Exelon PowerLabs

Leverage Technology

Maximizing value in the bulk power industry

By Jay Caspary and Bob Waldele

Technological advances are paramount for the bulk power system of the future. The integrated grid blurs the lines between transmission and distribution functions with increased renewable penetration, microgrid deployments, advances in power electronics and controls, and improvements in telecommunications and computing capabilities. New measurement techniques and instrumentation make it possible to capture power system parameters in real time, something that was not even considered 25 years ago. The increasing volume and complexity of this data will require creative and innovative approaches to address the challenges in planning and operating the future grid. This grid will need to leverage existing assets, most notably existing rights of way in key corridors, must be self-healing, and enable markets to ensure affordability.

With pressure to minimize rate increases, the bulk power industry needs to leverage technology to maximize the value and capabilities of existing assets without adversely impacting system reliability metrics that are of critical importance to consumers and regulators. Technology will provide alternative solutions to improve the utilization of existing transmission facilities and increase efficiency of existing generation assets, such as transmission line renewal using newer design conductor for higher ampacity, series compensation of transmission lines to improve loadability, and life-extension and efficiency improvements to the generation fleet. These can be accomplished at significantly lower capital costs than building new, although new approaches for project scheduling and implementation will be necessary to accommodate outages during the rebuilding or upgrading of existing assets.

Millennials, as consumers and service providers of the future grid, will force changes to the power supply system that need advanced solutions enabled by new technology in terms of sensors/controls for markets and essential reliability services that utilize risk-based stochastic planning rather than deterministic criteria.

The ability to manage new challenges and risks associated with physical security (natural sources including severe weather, earthquake, and geomagnetic-induced current or man-made including terrorist sabotage, acts of war, and electromagnetic pulse) or cybersecurity attacks will require new tools and capabilities to be deployed that generally have not been core competencies of traditional utility operations and planning functions. The reliability rules of specific regions have historically addressed certain aspects with requirements to evaluate “high-risk conditions.” Now the evolving national electric reliability rules are explicitly addressing many aspects of physical and cybersecurity. Technology has a significant role in helping the bulk power industry effectively address concerns and provide resilience for a grid threatened by physical security that could have profound implications on this future grid.

Synchrophasors offer tremendous insight into system performance and the condition of power system components that enable not only a smart grid with superior capabilities but also improved diagnosis of events and the ability to preempt catastrophic failure of aging infrastructure that will only worsen with time and budgetary constraints. For this to be useful and effective in real time, it will require a comprehensive system operator interface to visualize the synchrophasor data and operator training to understand what the synchrophasor data is telling us. New technologies are needed to improve visualization, situational awareness, and guidance to grid operators for better efficiency and effectiveness. However, the new information and tools for the grid operators must be designed and implemented to minimize the risk of information overload, which   could result in the operators’ loss of situational awareness.

There is no doubt that advanced technology, with proper testing and controls, allows staff to work smarter with improved productivity. Pilot projects and the staged deployment of advanced technology are key to demonstrating the viability of new tools and approaches without sacrificing necessary reliability margins. Grid operators, control center support staff, and management need to be involved in the development phase(s) to insure that the technology is useful and usable in the operating centers.

Prosumers are changing utility services and challenging business models in ways that are potentially disruptive and require flexibility and agility not typical of historical utility operations and design. Advances in communication protocols and standards are critical to fully capture the benefits of new approaches and capabilities enabled by new technologies.

Increased worldwide environmental concerns (global warming, greenhouse gas emissions, and air toxic emissions) are already driving change in the form of newer and stricter regulations nationally and unprecedented treaties and
agreements internationally. The reduced use or elimination of fossil fuels (coal and oil) must be offset by cleaner, more efficient, and nontraditional generation supply and demand resources. Renewable resources can be expected to make up a majority of the energy to the future grid, and advanced technology will be required to address concerns about the challenges and impacts of intermittent resources, particularly in local areas and smaller systems. Utility scale and distributed renewable resources need not pose a reliability or security concern, given existing technology and innovative approaches to effectively integrate what have been considered non­dispatchable resources. The changing resource portfolio will challenge traditional methods used in planning and operating the bulk electric system. The local integration of wind and solar resources will have a similar, perhaps greater, impact on distribution planning, operations, and reliability.

The deployment of proven technology could provide tremendous efficiency gains and environmental benefits to the bulk power system, as noted by the recent U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study. Existing market protocols and business practices, transmission planning, as well as operational reliability metrics need to evolve and be integrated into interregional planning processes to be truly collaborative and effective. Technology can facilitate necessary analyses and improve understanding regarding future events and interactions that previously were considered too extreme given historical resource constraints and time pressures.

Serious consideration in planning a continental extra-high-voltage power grid is necessary to ensure security of electricity supply. A continental extra-high-voltage grid can enable cross energy sector market activity that will optimize continental infrastructure investment, reliability, security, and resilience against cyber or physical attacks. Technology in distributed control and autonomous operation will be required to ensure reliable operation during all time scales. Operations personnel will provide control, authority, and direction of the continental grid active functions while grid artificial intelligence maintains secure operations in time varying conditions due to weather, renewable energy variability, load variability, and planned and unplanned outage conditions.

Since the late 1960s, there have been various proposals for a continent-wide interconnection. Many of those studies generally recognized that the cost of a truly inclusive and fully synchronous transnational interconnection would far outweigh either (or both) the reliability or economic benefits of that investment. More recently, transmission reinforcements and expansion on both sides of the east/west boundary have the potential to reduce the overall incremental cost of an east/west interconnection. Some would argue that the existing configuration (Eastern, Western, Texas, and Quebec), which evolved over many decades, currently provides significant reliability benefits by using controlled asynchronous high-voltage dc ties among those interconnections that are reasonably sized with respect to cost and benefit. Following the 2003 North American Eastern Interconnection blackout, some discussion even suggested that the Eastern Interconnection might be too large. The benefits and costs of modernizing the seam(s) between the grids in North America need to be based on a holistic, coordinated plan with good models and sound analytics reflecting technology that has been proven and deployed in Asia and Europe.

Grid modernization requires new technologies, and the future is promising thanks to programs like the U.S. Department of Energy’s Grid Modernization Laboratory Collaborative and EPRI’s Integrated Grid. The deployment of advanced power electronics broadly to improve controllability will create a bulk power system with capabilities needed for the 21st century. Although the bulk power industry must be conservative in deploying new capabilities, the benefits of technological advances on system operations and maintenance, as well as workforce development, cannot be overlooked as we develop and design the future grid to address consumer needs in a reliable, efficient, and effective manner.