Electrification and the Modern Grid


Electrification 2020 Track D

Fortnightly Magazine - February 10 2020

The enormous environmental benefits of electrification are being made possible by the equally enormous enhancement of the environmental performance of the electricity supply grid. As the grid becomes cleaner and cleaner it will be able to drive down emissions throughout the economy. Though the enhancement to date and the enhancement underway in the next decades have been and are challenging requiring considerable innovation and investment in grid technologies.

In the five sessions of Track D, the focus will turn to what must the modern shared and integrated grid look like, and what must the industry and stakeholders do to get us there. Here, Haresh Kamath addresses these key questions. He's a leading expert at EPRI on distributed resources and energy storage and thus in a great position to host Track D so we can all become experts (though we can never be one as much as he).

PUF: Tell us about the area you are program manager for at EPRI. It's such a key area in our industry today.

Haresh Kamath: I manage the research area for distributed energy resource (DER) integration and energy storage, two technology areas that are closely related to electrification.

Both of these areas have become very important in the last fifteen to twenty years as costs have fallen and more people have become interested in using their own energy resources.

The development of solar PV has been an important part of this. We have seen increasing amounts of customer-sited solar over the last decade and a half. Energy storage is now poised to join that solar PV, both at customer-sited solar and at large-scale solar sites.

We also work a bit with adjacent technologies, such as electric vehicles (EVs). As customer loads and an important part of electrification, EVs can also serve as DER that can be used as an energy resource on the grid. Those resources can help enhance the efficiency and usefulness of the grid.

PUF: Why is this area so important to electrification and therefore will have a big role at the Electrification 2020 conference?

Haresh Kamath: There are several trends that are driving the electricity industry right now. There is a lot of movement toward decentralization. Utilities are taking federated approaches to enhance reliability and resilience through new technologies and assets at the distribution level.

We are also seeing millions of customers interested in installing and owning DER, including solar and storage.

Another trend is digitization, which is increased use of information technology to gather, process, and use data to manage the grid more effectively. That is going to be crucial as utilities try to orchestrate millions of these devices providing energy services to customers. That's another piece of research we're conducting in this area.

Another trend, and the one receiving the most attention at the moment, is decarbonization. There is tremendous interest in using DER to produce low-carbon energy as close as possible to the point of use. 

That's not always the most cost-effective way of making electricity, but it is a way that a lot of consumers feel is important to their values and lifestyles. They want to maintain the same level of reliability and energy use that they are accustomed to but do it as cleanly as possible.

That's one of the reasons why electrification makes so much sense. It's possible to make electricity cleaner than any other kind of energy.

PUF: In Charlotte, at Electrification 2020, what will you be doing?

Haresh Kamath: I'm going to be working on one of the tracks looking at enabling technologies for electrification. Electrification is a great way to speed up the decarbonization process because the grid gets cleaner every day, as renewables as a percentage of power generation steadily increase and other generation sources become more efficient and cleaner.

We're starting with energy uses where electrification makes the biggest difference. Most transportation today is powered by fossil fuels. 

Electrification will allow us to reduce the overall carbon footprint of transportation. That doesn't necessarily mean that fossil fuels won't be used at all. But there will be an overall reduction in the amount of carbon dioxide per mile. 

One of the key enabling technologies for that is batteries. We've already seen the cost of electric vehicle batteries go down by eighty percent in the last decade. We're expecting the cost to reduce by another fifty percent in the next decade while significantly increasing performance.

This is being driven by research and development for applications all across industry. Batteries are the basis for our mobile revolution, so a lot of people are invested in related research.

The same types of batteries are being used on the grid to help integrate renewables. The battery technologies that increase the level of electrification will also help make the grid cleaner. These game-changing technologies will increase customer comfort and convenience, while making consumers feel better about how their energy is produced and delivered.

PUF: What will the conference attendees learn?

Haresh Kamath: There are three things that we want to talk about. One is just how far we've come with some of these technologies and what we've done with energy storage technologies and distributed renewables technologies in the last ten to fifteen years, which has been quite incredible.

The second area that we want to talk about is the future - where we're going. What is the future of these technologies and what will things look like in 2030, a decade from now? 

And finally, we'll talk about the challenges. This is what you won't see in a lot of other places.

A lot of people are out there, excited about these technologies and the potential, but they don't talk about the challenges.

Very few technologies are ready right out of the box. They have to be nurtured and grown. There are some places where they may be able meet the needs right now. 

We are confident with passenger vehicle electrification, for instance. The main challenge there isn't technical, but the level of customer familiarity with the technology, and we can look at some ways of making people feel more comfortable with it.

In other applications, the technology is not quite ready to satisfy the demands of the market, but it is advancing all the time. As we learn more about the strengths and limitations, as we better understand how to augment those strengths and circumvent the limitations, we can expect these technologies to have an increasingly bigger impact, just as we've seen with other technologies, such as computing and biochemistry.

We are finding ways to overcome the limitations that impeded us thirty or forty years ago, when a lot of these ideas were first discussed. We're excited about the conference and addressing all of those things.

PUF: The conference attendees will include a lot of people who are in policy and decision-making roles. What are some of those challenges that they could take back and say, what can we do to help move this along?

Haresh Kamath: One of our key goals at Electrification 2020 is to inform people about some of the issues that might raise concern. Just as examples, let me mention two challenges with batteries. 

The first is battery safety. There have been some reports about battery fires - there were some high-profile incidents. 

Now these components are generally safe — safer than gasoline — but any time you contain energy in a material, there will be safety-related considerations. We want to make sure that we fully understand the safety risks, the causes and effects of failure. We want to make that information available to designers, installers, consumers, first responders - to all the people who need to make informed decisions about implementing and using these technologies.

Another challenge is disposal, what to do when these batteries are at the end of life. Remember that the lithium ion batteries that we use are very safe and from a material standpoint, they are non-toxic. We could just dispose of them by throwing them away in landfill. But that's a huge lost opportunity in terms of recovering and reusing that material in new batteries.

What we'd like to do is the same thing that is done with the lead acid batteries used in internal-combustion engine cars. There is a good recycling system in place through which almost one hundred percent of these batteries are collected and recycled. The same thing could be done with lithium ion.

We as a society have to think about what we want to do. Our observation is that, for lead acid batteries, a system of regulations was put in place that incentivized the recycling component by establishing deposits for your battery. You get back twenty dollars for your battery when you take it back to the shop to recycle. You also get slapped with a fine if you just put your lead acid battery in landfill.

It's important that regulators and lawmakers know about the history and understand how these outcomes were achieved, if they want similar outcomes with lithium ion batteries.

PUF: When you go to the Electrification 2020 Conference what do you want to see or learn and come away with?

Haresh Kamath: The important part is the different perspectives. There are a lot of folks who are working on electrification technologies — not just us. I'd like to hear what their experiences have been and what challenges they have had, and how we can learn from that.

I'd like to know what opportunities they see and what they are worried about. The conference is a great opportunity to learn about all of that. It will be valuable for us to exchange perspectives and understand what's on people's minds as we prepare for the future.

Track D: Electrification and the Modern Grid

Session D1: The Role of the Electrified Customer in the Shared, Integrated Grid

The Shared Integrated Grid imagines a future when customers' energy assets become shared energy solutions that enhance grid reliability, resiliency, and value. As customer adoption of electric technologies accelerates, how does the Shared IG address the challenges and maximize the opportunities of these new customers?

Session D2 : Energy Storage for the Electrified Customer

Customer sited energy storage is making inroads for its ability to integrate local renewable generation and as a resiliency solution. As greater electrification increases demand and changes load shapes, how does the role of storage — and its value proposition — change? What new technologies and approaches are needed as the customer - and the economy - become more electrified?

Session D3: Transmission and Distribution Planning for New Electric Tech at Scale

New loads present new challenges to a grid that is already adapting to rapid changes in energy production and use. From multi-MW electric vehicle charging installations to large-scale indoor food production, what are the impacts of emerging electric technologies and how are grid planners addressing them now and in the future?

Session D4: Addressing the Power Quality Impacts of a Renewable and Electrified Economy

The rise of local distributed energy resources in tandem with increasingly electrified end use can create power quality issues that impact critical processes. This session will discuss how both utilities and customers can work together to mitigate these issues.

Session D5: Resiliency in an Era of Increasing Electrification

Customers, communities, and economies with a greater level of electrification will require increased reliability, resiliency, and redundancy from their electric service providers. This panel will discuss critical issues for supporting electrified fleets and facilities.


Conversations about Electrification 2020 Tracks: