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E&E News: DOE Calls for Overhaul of Grid Technology

Posted by Peter Behr on Apr 17, 2024

E&E News reports on the U.S. Department of Energy's recent report spelling out the advantages of advanced technologies in expanding grid capacity, quoting United's Amisha Rai on how advanced technologies could solve much of the country’s electricity challenges.

The Department of Energy has issued a plea to the electricity industry to start using existing commercial technology to help manage the chaotic shift toward clean energy and the eruption of power demand from data centers.

The report, "Pathways to Commercial Liftoff: Innovative Grid Deployment," spells out advantages of advanced technologies that boost the capacity of transmission lines; replace aging power cables with lighter, stronger wires; and give grid operators more visibility and control over power flows.

DOE found that technology deployment could increase grid capacity by between 20 gigawatts and 100 gigawatts during peak periods. Boosting grid capacity has become essential as the U.S. economy and technology companies demand more power. Data centers are sucking up more electricity. But President Joe Biden's industrial and climate policies are also setting the stage for a vast expansion of power demand into the 2030s as more electric cars are charging and factories for microchips and batteries and sources of clean energy plug into the grid.

“Of the nearly $90 billion invested in transmission and distribution infrastructure in 2023, only $6 billion was spent on advanced grid solutions,” DOE reported.

Investment in advanced technologies tend to be pushed by regulatory requirements, extreme weather threats or overloaded circuits, DOE said. “While many utilities across the U.S. have started investing in advanced grid solutions, widescale adoption is lagging,” the department report added.

DOE called for demonstration projects supported by the agency and its national laboratories that could establish the potential of the grid technologies, identify deployment issues and if successful, be models that could win the trust of utility decision-makers.

“Most of these solutions could be deployed on the existing grid in under three to five years and are lower cost, greater value, or both when compared to conventional technologies or approaches,” DOE said.

“The operator has to have confidence they [the technologies] are going to work,” said Daniel Brooks, corporate vice president of integrated grid and energy systems at the Electric Power Research Institute.

Advocates for the new technologies say that evidence is starting to come in, not just from pilot projects, but from operational deployments. One of the most watched projects is the installation of equipment and software on the power lines of PPL Electric Utilities that enables the Allentown, Pennsylvania-based utility to take advantage of favorable weather conditions to increase power flows without the risk of dangerous overheating.

Solutions called dynamic line ratings (DLR) use advanced sensors and software calculations to tell operators when cooling winds and mild temperatures permit them to boost power delivery safely. PPL used the technology to increase power on two congested lines, avoiding the need to call on more expensive generation with a savings estimated at $23 million.

DLR technologies can increase effective transmission capacity on lines section by an average of 10-30 percent, at less than 5 percent of the cost of rebuilding the line to expand capacity, the DOE report said.

AES Corp. has installed systems from DLR developer LineVision on power lines on its systems in Ohio and Indiana. It released a case study about the project.

AES concluded that the technology is compelling for similar reasons as in the DOE report: its relative affordability, the speed at which it can be deployed, the important data it provides and the ability to boost capacity.

“People are beginning to take these technologies seriously,” said Hudson Gilmer, founder and chief executive of Boston-based LineVision, in an interview. “They’re no longer science projects.”

A big factor in the change is the sudden surge in localized power demand from data centers, as their operations swell with cryptocurrency operations and the arrival of energy-hungry AI programs, Gilmer said. “There is a new level of urgency” to find ways of expanding grid capacity quickly, he added.

EPRI’s Brooks echoed Gilmer. At the last meeting of EPRI’s board of directors, grid sector executives pressed the research organization to provide more evidence on the capabilities of grid-enhancing technologies (GETs), Brooks said. The idea is to boost deployment. "They are definitely looking at how to do that,” Brooks said.

In response, EPRI has started studying GETs systems. Reports scheduled in the second half of this year.

But it has been an uphill climb for grid-enhancing technologies, the DOE report notes.

Julia Selker, executive director of the WATT Coalition, said the grid technologies have faced two large obstacles.

Getting these technologies to be a major priority for utilities will also be hard, she added. Investments in advanced grid technologies are not big winners for a utility’s bottom line, she said. “They won’t get to the top of the list unless regulators are really pushing them. There is no silver bullet.”

Selker said the new DOE report will strengthen the case for the technologies. “It puts pressure on all of the stakeholders to get more value from the grid for their customers,” she said.

Amisha Rai, vice president of policy at clean energy business association Advanced Energy United, agreed. “This report highlights 20 technologies that utilities are mostly ignoring that could solve much of our country’s electricity challenges," Rai said. "Utilities can and should be squeezing more juice out of our existing grid with these clean, low-cost tools.”

Read the full article here.

Topics: United In The News, Amisha Rai