Is the electric grid smart enough for the future?
For this year’s Infrastructure Week, May 13-20, we are sharing insight from our leaders and employees that examine how the infrastructure choices we make today will shape our future. Follow the conversation on our blog and on social media as we #BuildForTomorrow.
With increasing power demands and expanding electrification of transportation and other sectors, the amount of power used and produced on various parts of the grid is fluctuating at levels never seen before. Can we adapt and upgrade the grid to include the new capabilities needed to adjust to climate change while continuing to provide the reliable and affordable power we need? There are no easy answers – but there are solutions.
The electric grid was complex when built and it is getting even more complex as we add electrical loads and generation in places not anticipated in the original grid designs. Across the country, homes and businesses that once only consumed electricity are now producing it with the help of solar panels, microturbines, combined heat and power, as well as other sources that now make it possible to reverse the power flow. We can respond to this trend by delivering a series of resources.
To start, implementing a high-speed communications infrastructure that connects advanced sensors will ensure that all data are available and analyzed when needed, providing grid operators with greater visibility and abilities to react. Flexible resources, like smart inverters, can preserve reliability with higher levels of solar photovoltaics, and energy storage can deliver power when clouds are overhead. Grid connected devices like smart thermostats can respond to price signals and microgrids can help maintain the stability of the entire grid.
A smarter electric grid greatly enhances the ability of energy users to be more efficient and/or to shift their use to times that are the most convenient and economically advantageous for them. Grid operators can send users the price signals needed to make that happen.
This brings us to the discussion of how grids are planned. Adapting to these changes requires our grid planners to think in new ways. Managing this future smart grid will necessitate investment in technologies as well as improve coordination between regional transmission organizations, such as Pennsylvania-Maryland-New Jersey Interconnection LLC (PJM), Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), independent system operators, such as NY Independent System Operator (NY ISO) and local electric distribution companies. We will also need additional transmission lines to bring renewably sourced power from resource rich areas and increase renewables penetration, again in cooperation among grid planners at the local, regional and national levels.
Accomplishing this demands a mechanism to recognize the value of these resources and capabilities to develop and design advanced solutions for a smarter, greener energy future. AECOM is working with grid operators across the country to value the social, economic and environmental benefits of the smarter electric grid.
By the end of the century, global energy generation will have to increase significantly to accommodate universal economic and population growth. Energy generation accounts for around 60 percent of global greenhouse gases emissions and electricity demand alone is expected to triple by 2040. Proactive measures need to be taken today to drive this energy transition while continuing to provide reliable and affordable power required to build for tomorrow.