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Non-Wires Alternatives for Power Delivery to Customers

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Julian Jackson's picture
Staff Writer, Energy Central, BrightGreen PR

Julian Jackson is a writer whose interests encompass business and technology, cryptocurrencies, energy and the environment, as well as photography and film. His portfolio is here:...

  • Member since 2020
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  • Feb 15, 2023

Electricity comes down wires to the user – everybody knows this. However, power lines have disadvantages, and now some companies are exploring non-wires delivery systems.

For the past decade, utilities have spent an average of $55 billion annually upgrading their distribution, transmission, and generation infrastructure to meet increasing demand. A significant proportion of those funds has gone into the “last mile” for delivery to users' homes and businesses.

Eversource, Pacific Gas & Electric and Duke Energy are among the utilities which are trialling non-wires solutions (NWS) for power delivery from microgrids and other distributed energy resources. They can help reduce costs by avoiding the construction of expensive new distribution systems or upgrades. Because non-wires alternatives are generally local, using clean power, they can also be more environmentally friendly than poles and wires. They can either boost energy production at a specific location or reduce electrical loads.

NWS are applications of DERs in particular places that defer or eliminate an investment in the traditional and costlier “poles-and-wires” infrastructure. Utilities should consider whether a DER/Battery storage system is a better solution in any particular circumstance than installing or upgrading power lines.

To scale non-wires systems several important market barriers must be addressed. Despite their benefits, markets for NWS remain early stage. Although utilities across the nation spend billions of dollars each year on distribution infrastructure, as noted above, only a few have pursued NWS at scale.

This slow uptake is due to a number of barriers, including:

• Regulatory frameworks that do not always encourage NWS

• Limited utility expertise and processes around NWS

• Limited procurement experience, which inhibits competitive non-wires solution proposals

Overall, if these barriers were overcome, utilities could deploy more NWS, with ensuing cost reductions for themselves and consumers, reduced emissions from local generation, and better resilience for the grid.


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