Grid Futures

Evolutionary directions for electric system architecture.

How will the technology and policy changes now sweeping through the industry affect the architecture of the utility grid? Will America build an increasingly robust transmission infrastructure, or will we rely more on distribution intelligence and microgrids? Scholars at California’s Institute for Energy and Environment analyze various scenarios to predict the possible futures.

The Art of the Plausible

Prospects for clean energy legislation in 2011.

With budget battles heating up in Washington, Congress and the Obama administration are squaring off to debate energy policy legislation. While Democratic leadership favors a clean energy standard, Republican lawmakers are focused on blocking administration initiatives to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. A compromise approach might bring substantial changes to America’s national energy strategy.

Deal Friction

Why the green grid might do better without open access.

Are the Feds at war with green power development? You might have thought so, if you had sat through the conference held March 15, 2011, at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, where the consensus seemed to be that FERC’s policy of granting open-access rights on electric transmission lines is problematic for green power projects. In short, when wind and solar developers choose to build their own local tie lines to link their projects to the larger grid, FERC policy forces them to make extra line capacity available to rival developers. That requirement doomed the novel Wind Spirit Project, and continues to complicate the job of project financing.

Here Be Dragons

Life, death and nuclear fallout.

Because we can’t define the consequences of nuclear accidents — and because radioactivity is invisible and undetectable without a Geiger counter — nuclear power’s risks are like shadowy monsters of unknown proportions, inspiring irrational fear. But that’s no excuse for complacency. Learning the lessons of Fukushima-Daiichi requires first acknowledging that we might have overestimated our ability to manage nuclear risks.

Vendor Neutral

(March 2011) TVA and EPRI demonstrate solar-assisted EV charging station; Ford unveils the all-electric Focus; Central Maine Power awards substation contracts; ERCOT deploys ABB software in nodal market; FirstSolar starts up PV plant for Southern Company and Ted Turner; plus contracts and announcements involving Open Systems International, Verizon, Suntech Power, Alcatel-Lucent, Siemens, Cisco, Elster, Sensus, Silver Spring Networks and others.

The Value of Resource Adequacy

Why reserve margins aren’t just about keeping the lights on.

While it’s theoretically possible to keep the lights on with a much smaller reserve than the U.S. utility industry historically has maintained, the costs of doing so might be higher than some analyses suggest. As demand response plays a growing role on the grid—and as system planners reconsider reserve margins and reliability standards—quantitative risk analysis will guide resource adequacy decisions.

Chasing the $un

Solar projects are becoming hot investments.

With recent scale-up in both photovoltaic and concentrated thermal facilities, solar energy is nearing cost parity with wind and even some fossil generation sources. And with development models evolving to help companies manage technology risks, solar power has become an attractive investment opportunity—not just for tax-equity players, but also for utilities.

Greening the Local Grid

Smart solutions for distributed renewables.

The goal of implementing a distribution management system (DMS) is to upgrade isolated, hands-on grid management processes into an interconnected and automated platform. This technology is transforming the way utilities operate distribution networks, and setting the industry on a path toward seamless integration of distributed resources—both supply and demand.

Smart Grid in America and Europe (Part II)

Past accomplishments and future plans.

Policy makers in the E.U. and the United States are taking different approaches to facilitating smart grid development. While both regions are setting standards that the rest of the world likely will follow, they also face difficult challenges in resolving issues around cost recovery, customer engagement and workforce preparedness.

Vendor Neutral

(February 2011) Silver Spring integrates Itron meters; PECO picks Sensus; AT&T and Elster sign agreement; PSEG Fossil selects ABB for a multi-phase controls project; Trilliant secures equity financing and wins Burbank ARRA contract; Navigant buys BTM Consult; GE acquires SmartSignal; plus contracts and announcements from Survalent, Mitsubishi Motors, AES Energy Storage and others.