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"We need to start thinking out of the box..."

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Nevelyn Black's picture
Writer, Independent

Nevelyn Black is an independent writer with a background in broadcast and a keen interest in renewable energy.  In the last few years, she transitioned from celebrity interviews and film shoots...

  • Member since 2017
  • 1,024 items added with 592,141 views
  • May 31, 2023

‘The benefits of a modernized grid will be fully realized only with an all-of government and all-of-society approach,” according to the United States Department of Energy. Several renewable projects are entering development stages and others are simply trying to stay afloat.    Have recent forecasts led to change?  Will a global initiative bring rapid results are these collaborations confined to science fiction, like Star Trek's United Federation of Planets?   

The United Nations has released a report and they have asked the global community to help phasing out oil and gas.  Generally, people agree with saving money and lowering emissions, but the execution of those plans presents its own problems.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s study shows over 1,300 gigawatts of solar, storage, and wind in interconnection queues.  However,  the grid will be unable to accommodate these new interconnections.  ​“To alleviate the growing gridlock, transmission planning and interconnection processes need reform,” the report states.  FERC can facilitate and utilities can maximize the benefits of new transmission.

  • Portland General Electric (PGE) has procured 400MW of battery energy storage resources split across two large-scale projects in the Oregon utility’s service area. 
  • Eolian, became the first developer in the country to leverage the new investment tax credit (ITC). 
  • According to a 2022 analysis from the California Independent System Operator, the state needs more than $30 billion in new transmission systems, in the next two decades, to meet statewide climate targets.  “The sheer volume of clean energy capacity in the queues is remarkable,” said Joseph Rand, a Senior Scientific Engineering Associate at Berkeley Lab. Berkeley Lab’s annual survey of the country’s seven transmission grid operators and 35 major utilities covers 85 percent of U.S. electricity load.

To reach climate targets, utilities, policymakers, developers, and public and private sectors, will need to collaborate and prepare the grid.  Innovation is born out of necessity and right now, we need renewables. 

“My bottom line again is we need to start thinking out of the box,” said California Sen. Steve Padilla (D). “We really have to think about providing more than one path.”  What additional avenues should be explored by utilities to bring utility-scale solar, energy storage and wind to the grid? 

Scott Caruso's picture
Scott Caruso on Jun 5, 2023

To help provoke some thinking that's out of the box...consider that a key element required enabling the rapid adoption of renews, especially south of the substation, will be real-time-all-the-time observability of the state of the distribution grid. To be clear, I'm suggesting that we need a new paradigm for operating the distribution grid. One that is real-time actual state, not an estimate. Not a model with some point-in-time data adjustments. A real-time, always-on visibility into the state of the grid, including the ability to see faults, transients, frequency modulation, and ultimately, providing the control systems to dynamically manage the grid. 

Of course, this sounds like pie-in-sky and, I would contend that the greatest constraint to achieving this is creating the communications networks necessary to instrument real-time observability. Ironically, this level of observability and interconnection exists in the transmission lines by virtue of coincident fiber. The question is: How to enable the communications on the distribution grid at scale, securely, with low latency, reliability and resilience that provides a cost effective, timely solution to today's challenges? 

Thinking outside of the box, ever notice that on many utility distribution poles, about 12 feet below the MV lines, there's a "comms" line? What if we could just tap into that wired communications line?

Gridmetrics believes this represents the easiest path, with the least friction, to enabling the rapid instrumentation of the distribution grid. This is critical to meet the needs of the "smart grid" and fundamental to providing the interconnections required for commercial DERs that live south of the substation. 

Gridmetrics has been exploring this concept. In some ways, it's just so obvious. In others, it's so out-of-the-box that it's not been contemplated. Turns out, the cable broadband networks overlap the last mile of the utility grid. This overlap is physically apparent when you just look at the lines on the poles and the neighborhood junction boxes. Cable broadband networks serve ~90% of US households (to be clear, that doesn't mean that 90% of US households are customers, only that they are service-able by cable broadband). The curious will also observe the the cable broadband networks are power-resilient by design. Meaning, they continue to operate even when commercial power is unavailable. 

That creates and interesting opportunity. We can leverage the existing cable broadband infrastructure which "powers" the last mile of the communications networks to rapidly supply the sensors (think PMU-like) and data backhaul enabling the "smart grid" and the commercial grade DER interconnects. 

For those that care, let's chat.


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Thank Nevelyn for the Post!
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