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Alleviating Pain in a Stressed Distribution Grid

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Electric Power Grid

Despite regular workouts, my shoulder is now impinged, and I’m feeling some acute pain. My physical therapist attributes this to stress, use of my arm in new ways, and an imbalance in my workout routine. My core simply isn’t strong enough; I’m trying to do too much with an unreliable base.

Why tell this tale here? Well, this experience has clear parallels with what’s going on with today’s electricity distribution grid. The grid is stressed both because of age, changing usage patterns, and increasingly extreme weather events. We are trying to use the distribution grid in new ways—connecting more distributed energy resources and electric vehicles while supporting two-way power flow. We also are creating inherent imbalance in the grid by transitioning to more intermittent renewables, requiring grid capabilities and energy storage to compensate.

All these changes on the distribution grid are going to create some acute pain in our efforts to deliver clean, reliable, affordable power. So, how do we manage these challenges? By strengthening our “core.”

Electric utilities (with regulator support) must invest in creating a stronger, more flexible distribution grid. Just like the core of our bodies, every aspect of the future smart grid is connected to and leveraged from the distribution grid.

A critical aspect of this is reliability. As more of society’s heavy lifting (from manufacturing to education to transportation) is being done by the distribution grid, any outage (of any duration) disrupts our efforts. This can be even more problematic when interruptions trip distributed renewables off and we are faced with rebuilding grid service first (with shrinking centralized generation) before those renewables can be brought back online.

Whatever ways we attempt to strengthen our grid, the reliability of the distribution grid is foundational to our energy health. The distribution grid isn’t the most visible part of our electric body, but, especially as we put new stress on our systems, a stronger, more reliable distribution grid is the one critical component that lets us do everything else we want to do … hopefully with minimal pain.

Expert

Brian Levite

Publication Date

February 5, 2021