Shifting Consumer Preferences Are Driving Grid Modernization

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Recharging an EV.jpg

The era of electric vehicles (EVs) is here, and it’s evident they are not a fad.

Most new vehicles sold globally will be electric in a few short years. I’ve already made the leap after purchasing a new vehicle. Although it’s great, there is one downside: I’m more vulnerable to power outages.

Previously, a few hours or days without electricity disrupted my life. If I got desperate, I could drive to a coffee shop or a hotel. Now, prolonged outages could prevent me from leaving home if my vehicle isn’t charged. This means I may be unable to carry out essential tasks like driving to the doctor’s office or picking up groceries for my family.

Changing consumer preferences extend beyond what people prefer to drive to their daily lifestyle choices. These changes include working from home over the corporate office to streamlining the latest blockbuster movie from the couch instead of a movie theatre. These preferences are driving greater electricity use at home and making uninterrupted power mission-critical, not just a daily necessity.

These behaviors are accelerating so rapidly consumers, inadvertently, are driving how the grid must change. Between their collective purchasing decisions and exponential use of electricity, consumers are creating demand at the grid edge the industry can’t ignore.

Prioritizing the grid edge is paramount given the pace of these changes. Without anticipating the inevitable, the gap will quickly widen between what the grid can support now and what it must support in the imminent future.

The Industry Is Responding to Consumer Behaviors

Utilities and regulators are responding to consumers’ shifting buying patterns and lifestyle choices. This includes embracing new methods to gain deeper insights into the customer experience and prioritizing investments to strengthen the distribution grid, particularly in areas that have a direct impact on individual households.

Adapting to our changing society starts with how grid performance is measured. Instead of indices developed a half-century ago, such as the System Average Interruption Duration Index (SAIDI) and System Average Interruption Frequency Index (SAIFI), regulators are placing a greater focus on customer-centric metrics to meet rising expectations.

Customers Experiencing Multiple Interruptions (CEMI) is one such metric gaining popularity globally. CEMI provides a more complete picture of system performance because it tracks customers with the worst experiences. Australia, England, and Canada already track CEMI in some capacity. In the U.S., about two-dozen states do as well, a 57% increase from 2018.

And it’s not only metrics. Utilities are spending a record $5.9 billion on modernizing the distribution system with automation and grid-hardening measures. These efforts must blanket laterals and extend to the very end of the line to serve the growing EV market and the modern demands of each household.

Conventional Technologies Can’t Meet Customer Needs

Although investments are being made in the distribution system, laterals tend to be the most vulnerable—yet the least modernized—part of the grid. These lines are numerous, may span several miles, and are often protected by antiquated technology, such as basic fuses. This exposure makes them susceptible to faults caused by weather and wildlife.

Many of these are temporary issues that lead to permanent outages. Because fuses blow for any fault, they create outages for nearby customers. Crews must locate the problem area, make a repair, and manually restore power. This entire process can take hours.

This is a common issue for grid-edge customers because approximately 80% of overhead distribution faults occur on laterals. Most of these faults are transient, and growing residential load will only exacerbate the limitations of fuses.

Modernize Closer to Home

Deploying a suite of advanced lateral solutions can ensure every customer has the reliable and resilient power they need.

Utilities can mitigate most overhead lateral outages with fault-testing technology. These smart devices test whether faults are temporary and restore power if the issue goes away.

When a permanent fault or a loss of source occurs on underground residential distribution circuits, the EdgeRestore® Underground Distribution Restoration System can locate the fault, isolate it, and reroute power from an alternate source. This happens automatically, restoring power to every customer in under 60 seconds.

Implementing these modern technologies at multiple locations achieves end-to-end lateral automation. The broader the deployment, the more communities benefit.

A Changing World Requires a New Approach

The relentless pace of changing consumer behavior is driving markets and unprecedented residential energy consumption. From the exponential rise of EVs to the widespread adoption of remote work, everyday consumer behavior has become a disruptive force in the industry and is controlling where utilities must modernize the grid. With S&C’s suite of advanced lateral solutions, utilities can build a reliable, resilient system to support the influx of demand at the grid edge.


Mike Edmonds

Publication Date

November 7, 2023