Around the world, we’re seeing increasing implementation of renewable electric energy generation to meet energy demands. That means the electric utility industry is in the midst of reinventing the power grid to meet growing energy requirements while maintaining compliance with regulatory requirements.
As the electric utility industry continues to address the significant increase in demand there is an acknowledgement by industry leaders the power grid will continue to be reinvented to address the growing set of requirements to meet the needs of us the consumers.
Historically, the power grid has been supplied by a limited number of very large, very stable, power generation plants which are managed in real-time, all the time, balancing supply with demand. In other words, we match generation to consumption to maintain grid reliability.
Now, with a broad range of small-to-mega power sources coming online, the transmission infrastructure has to deal with not only traditional and renewable generation, but the introduction of bi-directional power flows on the grid. This means substantial investments in technology and storage, to name just two key elements to maintaining grid reliability while still managing supply and demand.
As an example, utilities are upgrading the transmission grid for delivery of renewable energy. However, since the large-scale solar and wind farm development is located where access to natural resources is greatest, these areas can be a significant distance from where the energy is required. Upgrades to the system are critical to address voltage instability and grid congestion, while expanding reliable delivery of renewable energy.
I recently attended the Transmission Substation Design and Operations Symposium in Arlington, Texas. The conference is hosted by the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA). During a preconference session on the Seamless Integration of Renewable Energy, Dr. Wei-Jen Lee, UTA professor and director of the Energy Systems Research Center, discussed how the delta between variable generation and demand challenge is being managed in Texas.
During his presentation, Dr. Lee provided an overview of the development of wind power generation in the state, which has expanded at an annual rate of 25 percent since 1990. This demonstrates a great power generation potential in many regions of the U.S. According National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Texas is the number one state in regards to the installation capacity of wind generation facilities.
Dr. Lee added, despite various benefits of the wind power, an integration of wind energy into the electric grid is difficult to manage. The main challenge is associated with its unpredictability. Due to the irregularity of wind, the power generated from wind rapidly fluctuates, imposing difficulties both in terms of operation and planning.
But in dealing with integrating multiple systems, we’ve only just scratched the surface. In part two of this series, Reinventing Critical Infrastructure, I’ll be discussing the importance of ensuring these systems can talk to each other using new technology for utility communications systems.