Regulatory Views on Building a New Power Grid

Kathleen Wolf Davis | Jan 21, 2013

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A panel of experts, including Chris Irwin with the U.S. Department of Energy, Gordon Matthews with the Bonneville Power Administration, Bob Saint with the National Rural Electric Cooperative (NRECA), Robert Burke with ISO New England and Robert Frazier with CenterPoint Energy discussed a vision for the American power grid of the future at the Grid Interop conference in December.

Irwin posed to the panel that each list the technologies pushing their individual utilities toward a smarter grid. Each had a unique perspective.

Matthews with Bonneville Power pointed out that his company is a bulk transmission wholesaler---a bit different that America’s traditional power utility. Instead of end-users as customers, their customers were power distribution companies. Therefore, their key smart grid tech favorite isn’t an item that helps with consumers or retail. It’s an item that helps with transmission: synchrophasors.

“Synchrophasors have been a huge game changer for us. We have about 20 sites up and running with another 20 in the next year. They give us unprecedented clarity in the operations of system.”

Additionally, Matthews pointed out that those synchrophasors, while very valuable, are “real data hogs.” So, he added updated communications architecture to his short list of smart grid tech favorites.

Bob Saint with NRECA chose not to point out a single technology but, instead, to note that cooperatives have embraced a number of different technologies that help them increase efficiency and be more cost effective---all in order to assist their consumer members, who essentially own those companies.

“Small utilities have to be innovative and utilize tech in order to be competitive,” he added.

Burke with ISO New England noted the company’s similarities with Bonneville, with the addition of working in the wholesale electric market. So, they, too, are looking at synchrophasors for better data and more visibility.

“Looking at what has happened in the Northeast [with Superstorm Sandy], having the data and being able to tell what is going on in real time is imperative to our operation. It all comes back to being able to get the right data at the right time so the operators can figure out what’s coming,” Burke said.

Frazier with CenterPoint Energy also returned to Matthews tech list by supporting the communications aspect as a valued bit of smart grid for his company, which he explained as wi-fi with a cellular back-up.

“Now that we have this in place, we’re looking at what else we can use it for,” he said.

Irwin added that outsourcing might become an option for utilities deploying large-scale communications systems but that he’s concerned about those outsourcing options meeting the right needs for the utility.

If it’s possible to outsource,” he said, “it will be critical that the communications providers provide the same real-time feeds and network abilities so you can respond to up and down capabilities as well.”

Synchrophasors and communications options were the two major technologies discussed during the game-changer portion of the panel talk at the show, and Bob Saint summed it up with one short sentence.

“We’re all realizing that communication is key for all smart grid technologies,” he said.

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