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Why we need to Connect Policy with Technology

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Dave Bryant's picture
Director Technology CTC Global

Director Technology, CTC Global Corporation. Co-Inventor of ACCC Conductor and ancillary hardware

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  • May 26, 2021 5:39 am GMT
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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2021 - 05 - Grid Modernization, click here for more

For several decades, many of us have come to the realization that anthropomorphic activities are contributing to climate change. We use fossil fuels to power our cars, homes and businesses. Unfortunately, the use of fossil fuels release GHG emissions which is taking the heat (pun intended) for global warming.

Fortunately, many of us have been battling this on different fronts. Looking back to the 1970’s many utilities began improving the efficiency of generation equipment to consume less fuel and deliver more power to address growing demand. In the 1980’s, when it became increasingly difficult to build new generation assets, a move began to inspire consumers to use more efficient appliances to reduce the need to build more generation. In the 1980’s, 1990’s and beyond, many utilities turned to renewable sources of generation.

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Today, accelerated efforts are underway to further improve the efficiency of appliances (think LED light bulbs), install more renewable generation assets, leverage smart meters, dynamic line rating equipment, batteries, and more. While microgrids may help to some degree, our macro transmission grid is lagging.

Our new administration’s plan to throw money at the problem may help, but the NIMBY’s don’t really care, and money has never really been an issue when it comes to transmission investment. If our intention is to build new transmission lines to move clean power regionally, we need policies that allow this to happen within accelerated time frames.

While FERC is considering changing various incentives utilities rely on to receive reasonable ROI’s on their T&D investments, and considering a “consumer benefits” approach vs a “risk based” approach to ROI’s, a gaping hole may remain!  

While lots of papers have stated clearly that its cheaper to save a “Negawatt” than it is to produce a Megawatt (meaning that it is less expensive to conserve energy than it is to create it), very little consideration is given to the efficiency of the grid itself. From a financial position, the utilities don’t seem to care much, because the cost of power lost on and inefficient grid is simply passed along to consumers.

New policy needs to consider the importance of grid efficiency and grid operators need to look beyond “cheapest upfront capital costs” when considering project approvals.

Researchers at the University of Maryland and John Hopkins have concluded that nearly one-billion metric tons of CO2 equivalents can be attributed to inefficiencies in the world’s electric power grid.

While many might think none of this matters too much in the U.S., let me share one example:

In 2016 American Electric Power replaced 240 circuit miles of legacy ACSR conductor with new ACCC Conductor on their 345 kV grid in Texas. They selected ACCC Conductor due to its higher capacity, reduced thermal sag and resistance to corrosion for their transmission lines near the Gulf of Mexico. The higher capacity and lighter weight of the ACCC Conductor allowed them to use the existing structures, without modification to save time and money. Using a live line technique, they avoided shutdowns and achieved their goals eight months ahead of schedule.

The use of the more efficient ACCC Conductor also reduced line losses by 30%, saving over 300,000 MWh per year. That is the equivalent of reducing CO2 emissions by 200,000 metric tons – the equivalent of removing 34,000 cars from the road. Looking at it from another perspective, the reduction in line losses also freed-up 34 MW of generation capacity (which would cost more than the conductor AEP selected). Considering that thermal plants consume around 12,000 gallons of clean, filtered and pumped water for every MW generated, they are also saving ~3.5 billions of gallons of water every year. In a place like Texas, that’s probably a good thing.

Improving the efficiency of the grid using existing and highly proven technology should be considered a no-brainer. If we can create efficiency policies for generation and demand side appliances, we should be able to create efficiency policies for our grid, as well. In this case, everyone wins.

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SRIRAM KALAGA's picture
SRIRAM KALAGA on Jun 9, 2021

No grid modernization is complete unless it includes developments in materials technology. As intensity of coastal hurricanes and ice storms increases as part of climate change, potential for damage to the existing transmission and distribution grid also increases consequentially. The first step in meeting the grid modernization challenge is to protect the T & D systems: poles, towers and lines. Structural and logistical resiliency is the watchword for the future. We need to consider newer pole systems such as FRP composites which are several times stronger and resilient than wood, steel and concrete. Regulatory agencies such as IEEE/NESC and ASCE already included FRP systems in their current design standards. Utilities must consider FRPs in their planning processes and investment decisions. Initial costs may be a bit higher but the investment in emerging technologies will pay off handsomely in the long run. How? A typical FRP transmission or distribution pole is slated to last a minimum of 80 years; they're immune to weather effects and do not need any maintenance. Think about it.      

Dave Bryant's picture
Dave Bryant on Jun 9, 2021

I fully agree. https://www.ctcglobal.com/how-utilities-are-strengthening-the-electric-power-grid-to-mitigate-line-outages-and-restore-power-quickly-after-extreme-weather-events/

JESSE NYOKABI's picture
JESSE NYOKABI on Jun 9, 2021

Well articulated and insightful.. 

JESSE NYOKABI's picture
JESSE NYOKABI on Jun 9, 2021

Reinvigorating research is need while we pursue grid modernization.

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