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Grid 2050

Shaping system transformation.

Fortnightly Magazine - August 2011

other grid services—and on to recent FERC NOPRs on demand response for reliability services, we have witnessed progressive—if geographically uneven—maturation of power and energy markets. In the next three decades we will be witnessing the seamless confluence of information technology and grid evolution—providing utilities, industry and consumers with the tools to build the power grid of the future. Yet geographically diverse system conditions and development forecasts, combined with diversity and disparate sophistication of markets, create seams in the system that frustrate and complicate the optimal development of the electric grid. While such seams issues might have been most obvious in energy markets, grid reliability could be the next challenge associated with these jurisdictional seams.

The Pacific Northwest might be the testing ground for resolving some of these issues. The high degree of wind generation and its projected growth, along with the absence of intra-hour and reliability markets, and heavy export of wind generation to meet RPS goals outside of the BPA control area, begs for attention—not just in the Northwest, but in the entire Western Interconnect. For example, the California goal of 33 percent RPS will stimulate a considerable addition of renewable generation. Thus development of the necessary institutional vehicles that enable wide-area reliability support is in the best interests of all. In the absence of such coordinated attention, issues such as the excess generation currently facing BPA and the wind industry in the Northwest; cross subsidization of reliability services; transmission planning and access; and, ultimately, the addition of common resources (such as central storage) will be potentially contentious, slow and fragmented.

Transformation Journey

There is incredible activity across the electric infrastructure environment today. Technology innovations in the smart grid, RPS-driven renewable generation and recent growth in new natural gas generation are visible in all geographic regions and types of utilities in North America. Regulators at the state and federal level are evaluating the benefits of new technologies and encouraging local demonstrations and, in some cases, state-wide adoption. Congress in the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007 established the first legislation for smart grid that provided a blueprint for the subsequent public (ARRA) and private investment in more than $16 billion of smart grid infrastructure and demonstration.

These are just a few of the broad and productive activities currently underway across the electric infrastructure landscape. Progress is being made, and lessons are being learned. The challenge is how to complement this productive but mostly bottom-up, diverse effort with a higher level, systematic approach across all grid stakeholders that addresses the questions that reflect national and regional imperatives, such as:

• Beyond improving current grid paradigms of operation and protection, how can the digitization revolution in the grid deliver new value to consumers and help deliver national energy, security and economic objectives?

• Given that we have revolutionary new tools with unheard precision and speed, what new paradigms of power system operation and control might we strive toward in 2050 and 2100?

• What policy innovations are needed to align grid planning and regulatory environments to the natural 50+ year infrastructure