The operational paradigm of utilities is shifting from one of control to one of control and coordination as distributed energy resources multiply.
The US Department of Energy (DOE) in its latest biennial review of the state of the smart grid system at the national level reports that the power grid has developed significantly over the past 10 years.
But the accelerated deployment of renewable energy resources over the last five years and the emergence of technologies such as electric vehicles and networked interactive buildings have introduced significant complexity and uncertainty for planning networks and operators.
Due to the changing mix of resources and the composition of the industry, the electricity grid must now evolve into a new operating structure with enhanced variable power management functionality, volatile and unpredictable load patterns and bidirectional power flow, and enable for new network designs, says DOE.
This will also require effective, time-dependent coordination between all actors – utilities, market operators and emerging players – to ensure the reliable operation of the network’s core and evolving functions.
“Smart grid technology and implementation strategies are essential to tackling this new, evolving complexity.”
And while utilities have been deploying digital devices for decades, the transition to a more distributed and interactive system will require higher levels of complexity in implementing smart grid technology.
The report finds that in 2020, total capital expenditures for IT and OT digital technologies from U.S. electric utilities were approximately $ 15 billion per year, most of which, $ 8.3 billion, is for smart grid technologies and systems. . By 2026, these figures are projected to reach more than $ 24.5 billion and $ 16.4 billion, respectively.
IN report states that network modernization is an essential component of the integrated planning process. Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia have completed or are undertaking some form of network modernization work, which includes the introduction of smart grid technology, distributed energy resources, or both.
In addition, state-level planning processes are evolving to integrate the application of smart grid technology and distributed energy resources into more holistic integrated plans. Five states are already imposing integrated distribution plans, and others are following suit.
However, a comprehensive systematic approach to sustainability planning is needed to inform smart grid investments. Strategic efforts are now needed to address vulnerabilities related to the interdependence between the grid and other infrastructures, the protection of critical civilian and defense functions and the sustainability improvements that new network configurations, such as micro and micro networks, can provide.
The report also highlights the needs for research and development, combined with technology demonstrations focused on system integration and cyber risk management, as a key to enabling the smart grid and the transition from legacy infrastructures.
However, achieving plug-and-play interoperability will remain a challenging and long-term task, in part due to decades of gradual modifications to network systems, as well as reliance on customized, patented solutions provided by technology providers.
Last but not least, the skills of the workforce need to be developed to support new networking technologies.
After large waves of retirement over the last decade, the retirement exhaustion rate has stabilized. But the skills needed to effectively plan, build and manage the future network are changing rapidly. In particular, the widespread application of digital technologies requires more skilled workers and engineers, including systems architects, data scientists, modeling and simulation experts, IT / OT cybersecurity specialists, and communications and digital control engineers.
In conclusion, the report states that the challenges they face are both technological and institutional.
“We need to develop technological capabilities and help decision-makers with methods and tools so that they can develop network modernization strategies that implement them in practical ways to meet future requirements,” it said.
“This effort will require the introduction of appropriate technology, processes and design considerations to maintain a stable, consistent and manageable network system as it develops, and to do so in a way that addresses the increased level of complexity and uncertainty. represented by continuous technological advances, policy changes and changing customer preferences. “