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Planning for the power grid of the future
5/7/2013 10:28 AM
On March 20, BPA hosted about a hundred industry experts for a special workshop to discuss the future of the of electric power grid.
Terms like uncertainty and probabilities, mixed in with phrases like “system reliability,” “grid flexibility and “risk-based planning,” echoed through a nondescript room at Bonneville Power Administration’s Portland headquarters. This is the vocabulary of the electric power industry and the language spoken by about 100 industry experts who gathered March 20 to discuss the future of the nation’s electric power grid.
BPA convened this “Grid Transformation Workshop” as an opportunity to share and brainstorm transmission planning and power delivery strategies and invited an A-list group of engineers, consultants, senior leaders, researchers and regulators representing utilities, universities, governing bodies and other industry-related organizations. “We’re deciding what the grid is going to look like in 10 to 15 years,” says Hardev Juj, vice president of Planning and Asset Management at BPA.
A reality that was repeated throughout the day was that the industry needs to make better use of what it has. Electric utilities once solved power system limitations by adding new generation or new transmission circuits. But building new circuits, dropping towers in the ground and stringing new power lines is often a lengthy and costly process. So today, with limited capital budgets and less of an appetite for new infrastructure, planning becomes essential to prioritizing investments in the electric power grid.
“We’re focused on pinpointing areas that can increase the capability and reliability of our existing transmission system,” notes Juj.
The workshop included a lengthy discussion on ways to improve and validate power flow and dynamic transfers as a method to unlock more capacity. “With newer, better devices we can get more capacity out of our existing systems without adding new lines and re-wiring,” says Don Watkins, electrical engineer in BPA’s system operations group. Energy efficiency and demand response were also cited as appealing non-wires solutions since they deliver the double benefit of reducing load and adding flexibility.
Keeping the lights on will always be the industry’s principal focus. But the nature of how and when energy is produced and consumed is more unpredictable than ever. For instance, just 12 years ago BPA navigated the West Coast energy crisis after a shortage of electricity led to large-scale blackouts and sent electric power market prices soaring. Whereas today, energy prices are depressed by a glut of supply due in part to an abundance of natural gas. Also within the last decade, aluminum production in the Northwest, which had accounted for the largest industrial loads on BPA’s power system, has dramatically dried up. And more recently, there’s been the rapid integration of nearly 6,000 megawatts of wind generation in the Northwest. Changing load profiles, variable renewable resources and new regulations and policies demand a more nimble power grid.
One of the challenges facing the industry is how does it add flexibility without compromising reliability. Alison Silverstein, an independent consultant on electric transmission and distribution, says the industry has to plan for surprises and reduce uncertainty. “We have to worry about what can go wrong and the likelihood of it going wrong.”
This kind of risk-based planning requires accurate modeling, robust data management systems and analytics. “Now we’re asking ourselves, ‘Do we have enough analytics to know how the system is really performing?’” said Tom Burgess, vice president and director of Reliability Assessment and Performance Analysis at the North American Electric Reliability Corp. NERC develops and enforces standards for electric utilities to follow that help maintain and improve the reliability of North America’s bulk power system. Brian Silverstein, NERC Reliability Issues Steering Committee member and former BPA senior vice president of Transmission Services, explains that it’s NERC’s role to “define the guardrails” of power system operation.
Ultimately, grid operators need to know what to expect from system equipment and understand where the true limits of the system are. To get there, system operators are now looking at the grid from different angles, moving from a historical view to predictive, more real-time assessments. And phasor measurement units are one of the most dynamic tools in the grid visibility toolkit.
“PMUs are giving us a baseline for power system dynamic performance,” says BPA electrical engineer Dmitry Kosterev.
PMUs monitor grid parameters such as voltage, current and frequency at much higher speeds than current technology (60 observations per second compared to once every two to four seconds). These rapid streams of real-time data allow grid operators to manage the system more efficiently and to react more quickly to disturbances that could lead to outages.
BPA is leading the adoption of synchrophasor technology. As part of a five-year, $32 million project, the agency plans to install 126 PMUs at 49 sites throughout the Northwest, primarily at substations. In addition to providing a high-resolution view of the system, the PMU data is archived for off-line studies that can identify trends and help sleuth problems.
“The PMU data can help us unlock capacity, relieve congestion and inform our grid reinforcement decisions,” adds Kosterev.
BPA is also on the forefront of synchrophasor research. Led by its Technology Innovation Office, the agency is leading the development of generator model validation, which helps grid operators see how power generating units are performing in real-time and allows them to diagnose potential trouble or unit failure. Another BPA research project is advancing the detection of oscillation modes, which are not visible with present equipment. And the agency sees more PMU-related benefits on the horizon. PMUs are expected to be integrated into industry standard operations by 2018.
Grid Transformation Workshop participants included staff from Avista, BC Hydro, Grant Public Utility District, Portland General Electric, Southern California Edison, Tennessee Valley Authority and Xcel Energy. Researchers from California ISO, ColumbiaGrid, Iowa State University, Georgia Tech University, Johns Hopkins University and Montana Tech were also on hand, along with consultants from Alstom Grid, Quanta Technologies, PJM and representatives of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation and the Western Electric Coordinating Council.
To learn more about the workshop or to view the presentations, visit
Technology Innovation’s Grid Transformation Workshop Web page
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