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Gridlock in 2030?

Policy priorities for managing T&D evolution.

Fortnightly Magazine - January 2012

enhance system efficiency and improve system models. In addition, flexible alternating current transmission system (FACTS) devices based on advances in power electronics can provide greater control of voltages and power flows throughout the bulk power system. FACTS and other new technologies can allow more power to be transmitted on existing lines without increasing the risk of failure, but historically the incremental benefits haven’t justified the associated costs in most cases. Higher penetration of VERs likely will increase the value of deploying these technologies in the transmission system.

Research on the new algorithms, software, and communication systems required to integrate PMUs and FACTS devices effectively into system operations is likely to have a particularly high payoff. If shared, data generated by existing PMUs can be used to develop algorithms and establish baselines for future operational tools that can monitor and control networks with greater PMU and FACTS penetration.

Many technologies are available to enhance the reliability and efficiency of distribution systems, but—in part because it’s often more cost-effective to invest in monitoring and control systems at the transmission level than the distribution level—many available technologies haven’t yet been widely implemented at the distribution level in the U.S. However, coping efficiently with the integration of distributed generation, electric vehicles, and demand response will require significant investments in new and emerging technologies that will be riskier than most recent investments in distribution systems; they will aim to provide new capabilities, not just expand capacity. The tendency of traditional regulatory systems to encourage excessively conservative behavior likely will become more and more expensive over time if increasingly attractive opportunities to enhance efficiency and reduce cost through the deployment of unfamiliar technology aren’t exploited. This is an important problem—but one without an obvious solution, since both regulators and utilities seem to be punished for bad outcomes but not rewarded for good ones. Nonetheless, regulatory innovations are necessary to provide adequate incentives for investments in unfamiliar technologies while also ensuring that the returns on these investments are shared appropriately with ratepayers. To reduce perceived uncertainties and make possible better system-specific decisions, it’s important that detailed information on the results of the DOE-supported smart grid projects and other pilot projects, both successes and failures, be shared promptly and widely.

Cybersecurity and Privacy

The historical evolution of today’s electric grid, through the interconnection of small, local power systems, enhanced reliability overall but made possible wide-area blackouts. Similarly, the increasing use of new communications systems, sensing and control equipment, AMI, and distribution automation technologies will enhance reliability and efficiency overall but also will create new problems.

Over the next two decades, increasing amounts of data will be exchanged within the electric power system through a complex set of communications systems that must follow standards that allow various components to interoperate now and in the future, when later generations of equipment are installed. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is overseeing the critical process of developing the relevant interoperability standards, and this process should be encouraged and supported. In addition, there are ongoing debates about the use of spectrum and