Data gathering and controllability offer the quickest path to reliability.
Michael T. Burr, Fortnightly’s editor-at-large, also is a consultant and freelance writer based in Minnesota.
Managing power grids in North America has become much more complicated in recent years, and that complexity grows with each passing day.
For example, wholesale power trading has caused grid operators to re-think the way they monitor system functions and manage reliability. Now they must account for power flows in and out of control territories and reliability regions. Increased demands for service-quality guarantees and enhanced services are stretching utilities' capabilities to the limits. And in the post-9/11 world, grid operators must coordinate and communicate better than ever before.
The August 2003 blackout taught the industry some valuable lessons about what can go wrong when a system loses stability, and it pointed engineers toward solutions that would strengthen the system's survivability in the future. At the same time, these solutions promise to increase efficiencies and bring additional benefits.
Nevertheless, coping with all the added demands and complexities poses a unique set of challenges and opportunities for utilities. The companies that seize the opportunities and make them work in favor of their stakeholders will prove to be the industry's leaders in the 21st century.