Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Yuhao Zhang, said “We’re going to explore the use of a new semiconductor material, which has superior … electrical properties over silicon.”  Providing further information he explained that the switches will be triggered by light signals rather than electricity, making them quicker and more reliable.  “[It’s] gonna basically give us a smarter grid,” says assistant professor Christina DiMarino, another member of the team.

Are we well on our way to a smarter grid and one that fills the gaps, created by increased demand, with renewable energy sources?  “The energy crisis is accelerating rather than slowing down the transition of the power energy systems,” said Keisuke Sadamori, director of the office for energy security at the IEA.  Revealing his optimism, Sadamori said he expects renewables and nuclear power to meet more than 90 percent of the additional demand.  Midwest developers are expected to install 15 gigawatts worth of new photovoltaic panels.  That is enough to power 12 million households.  The largest landfill solar project in North America has just been connected to the grid in New Jersey. 

In the U.K., getting connected to the grid is becoming much harder.  Julian Leslie, ESO’s head of networks and chief engineer. “Through this package of short-term initiatives and longer-term reforms we are determined to address the challenges with the current process which was not designed to operate the sheer scale of applications we are receiving today.”

Making Connections

All the efforts to upgrade and modernize the grid are warranted.  Recently, the largest landfill solar project was connected to the grid.  In Montana things didn’t go as smoothly. Broadview Solar applied for an 80 MW (AC) Qualifying Facility electricity with the state.  However, Montana Public Utilities Commission rejected it.  Broadview Solar appealed.  Why the debate about connecting to the grid?  Instead of a bottleneck situation, Montana Public Utilities Commission stated that the solar power facility should be based upon its direct current (DC) rating.  The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in Broadview’s favor, stating a solar power facility’s alternating current (AC) size is the technical consideration that matters when determining “Qualifying Facility” status under Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA). 

As demand increases and renewables flourish, requests to connect new technology and new resources will continue to test our aging grid.  “For nearly two decades, Florida Power and Light has been on a journey to build a stronger, smarter and more storm-resilient energy grid to better serve our customers,” Manny Miranda, executive vice president of power delivery for FPL, said. “We’re pleased to work with S&C, with whom we’ve had a long relationship, to help develop modern solutions that advance the grid and have a positive impact for our customers by keeping the power on, now and in the decades to come.”


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