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New Transmission Technologies Are Essential for an Evolving Grid

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Karen Marcus's picture
Freelance Energy and Technology Researcher and Writer Final Draft Communications, LLC

In addition to serving as an Energy Central Community Manager, Karen Marcus has 25 years of experience as a content developer within the energy and technology industries. She has worked with...

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Just as smart meters have been vital to grid modernization at the distribution level, new technologies have the potential to revolutionize energy transmission. One reason the transmission process needs to be overhauled is the presence of transmission congestion.

According to the Working for Advanced Transmission Technologies (WATT) Coalition, “Transmission congestion occurs when there is insufficient transmission capacity to deliver lower-cost generation resources to consumers, requiring the use of higher-cost generators closer to customers. This increases the price of electricity in congested areas….”  

WATT recommends three technologies — Advanced Power Flow Control, Dynamic Line Rating, and Advanced Topology Control — which it says offer more transmission capacity, less congestion, higher reliability, and improved renewables integration. In addition, according to a WATT white paper, “Widespread deployment of these technologies could reduce the cost of electricity to consumers by as much as $2 billion per year….” Let’s take a look at each of these technologies and what they can mean for a more powerful grid.

Advanced Power Flow Control

According to WATT, power flow control “is a set of technologies that push or pull power away from overloaded lines and onto underutilized corridors within the existing transmission network.” The advanced version does the same, but with advanced features like scalability and faster deployment.

Power flow control was used during the cold snap that affected the northeastern U.S. in 2018, helping to divert power from areas curtailed due to congestion to areas where it was needed.

Dynamic Line Ratings

Dynamic line ratings (DLRs) enable greater flow through a transmission line and detects when it should be reduced to ensure safe and consistent operation.

DLRs also helped keep the lights on during the 2018 cold snap. According to a report by ISO New England (ISO-NE), an increase in scheduling limit was made possible by the cold conditions, which “helped to improve thermal transfer capability.” This action helped move power from areas that had excess to where it was most needed. These instances are examples of how power flow control and DLRs could be deployed more extensively to increase transmission capacity.

Advanced Topology Control

WATT states, “Transmission topology optimization is a software technology that automatically identifies reconfigurations of the grid to route power flow around congested or overloaded transmission elements…. By more evenly distributing flow over the network, topology optimization increases the transfer capacity of the grid.”

These technologies aren’t the only ones driving an upgraded grid. Utility-scale wireless transmission is another one that could change the way the grid operates. An article appearing on IEEE Spectrum, describing damaged transmission lines and power stations states, “The fundamental vulnerability in each case is that the power grid relies on metal cables to carry electricity every meter along the way.” According to the article, wireless power is achieved when “energy is converted into electromagnetic radiation by a transmitting antenna picked up by a receiving antenna, and then distributed locally by conventional means.”

This technology is still in the testing phase but could prove useful over time. A combination of these and other innovations could lead to a more reliable, consistent, stable, flexible grid.

What do you know about emerging power transmission technologies? Please share in the comments.

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John Simonelli's picture
John Simonelli on Nov 12, 2020

While managing the power flow on the system using dynamic line ratings, power control devices and adjusting topology to maximize transmission utilization is beneficial, it does not necessarily deal with other transmission limitations. Power transfers across systems can also be limited by voltage/reactive performance and transient stability response. As an example, a system could have transfer limits based on a NERC criteria contingency, a 3-phase fault with delayed clearing due to a stuck breaker. If the transfer limits were based on the transient response of the system to this contingency, none of these tools are going to address that. One has to be careful, while these tools are all very useful and can help, they're not the magic silver bullet that will cure all transfer constraints on the system.

Karen Marcus's picture
Karen Marcus on Nov 13, 2020

Good point, John. Thanks for sharing your expertise!

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