Although today microgrids serve a tiny fraction of the market, that share will grow as costs fall. Utilities can benefit if they plan ahead.
Integrating New England Renewables
How to manage the green revolution.
The introduction of competitive markets a decade ago triggered remarkable changes in an electric industry that had been conducting business in essentially the same manner for more than 70 years. These markets have fostered tens of billions of dollars of investment in generation and transmission, and have inspired entrepreneurs to develop novel technologies to modernize the system and make it more efficient.
In the decades ahead, more dramatic changes can be expected. They likely will be sparked by a surge of renewable energy development and the transmission needed to deliver its power to customers, the rapid expansion of demand-side resources and conservation, and the emergence of smart technologies that promise greater efficiency, reliability, and controllability—for operators and customers alike.
Realizing the potential environmental and economic benefits of these impending changes will depend, however, on successfully integrating these resources into the power system reliably and in a cost-effective manner.
Ten to 20 years from now, the power grid will look considerably different from the way it looks today. Although large, centrally located power plants will remain at its core, the power system of the future likely will be more dependent on wind farms, biomass, small hydro, photovoltaics and other renewable sources across both the transmission and distribution networks. The grid and its operators also might rely more on distributed energy sources for capacity, demand-side resources to reduce electricity use, and storage devices such as flywheels, batteries and plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) that can make use of economic off-peak energy to help satisfy on-peak demand. In addition, innovative technologies, such as advanced meters, smart appliances and intelligent thermostats, will be deployed in homes and businesses to allow consumers to adjust their electricity use and lower system demand in response to real-time price signals.