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Renewable generation, digital grid represent both threats, opportunities in 2019

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Gary Rackliffe's picture
VP Market Development & innovation, North America Hitachi ABB Power Grids

Gary Rackliffe is Vice President for Market Development and Innovation, North America, leading Hitachi ABB Power Grids' smart grid, grid modernization, digital transformation, and energy...

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  • Jan 16, 2019 6:00 pm GMT

This item is part of the Special Issue - 2019-01 - Predictions & Trends, click here for more

As the power industry continues to modernize and continue its remarkable transformation, one factor remains unchanged: the electric grid must remain, above all else, reliable. That’s why distributed energy resources and renewable generation represent both an opportunity and a threat. We are on the brink of adopting DERs like solar and wind as never before. For DERs to meet their potential on the grid and avoid power disruption, more long-term planning and investment are needed. Many utilities have started developing some impressive roadmaps to modernize and upgrade the grid for the long haul.

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Some of the other big changes that I believe will continue to shape the utility industry in 2019 and over the next few years include:

1. The digital grid.  The grid today is becoming more digitalized by the hour. Our approach at ABB runs through our ABB Ability digital platform and applying digitalization across our portfolio, from addressing challenges and technology breakthroughs in digital substations, asset performance management, digital distribution (the core of which is ADMS/DERMS integration), analytics and artificial intelligence (AI). This includes IIoT for utilities and cloud-to-cloud sharing of data across the utility enterprise.

2. Reducing carbon/CO2 emissions.  This includes greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction pathways, which impact carbon-based generation resources and ICE-powered vehicles.  The 40x30 pathway is 40 percent GHG reduction by 2030 and the 80x50 is 80 percent GHG reduction by 2050, using 1990s levels as a baseline.  Today, it appears that states are taking the lead. We are seeing states establish RPS at 50 percent or higher and electrification of transportation initiatives, both in turn impacting utilities and the grid. 

3. Continued growth in renewable generation and integration.  Renewable generation offers promises of reducing CO2 emissions to mitigate the effects of global climate change and reduced dependence on fossil fuels. Technology costs continue to drop, lowering the LCOE for wind and solar.  Grid impacts from renewables growth include transmission, storage, generation resource management, and demand response.

4. Continued growth in electrification of transportation. Nearly every major auto manufacturer now has an electric vehicle for sale or is actively developing an electric vehicle.  Battery costs are dropping, vehicle range is increasing, and maintenance costs are lower, thereby making EVs increasingly more attractive. Utility impacts include supplying the energy and ensuring that the grid can meet the load.  Also, ownership and operation of charging infrastructure will need to be addressed.  In addition to residential charging in private garages, it is important that public, retail, commercial, and corridor charging infrastructure needs to be further deployed.  E-transportation also includes fleets, e-buses, rail, ports, and even ferry boats.

5. Continued growth in energy storage and microgrids.  Lower battery costs driven by the auto manufacturers and leveraging multiple use cases will support the growing development of battery energy storage.  Higher RPS will require storage investments.  Microgrids, especially when coupled with storage, can improve reliability and enable islanded operations with 100% renewable generation.

6. The Grid Edge.  Grid edge utility solutions enabled by field-area communication networks, edge servers and distributed applications, and distributed energy resources (demand response, distribution automation, EVs, storage, EE and microgrids) will continue to re-shape grid operations and customer engagement.

7. Consumer load.  Finally, I think there’s a shift taking place in the traditional thinking of dispatching generation to match load. Over time, we expect to see more aggressive shaping of consumer load to match renewable generation characteristics in addition to peak demand management.  Smart meters, controllable loads, and price transparency can drive demand response programs for industrial consumers (e.g. fully automated future factories) as well as smaller consumers.

While the challenges of grid modernization may seem formidable, there are real solutions available now, with more on the way, to address these challenges and to enable the many growing renewable generation, integration and digitalization investments and opportunities needed to meet renewable portfolio standards and greenhouse gas reduction pathways for the long haul.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Feb 4, 2019

Some great insights, Gary-- thanks.

One question for you. You mention the value of storage and demand response to manage loads and help overcome some of the shortcomings on renewables, but what are your feelings on the relative value of those solutions as compared with the idea of overbuilding renewable generation and curtailing them when demand is lower. Is that cost-effective, or should we focus on the consumer end for now?

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 5, 2019

As demonstrated in Denmark and Germany, the rise of distributed renewable such as wind & solar has a significant positive effect on supply reliability (SAIDI). 
Important, as supply reliability is inferior in USA compared to that in Germany, Denmark, NL, etc.  

Nicholas Newman's picture
Nicholas Newman on May 8, 2019

 I think you should have added the impact of investment in Artificial Intelligence, Automation and Industrial Internet of Things Technologies, to fully demonstrate the key insights that you are demonstrating in this great article.

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