In our most recent blog, we explore the impetus behind current grid modernization efforts. An updated electric grid will not only enable more efficient transmission of energy but also a more seamless interface with renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Ultimately, grid modernization benefits our communities and our environment.
But what does the future of energy infrastructure actually look like? Our current grid is very closely related to the initial neighborhood grids developed in New York City in the late 1800’s, although on a much greater scale, so bringing it into the 21st Century is a major undertaking. Let’s take a closer look at the technologies that will make this possible and what they mean for utility companies, consumers, and the environment.
Shifting Priorities for Utility Companies
Utility companies in the United States have a long-standing monopoly on power production which they aren’t eager to relinquish. Many of the struggles that renewable energy advocates have engaged in with utility companies, such as the fight over net metering policies, are rooted in this dynamic.
Several of the initial grid modernization projects that have been supported by investor-owned utilities are infrastructure upgrades such as substation improvements and transformer replacements, GreenTechMedia reports. While there is no doubt that these are vital projects, consumer and renewable energy advocates point out that utilities “see infrastructure funding as an opportunity to add to their capital base, which provides them a steady rate of return from customers, as opposed to leaner, more technology-enabled solutions…” Grid modernization efforts need to go beyond shoring up the existing infrastructure in order to pay off for consumers and the environment.
Another initial grid modernization effort is the push to install smart meters, which enable the two-way sharing of real-time energy usage between consumers and their utility companies. By replacing old model meters, which estimate energy costs based on peak usage, smart meters allow for more accurate billing. They also provide consumers greater transparency about their energy usage, giving them the ability to monitor and adjust their habits based on access to more detailed information.
Smart meters are the first step in re-balancing the power dynamic between consumers and utility companies, and several states have mandated their installation. Continued oversight and consumer participation are needed to ensure that grid modernization efforts prioritize consumer savings, efficiency, and integration of renewable and distributed energy technologies.
Creating a More Open Grid
As GreenTechMedia notes, “When we’re talking about grid modernization investments, it’s such a new use of information technology, they’re capable of doing a lot of different things.” One of these is Distributed Resource Integration, which opens the grid to renewable energy from solar panels, wind turbines, or distributed generation microgrid systems. The development of Distributed Energy Resource Management Systems (DERMS), which provide better integration between solar (or wind) power generators and the grids they are connected to, supports the possibility of a more open grid. Consumers who choose to adopt renewable energy technologies can provide power for their own home, business, or community while also contributing power to (or drawing it from) the larger grid.
As UtilityDive notes, “The grid's vulnerability to increasingly extreme weather and its consequences is apparent to everybody, and it must be strengthened… states can see the value of having grid modernization in place before it is needed.” Embracing microgrids and distributed generation is one of the foremost ways to create greater energy stability and resilience, and grid modernization efforts must include these resources to live up to their name.
In addition to these technologies, grid modernization includes creating infrastructure that can support increased usage of electric vehicles, implementing technologies that will optimize renewable energy sources, and increased access to data through improved sensors and monitoring equipment. Together, these improvements empower consumers to make better-informed choices about their energy usage and its impacts.
An Environmental Imperative
While grid modernization prioritizes efficiency, stability, and consumer knowledge, it also provides a very necessary leap towards minimizing climate change. In fact, the Environmental Defense Fund calls grid modernization “the foundation for climate change progress.” They note that “a modernized grid that keeps energy costs affordable and promotes economic growth is vital to our present-day society. Through its pursuit, we are making a commitment to the productivity and quality of life of future generations by helping ensure our energy remains reliably available and increasingly clean and sustainable.”
At Solar Design Studio, we’re excited to be part of an energy future that includes more renewable energy sources, increased stability and control for consumers, and technologies that help us keep our communities and our environment healthy. If you’d like to learn more about the options available to residential and business solar adopters, contact us today!