As in other countries, the electricity distribution system in the United States is in a state of transition to support the changing energy mix with renewables and consumers becoming prosumers and gaining more control over their energy usage.
Technological advancements are driving the emergence of a new class of next-generation technologies providing new capabilities and functionality for operating, managing and controlling the grid.
While there are numerous such new technologies, three in particular epitomise the larger pool of technologies that are increasing the focus on the distribution system, i.e. advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), distribution controls and electric vehicles (EVs), while related to these is the handling of customer data, a US Department of Energy study with regulators has found.
These, in turn, are bringing new challenges to regulators in their proceedings. Some key macro trends identified include the need for foundational investments in technologies and that the benefits are not siloed and potentially hard to quantify.
Moreover, there can be more than one way of undertaking grid modernisation such as non-wires alternatives with new tools to meet demand and infrastructure needs.
Common challenges identified by regulators include understanding the technological nuances, determining realistic timelines and obtaining benchmarking metrics, while aligning utility practices with customer needs may require changes to regulatory rules.
Details stated of the technologies are as follows.
AMI is at a transition point in the US, with meters that were installed through 2012 close to the end of their useful life and utilities starting to propose to replace those meters.
AMI 1.0 moved the meter from being a cash register to a grid sensor. AMI 2.0 moves beyond grid sensor to a decentralised and potentially autonomous control node that can establish a network of millions of computational points at the customer edge of the distribution system.
This presents a vastly different grid architecture from the current structure where computational and control capabilities are centralised with innovations offering new potential value streams both for the utility and third parties.
In many cases, distribution grid technologies are software rather than hardware, and rely upon a robust communications network to receive data and send signals and commands.
Taken together, the technologies allow distribution utilities to have better situational awareness of the operational characteristics of the system, and help them monitor, respond, plan and operate their systems as more distributed energy resources are integrated and customer participation grows.
Key distribution control technologies include Advanced Distribution Management Systems (ADMS), Distributed Energy Resources Management Systems (DERMS) and Fault Location Isolation Service Restoration (FLISR).
EVs, their associated charging technology and the supporting grid infrastructure are key elements in the transition to transportation electrification.
The transition represents both a technological and societal shift. EV loads are different from traditional building loads from a grid perspective: they are mobile, they will not necessarily get more efficient over time, they do not consume energy from the grid when in use and they store energy for later use.
Some vehicles may sit idle for long periods of time, allowing the possibility for charging to be shifted to another time or place or the potential to use the energy stored in vehicle batteries for customer and grid benefits.
Data access and governance
Data spans all the technologies considered with each providing robust data that is collected and transmitted to other technologies and sometimes between parties with different interfaces, boundaries and security standards. To provide value, data must be utilised and analysed.
Data can tell an entity where a resource is located, how much electricity it is using and other operational information. It can be used by utilities and third parties to develop innovative programmes and services for customers or to optimise systems, networks, technologies or operations.
Often, however, parties need (or would like to have) data that other entities have, which raises privacy, confidentiality and security concerns. Data, and the sharing of data, also has monetary implications. Untangling the conflicting needs and interests as well as determining data’s value to customers raises new questions about how the data is accessed, shared and used.
The study forms part of the DOE’s Office of Electricity’s Voices of Experience programme collecting the experiences, insight, and lessons learned of utility representatives implementing emerging technology.