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The Integrated Grid: How Do We Get There?

EPRI’s roadmap for distributed energy.

Fortnightly Magazine - June 2015

In 2014 we published a paper at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) to introduce our concept of The Integrated Grid , a cost-benefit framework that will focus on the widespread deployment of distributed energy resources (DERs). At that time rooftop solar stood front and center as a bellwether technology - creating a new type of grid that differs fundamentally from the one dating to the formative years of Edison and Westinghouse.

Many groups and individuals have offered their visions and pragmatic observations about how this new 21st Century grid will operate when it fully integrates thousands of rooftop solar panels, residential battery packs, and perhaps millions of battery-driven cars and trucks that will alternately draw power and yet also feed it back into the system. Sensors and digital technologies will join the mix - some from familiar technology companies, and perhaps others from app shops in some tinkerer's garage. Microgrids also may emerge, to compete for customers across today's familiar residential, commercial, and industrial landscapes.

To realize the full value of these distributed resources, while continuing to provide electricity affordably and reliably, we must integrate DER into every aspect of grid planning, operations, and policy. Failure to do that could drive up costs and drive down reliability. And so, as we plan for these new technologies, configurations, and systems, we should lay the groundwork for the future - for technologies and applications that today we can sketch out only crudely.

Figure 1 - EPRI’s Integrated Grid Benefit/Cost Framework

(For more information about EPRI's Integrated Grid Initiative, and the Integrated Grid: A Benefit-Cost Framework Report, visit www.integratedgrid.epri.com.)

At EPRI we have a sense of urgency to move from crude sketches to sharp pictures. We are joining with people in utilities, regulatory bodies, stakeholder groups, and various customer groups in bringing both optimism and pragmatic questions about what The Integrated Grid means. And we do this for one very good reason: Today's grid works exceedingly well for billions of people and does so at a very good price. We'd like to keep it that way.

Mapping the Transition

Which technological improvements and policy incentives can best drive our changing industry? How do we identify and enable the best consumer choices as they expand to include?

  • Generation. Owning or leasing distributed generating systems, such as photovoltaic (PV) solar, thermal, wind, and biomass);
  • Storage. Using storage options and technology to manage costs; and
  • Micro vs. Macro. Integrating technologies on the customer side (systems, monitoring, control, and communication) with those under the control of system operators on the grid-side.

At this stage, utilities remain sharply focused on how to ensure that existing assets perform effectively while adapting to a changing grid, and while creating and deploying new technologies. At EPRI we share this focus. Yet we see much work ahead in key technical and operational