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Reliability in Power Delivery: Where Technology and Politics Meet

Fortnightly Magazine - January 15 1998

on a line before they can affect a particular customer's sensitive load. Another, the "Distribution Static Compensator" (also known as D-STATCOM), protects the line from electrical "pollution" created by large customer equipment, such as a sawmill. These devices are used currently in utility operation.

In the future, distribution utilities can couple custom-power controllers to energy storage units to provide outage ride-through capability. Again, cost marks a major obstacle to widespread use of custom-power techniques. Development of advanced semiconductor devices, improved magnetics and mass markets will address this barrier over the next two decades.

One innovative way to expand power system flexibility involves so-called "distributed resources." Examples include a variety of energy sources, such as wind power, small combustion turbines, photovoltaics, fuel cells and storage devices. Their deployment on distribution systems bypasses transmission networks and may offer a way to reduce retail rates. Custom-power controllers will help integrate DR into existing distribution networks. Most DR technologies, however, will require substantial cost reductions before they can achieve broad market penetration.

Technology is one thing, but can customers use it? This problem calls for new communications standards and customer interfaces. The Electric Power Research Institute proposes using "utility communications architecture" as a technical basis for nationwide direct access. UCA provides a plug-and-play standard for linking distribution system hardware and software from different vendors.

Improved customer interface technology through the development of "smart" meters will provide the physical connection to integrate electricity, natural gas and telephone services with automatic meter reading and the capability for real-time pricing.

Clearly, the retail market for electricity is going to be more customer-driven in the years ahead. Through restructuring and new technologies, utilities will be able to offer their customers new types of customized services including power that is 100-percent reliable and available. F

Philip R. Sharp is director of the Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Karl Stahlkopf is vice president of energy delivery & utilization at the Electric Power Research Institute. Sharp is chairman and Stahlkopf is a member of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board's Task Force on Electric-System Reliability. EPRI is working with the U.S. Department of Energy and other interested stakeholders on an Electricity Technology Roadmap, which can help guide future

R&D efforts on a national scale.

1. U.S. Department of Energy, Maintaining Reliability in a Restructured Electric Power Industry: The Role of Transmission System Operators (ISOs or TransCos), 1997.

2. See, "ISOs: A Grid-by-Grid Comparison," Public Utilities Fortnightly, Jan. 1, 1998, p. 44.

3. Note: NERC also has formed an Electric Reliability Panel to explore the best ways to ensure future reliability and to review institutional options that might replace NERC with another reliability organization. The panel met most recently in Austin, Texas, on Dec. 6-7. It planned to issue recommendations by the end of December, in time for consideration by NERC's Board of Trustees in a meeting set for early January.

4. Secretary of Energy Advisory Board's Task Force on Electric-System Reliability, Maintaining Bulk-Power Reliability Through Use of A Self-Regulating Organization, 1997.

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