TODAY’S STUDY: Testing Grid Modernization State By State
Grid Modernization – States And Utilities Test The Waters; Electric utilities propose upgrades to the grid, while regulators seek frameworks to evaluate those costs.
October 30, 2018 (ScottMadden)
Grid Modernization: A Working Definition
∙ Grid modernization is a term frequently used but not consistently defined
∙ A working definition would include investments—some of which may be considered foundational and/or DER-enabling—that improve the reliability, resiliency, efficiency, and automation of the T&D system
∙ Such investments can include a broad array of technology, including:
- Sensors, data, systems, and communications networks that enable enhanced visibility and understanding of the distribution system and control of devices and resources connected to it
- Technologies and equipment that facilitate greater customer engagement regarding energy usage and alternatives
- The underlying systems, data management, and analytics that facilitate situational awareness, asset management, contingency and risk analysis, outage management, and restoration
∙ These necessary core investments underpin the required focus on grid reliability, visibility, and resiliency. They provide the basis for increased operational flexibility, provide customers with greater insights and more options to manage their energy usage, can enable efforts toward achieving state policy goals, such as the integration of various types of DER, and are beneficial for any resource mix
Threshold Questions for Utilities Considering Grid Modernization Initiatives
∙ What is the delivery utility trying to achieve through grid modernization?
∙ There is no one-size-fits-all ∙ Clear goals make prioritization decisions easier
∙ What is a “modern” vs. “traditional” grid?
∙ New does not mean modern (e.g., new poles)
∙ Agreed-upon definitions with the regulator build trust
∙ Where is the line between grid modernization and DER enablement? Is there one?
∙ State policy goals for DER enablement
∙ Projects with synergies that support both DER and traditional grid operations (e.g., GIS)
∙ What is the line between grid modernization-related efforts and enterprise-wide efforts for initiatives, such as cybersecurity, analytics, etc.?
∙ Accelerating existing programs or projects
∙ Clear boundaries make for a more effective narrative
∙ What is considered a foundational grid modernization investment, and foundational to what?
∙ Sequence of investments based on priorities, required capabilities, and interdependencies
∙ Is the standard of cost effectiveness different?
∙ What cost-effectiveness framework should be applied to these investments, individually and as a portfolio?
∙ Relevant commission frameworks
∙ Least cost vs. greatest societal benefit
Grid Investment Continues to Grow
∙ Increasingly, utilities are looking at the energy delivery business (and related technology deployment) as an earnings growth opportunity
∙ Even traditionally “generation-heavy” utilities like Duke and AEP are developing significant grid modernization plans
∙ For the past five years, electric distribution spending (among electric and combination utilities) has been growing at nearly 6% per year
∙ In the most recent year, conductors and station equipment totaled about 50% of distribution additions, while meters comprised about 6.7%
∙ A significant amount of distribution spending may still lie ahead, especially as multi-year grid mod plans unfold
New York Demonstration Projects Pilot Varied Technologies and Features
∙ New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision initiative required its utilities to file in July 2018 distributed system integration plans (DSIPs), many of which include innovative pilots to test various grid modernization technologies and functionalities
∙ ConEd, for example, is testing mobile energy storage in its Transportable Energy Storage System (TESS), comprised of a 500-kW, trailer-mounted system with liion batteries and power conversion and thermal control systems
∙ National Grid is demonstrating a Distributed System Platform (DSP) project that can determine locational energy value through a “Locational Marginal Pricing+Distribution+Environmental” model
∙ Other pilot projects involve electric vehicles, community solar, and DER forecasting ∙ Time will tell whether these pilots will be successful and scalable
Regulators Temper Spending, Seeking “Bang for the Buck”
∙ While many jurisdictions are pursuing policies intended to evolve the electric grid through advanced technologies, some utilities are facing pushback on the price tag of some proposals
∙ For example, both Massachusetts and New Mexico rejected AMI proposals by utilities, citing insufficient customer benefits, among other concerns
∙ Kentucky also rejected a joint proposal to install almost 1.3 million smart meters, deciding that the utilities failed to prove that smart meters wouldn’t be “wasteful duplication”
∙ Moreover, grid riders—which allow utilities to recover costs outside of traditional rate cases and are useful as technologies change—have been challenged in North Carolina and Ohio, as some parties object to potential system “gold plating” without sufficient cost-benefit analysis
Given the scrutiny and potential resistance to rate increases, utilities should spend a meaningful amount of time understanding their objectives, scoping potential technology test beds, identifying and prioritizing the potential sequencing of investments, and carefully analyzing costs versus customer benefits as they engage regulators and other stakeholders in grid modernization initiatives.