DOEs Assistance in Helping to Modernize the US Electricity Grid

The US Department of Energy (“DOE”) is uniquely positioned to develop the common standards, communication protocols and other conforming requirements of a modern electric grid by advancing issues outside of state and power pool boundaries. While state regulators and FERC play a key role in the process, DOE has the breadth of view needed to provide the necessary technical input to facilitate proper innovation. A modern grid will save money for companies, improve reliability and resilience, increase the competitiveness of US employers, streamline the procurement of energy supplies and assist utilities in remaining competitive.

The jobs creation and economic impact of creating a modern grid is also very meaningful. “Federally sponsored research spawns new business and new industries, returning $40 to our economy on every research dollar,” says former president of MIT Susan Hockfield. “Federal investment in R&D has driven roughly half of America’s economic growth,” Hockfield adds.

In addition to the personnel from national labs and DOE, several hundred participants were present at a mid-April 2017 peer review of a DOE sponsored event in Arlington, VA to provide industry feedback on the DOE grid initiatives. One hundred representatives from software and database firms, distributed energy companies, power pools, universities, utilities and cooperatives provided DOE with useful feedback on how their programs could be improved. DOE plans to publish this feedback in the upcoming months. A representative from General Electric speculated that a modernized grid could realize a 30% improved utilization over the current grid, a 30% improved penetration of renewables, and perhaps a 50% improvement over storm related reliability interruptions. These enhancements would reduce customer costs and improve flexibility and choices for utilities and end use customers.

Many industry leaders believe that distributed energy with storage has the potential to transform the economics of energy costs for U.S. customers when properly integrated into a modern grid with efficient central stations. Key improvements in a modernized grid are:

  • Design and collection of distribution level data (voltage, operating state, temperatures, etc.) including design architecture that facilitates the management, collection and standardization of information. The communication of real time information providing potentially 100% visibility into what is happening at both the local and broader grid level is critical.
  • A method of controlling a modernized grid that facilitates self-healing in real time, reducing unintended loop flows and resulting in lower costs.
  • A system of planning that recognizes the grid’s capacity to accept new distributed resources, the value of these resources at their point of location, and new ways to plan for these resources.
  • A robust discussion and final agreement on incentives needed by utilities and others to keep stakeholders properly motivated while insuring lower costs and higher reliability/resilience and flexibility for customers.

DOE efforts, through 13 national labs and other DOE groups, to modernize the grid will be appreciated by all stakeholders if DOE can help utilities receive fair incentives for regulated services, encourage the adoption of cost efficient new forms of generation while retaining economic central stations, implement new demand response and energy management systems and help U.S. employers compete with the lowest cost of energy. Therefore, working together with DOE to optimally modernize the gird could benefit us all.