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Encouraging Grid Innovation with the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act

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Anthony Allard's picture
Executive Vice President, Head of North America Hitachi Energy

Anthony Allard is Executive Vice President, Head of North America at Hitachi Energy. Allard was most recently Chief Operating Officer of BECIS, a leading energy as a service solution provider in...

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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2022-05 - Innovation In the Electric Power Industry, click here for more

The Biden Administration’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is intended, at a high level, to improve U.S. infrastructure, mitigate climate change, and modernize our country’s energy systems – in the process, it’s also expected to create jobs. One particular component of the IIJA, Section 40107, presents a unique opportunity to help utilities and other participants in the energy system embrace innovation and pioneer new technologies and practices that can enable them to modernize and strengthen their operations.

How can this be accomplished? A key focus of 40107 is around the digitalization of utilities and encouraging investment in new technologies, like smart grid capabilities and utility analytics, that can lead to faster, more intelligent, and automated decision-making and promote resiliency. Section 40107 also supports exploration into emerging challenges, such as the integration of large-scale EV charging infrastructure (and associated loads) into grids.

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Overcoming Hesitation from Utilities

Often, utilities don’t like to take risks because energy is a critical resource on which society depends and their overarching responsibility is to provide a high-quality, consistent power supply. Any unplanned outages or interruptions in service are extremely unwelcome and potentially very disruptive to local communities. As a result, many utilities simply aren’t prepared to try out ‘new’ technologies or allocate capital from another important project.

That said, with the challenges facing utilities – integration of ever-increasing volumes of renewable energy, introduction of large-scale EV charging requirements, growing cyber-security risk – there is a great deal of work to be done to improve utility operations while accommodating these shifting industry dynamics. Specifically, utilities will have to upgrade their capabilities for gathering, analyzing and utilizing data in operational systems, reporting systems, management systems and more.

Section 40107 of the IIJA provides a mechanism to enable utilities to invest in new technologies that could address some of these challenges, while minimizing risk and partially subsidizing their investments.

Supporting Innovation with Policy: Understanding Section 40107 of the IIJA

Section 40107 of the IIJA presents a major opportunity to encourage innovation by utilities. It establishes a system of matching grants, which can enable utilities to explore new technologies or novel applications of existing technologies through large-scale demonstrations or pilots, or targeted commercial deployments, with the U.S. government covering a significant portion of the needed funding.

,The program will utilize a mechanism known as the Smart Grid Investment Matching Grant Program, developed as part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), a program instituted in 2009. This mechanism is already familiar to many potential applicants, which should help to simplify the application process. 

There are a number of broad categories of technologies, software and applications within the scope of Section 40107, including:

  • Data Analytics Enabling Smart Grid Functions
  • Demand Flexibility Applications
  • Utility Communications Systems
  • Advanced Transmission Technologies
  • Extreme Weather/Disaster Preparedness and Response Applications
  • Grid Flexibility Technologies
  • Distributed Energy Storage
  • Grid Edge Solutions

These technologies, software and applications can play important roles in enabling grids to dynamically adapt to, and balance energy supply and demand, improve operations, enhance grid reliability and resiliency, reduce the frequency and duration of outages and improve overall efficiency and sustainability. They can also help mitigate threats to the electrical grid posed by the increasing frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events and secure against cyberattacks, ultimately enabling a more stable and reliable grid.

Section 40107 gives utilities the support they need to experiment with unfamiliar technologies or kickstart planned investments, without taking on undue risk

Powering Future Utilities

The overarching intent of Section 40107 is to increase the reliability, resiliency and flexibility of power grids in the U.S. With the investments made possible through matching grants, utilities will have the opportunity to introduce a variety of new capabilities, including:

  • Improvements to grid reliability through grid hardening, automation, and operational systems, resulting in the mitigation and detection of disruptions.
  • Smoother integration of renewable, distributed energy resources into the grid
  • Acceleration of EV adoption and electrification by better managing supply with increased and shifting demand and providing better capabilities to manage large-scale charging needs with minimal investment in new infrastructure.
  • Introduction of transmission power flow and dynamic line ratings to handle capacity increases.
  • Building secure, private field area communication networks to enable these advanced applications.

With Section 40107, more of these use-cases and technology can be funded, supporting increased functionality and increasing efficiency, reliability, resiliency and sustainability.

Supporting a Sustainable Energy Future

Utilities shoulder a major responsibility when it comes to supporting decarbonizing our energy supply while maintaining high levels of reliability. With growing demand for electricity from the transportation industry, the need to shift aggressively toward renewable energy, utilities need to be able to explore new technologies and techniques without taking on substantial risk - Section 40107 of the IIJA just may provide the support they need to get started.

Anthony Allard's picture
Thank Anthony for the Post!
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David Trahan's picture
David Trahan on Jun 21, 2022

Hi Anthony,

One of your bullet points offered in your post reads.

  • Improve grid reliability through grid hardening, automation, and operational systems, resulting in the mitigation and detection of disruptions.

I want to offer knowledge and experience in developing cost-effective concrete mix designs that far exceed the compressive and ductility strength of even the best wooden power pole. We have developed cost-effective mix designs capable of providing material to pre-cast power poles, which are 5 to 10 times stronger than the traditional wood poles, with a life span objective of over 200 years.

We can do all the other factors mentioned in your post, better and cleaner generation and intelligent distribution capacity. Still, if the power cannot withstand the ever-greater storm events or fail from old age, all those better forms of energy will be unable to reach the customer.

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