Electric power's five biggest challenges: Part Four - Transitioning from central generation to clean energy



A decade ago, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) primed the smart grid pump with a Grid Vision workshop  in Washington, DC. Many of today's smart grid concepts and policies can be traced back to that seminal meeting.


Now DOE has partnered with the GridWise Alliance (GWA) to hold four regional workshops followed by an Executive Summit in Washington, DC  to once again develop a stakeholder-driven vision of the future grid. As a participant, I received background materials in advance.


Those materials included thoughtful discussions of five future scenarios. Or, if you prefer, five future challenges. They did such a good job of framing the issues that I asked permission to share them with you in a series of articles.


Part Four in the series talks about whether, when and how to involve customers in grid operations. At the end, you'll find a handful of questions. I invite you to use the Talk Back form at the bottom of the page to leave your own answers and opinions. When the series has finished, I will share the comments with the DOE for their consideration as they set the agenda for the next 10 years. -- Jesse Berst


By Steve Hauser and Becky Harrison


Around the world, central generation is transitioning from traditional fuel sources to cleaner fuel sources. This transition is driven by policies, regulations, economics, and public sentiment. Various incentives and increasing market demand have driven down the price for wind and solar. Technological advances have resulted in cheap natural gas in the U.S. Meanwhile, new policies and regulations have driven up the price of coal, oil, and nuclear.


Together, these forces are driving a transformation of large-scale generation. This change is introducing new challenges, bringing new participants into the market, and introducing new operating characteristics for the generation fleet.


Increasing variability

This changing large-scale generation mix also brings increasing variability that the grid must accommodate and manage. This variability creates excess power at times. It also results in competing priorities for when the various generators should or must operate. For instance, in the Pacific Northwest, the combination of hydroelectric and wind generation has introduced the need to balance those competing priorities.


To fully leverage available resources, grid operators must consider new ways to manage the load side of the energy value chain. At the same time, customers are taking more control of their energy usage. Many are lowering their overall demand through energy efficiency or by installing rooftop solar or by buying "smart appliances,” or by signing up for third party services that can help them better manage their electricity usage.

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