Full Title: Changing Uses of the Electric Grid: Reliability Challenges and Concerns
Author(s): Steve Mitnick
Publisher(s): Electric Markets Research Foundation (EMRF)
Publication Date: 07/2015
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There are many new demands being placed on the electric grid, the nation’s network of power plants, long-distance high-voltage transmission lines, and local low-voltage distribution wires. The grid is increasingly being used differently than before. We now have distributed generation (numerous scattered small-scale producers of electricity); smart grids (digital monitoring of electrical flows); microgrids (small-scale electrical networks able to be isolated from the grid); demand response (payments or credits to customers who cut their electricity use at critical times); energy efficiency (using less electricity) and energy storage (holding electricity for release at later critical times). In addition, we have competition at the wholesale level for electricity sales to utilities and/or, in many areas of the country, at the retail level for electricity sales to end use customers.
But the grid was built with a different purpose in mind, to deliver electricity to end-use customers that is remotely generated at large-scale power plants. Through the years, utilities discovered that interconnecting these power plants could provide enhanced reliability at lower costs, and thus the nation’s extraordinary, interconnected grid was developed.
The new technologies and business models being introduced to the grid today have the potential to offer significant benefits: even more diversity in how electricity is produced, even greater reliability of electric service, and an even smaller environmental footprint. Their success however depends on the robustness of the grid − the grid’s ability to accommodate the new uses − while maintaining affordability and reliability. And all customers rely on the grid to meet their electricity needs. Even customers generating their own power supplies need the grid both to buy power when their own generation doesn’t fully meet their needs or to sell power when they can generate more than what they need.
Some have suggested that customers may no longer need to be reliant on the grid for their future electricity needs – that they will be able to disconnect from the grid. Energy storage – particularly advanced batteries – has been in the news lately and has been touted in the press as a possible means for end-use customers to end reliance on the grid and their local utility. Most experts believe this is unlikely and uneconomic for the foreseeable future.