Why You Should Stop Saying ‘Future Grid’
- May 20, 2021 4:05 pm GMT
This item is part of the Special Issue - 2021-05 - Grid Modernization, click here for more
People talk about the ‘future grid’ the way we’ve long talked about flying cars, interplanetary travel, and robots that can make a 0-calorie fudge sundae with the press of a button. We have this notion that miraculous, unfathomable technologies will materialize on some distant horizon, that future generations will hocus-pocus disruptive solutions into existence for problems that loom somewhere beyond our own lifespans. That the threats to our health, planet, and way of life are vague now, and by the time they come to fruition, our grandchildren, or even great-grandchildren, will have ‘thought of something’ to head them off.
That’s a comforting thought, but obviously a dangerous and delusional one. Climate change is a problem now. The structure of our current grids is a problem now. Here are just a few of the challenges currently straining our grids:
Grids are not designed to integrate multiple distributed energy resources (DERs), and as a result are turning away consumer-generated energy, which will certainly invite public malcontent and regulatory reprisal.
Connecting DERs can have unpredictable and uneven pricing even within the same neighborhood.
Public safety power shut-offs due to natural disasters pose imminent risks to the health and safety of residents who must go without power, air conditioning, and refrigeration for extended periods of time. To mitigate this downtime, customers often resort to high-polluting personal diesel generators.
Electric vehicles are placing additional demand on the grid, with load increases of up to 38% expected by 2050.
As we are already facing the ill effects of climate change, and already experiencing the shortcomings of our current energy systems, we need to change the grid now. Calling it the “future grid” creates an illusion that we can wait. The consequences of that thinking are clear.
The good news is that much of what we consider the “future grid” is already possible. We have the technology available, we need only broadly apply it. For example, real-time grid control systems are available now, and they are already maximizing our potential use of distributed energy resources. At the same time, proper grid control empowers utilities to safeguard their network in the case of natural disasters and meet growing energy demands, all while incorporating new grid connections at affordable, equitable rates.
For example, Australia’s Horizon Power recently deployed a state-of-the-art distributed energy resource management system (DERMS) from PXiSE that uses two-way, sensor-based technology to monitor and autonomously control the grid in real time. Horizon Power boasts the largest utility service territory in the world—five times the size of California—with the lowest customer per square kilometer ratio of any utility service territory (1 for every 53.5 km2). This project has already resulted in a three-fold increase in renewable hosting capacity, ongoing cost savings as a result of a 75% reduction in DERMS bandwidth traffic usage, and a 55,000 GJ reduction in natural gas consumption - eliminating 3,000 metric tons of CO2 each year.
An ocean away, Guam Power Authority deployed a PXiSE Microgrid Controller to help manage the island’s solar array and energy storage and mitigate weather-related power disturbances. Real-time autonomous controls have already proven to be 10 times better than manual control when it comes to managing the Guamanian grid’s frequency fluctuations.
Caption: Active Frequency Control
This figure shows the frequency variation (upper line), with and without use of the PXiSE controller, vs. power usage (lower line). Frequency variation was significant without use of the controller, even with little deviation in power usage. In contrast, the PXiSE controller maintained the safe frequency range of 59.9-60.1 Hz, even with considerable power fluctuations.
PXiSE’s real-time controller offered a 50-60 millisecond response time and met Guam’s required ramp rate 98% of the time. Without the controller, the system had previously exceeded their upper limit 40% of the time, which could lead to outages.
There is no reason grid controls like this cannot be deployed quickly and at scale, enabling decentralized renewable generation to help slow the effects of global warming, rather than waiting until the looming problems are at crisis level.
Of course, there is more in store for the grid. There are technologies still evolving. We’re looking forward to further improvements in energy storage capacities, HVDC transmission lines, 2-way V2G interaction, and more. Breakthroughs in the practical deployment of some of these solutions may still be decades away. But major pieces are already here, and we must put them into action now to begin experiencing immediate relief and to pave the way for other possible future developments.
Join me in changing our language, our thinking, and our actions, about a very real and possible response right now to an equally real and current crisis.
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