The common adage we hear today about the grid, especially when associated in discussion around poor infrastructure grades (hint: it’s not good), is if Edison were around today he would still be able to recognize and fix the electricity system nearly ninety years after his passing in 1931.
Whether or not you’ve agreed with this point, there is no question the 21st century grid is moving away from the traditional centralized model to one that considers the complexities of any customer also becoming a producer—enter the era of the prosumer.
Utilities, commonly known for their conservative ways (you’ll know why in a minute), are now embracing the challenges involved with managing a decentralized network. Holding onto the old way of doing things is no longer up for debate. In the age of demand response, distributed energy resources, renewable portfolio standards and the energy efficiency audit, utilities from the top down—both from the technical and business perspective—recognize adjustments are necessary in the way the grid must operate.
The big issue today is that fighting the inertia of a century-old process remains rather difficult.
Even with the technology in place, customers in demand, and willingness of utilities to deliver, the construct for which to foster innovative approaches must be in place. With performance-based regulations entering center stage in a few states, regulatory policy is making a concerted effort to align with this prosumer-era approach.
However, safety will always continue to be #1 priority of utilities and their regulators. The consequences of improperly integrating new technology into the grid, no matter how noble the intentions, can be dire. New systems—software, hardware or a combination of both—must always be carefully vetted to meet the threshold of prudent investment. Understanding the utility practice and helping to improve this overall process of integrating new technology into the grid is just as important as providing the solution.
It is a delicate balance all utilities must walk. On one side, you have a backlog of customer demands for taking an active role in managing both their own usage and generation while on the other you must continue deliver in a reliable, safe and cost effective manner to every customer. All this while balancing operation under an increasingly antiquated business model with anticipating adjustments yet to formally take effect. Talk about being between a rock and more than one hard place!
I was happy to gain this utility perspective on managing the electric grid while attending the festivities of one PES Day celebration. With the events that took place at IEEE PES chapters across the globe, last month marked the 10 year anniversary of the official name change to IEEE Power and Energy Society. Having changed from its original “Power Engineering Society” moniker, the rebranding effort has succeeded at being inclusive to a wider population involved in the electric energy field. Now members can boast that, with only 10% of the overall IEEE membership, they are involved in 40% of all published IEEE standards.
There is no question industry challenges lie ahead in managing a grid unrecognizable by Edison himself, which is why there was no better time to show a united front with PES Day in recognizing the opportunities that lie ahead. Utilities know distributed energy resources are the key in the way the grid is transforming and it’s happening while maintenance, resiliency, customer satisfaction, and affordability expectations around energy delivery are all on the rise.
Unfortunately, the answer is not as easy as a flip of a switch, but the power of the IEEE PES community shows us that we can all get there, together.
Read more on the prosumer, the energy future and DER: