Today, utility companies must account for a new influx of multidirectional power flow spurred by an increase in grid-edge power sources such as solar panels, wind farms, and battery storage. This is tricky because utility companies built their infrastructure for unidirectional power flow — the one-way path from generation plants to energy customers.
And with states such as New York pushing for a “smarter” grid that gives more power to customers — both figuratively and literally — it’s high time for transmission and distribution utility companies to make similar shifts.
The New Calculation
In this modern environment, the challenges facing the transmission and distribution sides are slightly different.
Transmission system operators have to account for proper planning and generation for a grid whose power needs can vary from moment to moment. Besides this, because the grid’s needs can shift on a much smaller scale, transmission players must find more effective ways to segment certain sections of the grid so they can run independently. This reduces the risk of rolling blackouts if there’s a misstep in the new power flow.
On the other hand, distribution system operators have increasingly found themselves acting as de facto transmitters. They’re distributing grid-edge power generation while coordinating with various transmission stations to relay data on how much power generation is actually required.
Because of this increase in multidirectional power flow, smart grid technology is no longer a luxury — it’s a requirement. Utility companies can’t effectively manage the physical changes in the grid without a better, more holistic understanding of where power is coming from and where it’s going.
Augmenting the grid with technology such as smart meters and improved storage batteries is one way to move forward. Besides this, making the necessary updates to infrastructure — which is decades old, in some cases — to accommodate multidirectional power flow is a pressing task for utility companies.
A Shift in Focus
In this journey of multidirectional smart grid deployment, utility companies are at various stages of maturity. Where they are in this journey depends on their investments in three key areas:
- Physical network upgrades: Traditional utility infrastructure wasn’t built to handle multidirectional power flow. This means installing new infrastructure is a foundational need for smart grid deployment. This likely spells increased collaboration and partnership with public utility stakeholders and a renewed focus on regulatory compliance.
- New technology for customers: If it isn’t already, smart meter installation should become the default tool to manage customer energy usage. However, utility companies shouldn’t stop there. Working with customers to install technology needed for power generation and storage will help bring more of the grid under utilities’ purview. Siting and installation of distributed energy resources is a collaborative effort, and utilities would do well to offer their customers a variety of choices
- Cybersecurity and reliability improvements: With the advent of multidirectional power flow and smart grid technology, the task of operating a reliable, consistent power grid will gain new risks. Utility companies need to have the right balance of function and security to create safe, reliable networks.
If utility companies aren’t willing to make these types of investments, other companies will. Disruptive nonutility energy firms looking to supplement the grid in these areas are already sweeping in and mapping out solutions. For industry incumbents, it isn’t a matter of whether they should change their transmission and distribution models. It’s a matter of how quickly they can do so.
If you’re looking to assist your organization’s smart grid efforts but aren’t sure how to take the first steps, simply reach out to the experts at Wipro. We’re ready to provide expert guidance through all stages of the process — no matter where you are right now.