Is the Power Grid of the Future Happening?

What does the Power Grid of the Future look like? A few years ago, entities such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Department of Energy (DOE), Electric Power Research Institute, and others began asking that question. With industry participation, they envisioned a future power grid with high penetrations of Distributed Energy Resources (DERs).
They studied various aspects of this new grid including modeling, interoperability, reliability, security, etc. They called the legacy power grid Grid 1.0 and referred to the current power grid (with low DER penetration) as Grid 2.0. The emerging Grid 3.0 has a higher DER penetration (still less than 50% of generation) and includes extensive communication infrastructure for information and two-way data flow. 

In fact, the DOE Grid Tech Team developed (and continues to refine) a vision of the Future Grid, describing an electricity system that is seamless, cost-effective from generation to end-use, and capable of meeting all clean energy demands and capacity requirements, with:

  • Significant increase of clean energy (renewables, natural gas, nuclear, clean fossil).
  • Universal access to consumer participation and choice (including distributed generation, demand-side management, electrification of transportation, and energy efficiency).
  • Holistically designed solutions (including regional diversity, AC-DC transmission and distribution solutions, microgrids, energy storage, and centralized-decentralized control).
  • Two-way flows of energy and information.
  • Reliability, security (cyber and physical), and resiliency.

Is the Power Grid of the Future happening? It is indeed! The following are some key indicators:

  • The Factbook documents that in 2017, renewable generation (including hydropower) reached 18% of the total U.S. electricity generation mix, double of what that was in 2009. During the same time period, coal generation dropped from 48% of the total mix in 2009 to 30% in 2017.
  • From a distributed generation standpoint, according to the Factbook, while the US residential solar market contracted slightly for the first time in more than 10 years, from 2.3GW of annual US PV (small-scaled) build to 2.1GW of build in 2017, on-site commercial and industrial solar grew from 1.1GW in 2016 annual build to 1.5GW in 2017. And in 2017, net metering, at full retail rates, are made available to most customers within 40 states. 
  • Consumer choice is driving (figuratively and literally) the transformation of the transportation from Internal Combustion Engines (ICEs) to Electric Vehicles (EVs). The anticipated forecasted number of light duty EVs on the road by 2025 is approximately 7 million. This trend will move meters for electric utilities, and significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across the country. 
  • The Factbook reports that pumped hydropower storage projects still account for the vast majority (96%) of installed energy storage capacity in the US, however; other storage technologies, such as lithium batteries, have been dominating new builds since 2011. Furthermore, in February, a final ruling was made to FERC Order 841 allowing energy storage to play in nationwide wholesale markets. This is important as it sets forth the following requirements for ISO/RTOs that will accommodate and undoubtedly push local energy storage to a new level:
    • Allow storage to provide energy, capacity, and ancillary services;
    • Allow storage to set wholesale market prices as a buyer or seller of electricity;
    • Respect the operational characteristics of storage, such as discharge duration or state-of-charge requirements, and;
    • Set a minimum size for market participation not more than 100 kW.
  • With the commercial maturity of microgrid technology, microgrids are on the rise. Microgrids are localized grids that can disconnect from the traditional grid to operate autonomously. Because they are able to operate while the main grid is down, microgrids strengthen grid resilience and help mitigate grid disturbances as well as function as a grid resource for faster system response and recovery. Microgrids support a flexible and efficient electric grid by enabling the integration of growing deployments of DERs, such as renewables like solar, and they bring energy assuredness to the community or businesses where they are deployed.

Key Take-Aways
The evolution of the power grid is happening around the country. Distributed generation is being deployed while some centralized generation is declining. Coal plant closures, as an example, continue, even as the U.S. ends the Clean Power Plan. The capacity of U.S. coal plants expected to shut in 2018 is now more than 13,600 MW, compared with an expected 7,600 MW in 2017 and almost 13,000 MW in 2016. In 2015, power companies shut down almost 18,000 MW of coal-fired generation, the most in any year.

Microgrids are now being received favorably and the concept of utility developed microgrids (UDM) is gaining momentum. The U.S. microgrid market is growing faster than expected, fueled by a rise in new ownership configurations, says GreenTechMedia Research. GTM reports that the U.S. currently has about 160 microgrids with 1,649 MW of capacity and they forecast that U.S. microgrid capacity will reach 4.3 GW by 2020.

Furthermore, the electrification of transportation is solidly underway. Electric vehicles are becoming more and more popular. There are now more than 700,000 electric vehicles on the road in the United States, and soon there will be over a million — totaling 3 million worldwide. 

While the energy industry transforms, new tools and technologies are needed to keep the momentum moving forward to optimize the new grid. This is where OATI and USA Microgrids, an OATI company, comes in. Continuously investing in research and development with over two decades of leadership in the energy industry, OATI provides a portfolio with new solutions to help customers harness the rapid transformations occurring within the energy business. New solutions include OATI GridMind™, an advanced DER and microgrid automated controller, and EVolution™, a customizable turnkey smart EV charge station solution that includes EV charge stations (engineering and installation), a secure smart charge station network software, and 24/7 customer service. OATI delivers mission-critical solutions and hosts them within the highly secure OATI Cloud, built specifically for the rigors of the energy industry. The OATI Cloud data centers are supported by renewable energy resources, further emphasizing a greener solution.

About the Author:
Linda Stevens is Associate Vice President of Smart Grid Sales for OATI. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Organizational Management and Leadership from Concordia University, St. Paul, MN. Ms. Stevens has dedicated her career to the energy industry. She began in an Investor Owned Utility where she learned firsthand about utility operations. This experience transitioned to an energy industry software and technology sales career path. Through a network of direct OATI sales executives, key technology alliances, and an industry leading distribution channel, she drives the strategic sales initiatives for OATI’s grid modernization (or Smart Grid) portfolio, with an emphasis on solutions for cooperatives and municipals.