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Who are Regulators Going to Call?

A lot of churn is going on in our industry. To be honest, I am continuously overwhelmed trying to keep up with everything.

A lot of churn is going on in our industry. To be honest, I am continuously overwhelmed trying to keep up with everything. Energy issues are coming upon us more rapidly than utilities can react. Here is a smattering of what we are dealing with:

  • New EPA rules resulting in massive closing of utility coal plants across the nation
  • The courts overturning FERC Order 745, which allowed demand response bidding into the grid
  • Combined-cycle plants running on cheap, gas causing nuclear to be uneconomic.
  • California rooftop solar leaving utilities scrambling to keep their distribution networks together
  • Remote wind requiring a major build out of transmission
  • Microgrids threatening the traditional utility business model.

How do we make sense of all this and move forward in a responsible manner? Who do we listen to and why should we believe them?

Let’s face it, most everyone has a vested interest in how we address these issues. Not even the non-profit think tanks are immune to bias. So, who are regulators and government agencies going to call?

President Obama realizes something needs to be done. This January, he issued a memorandum calling for a comprehensive “Quadrennial Energy Review” (QER), with one of the goals being to make sure we can accommodate green energy sources flowing across our grid. He plans to use the results of this review to serve as a road map going forward. This is really cool, at least in theory. But the review is only as valuable as the individuals who perform it. So, who’s he going to call?

I had a chance to talk with Damir Novosel at the 2014 IEEE PES General Meeting and get a few more details. Novosel, president-elect of IEEE PES, and Veronika Rabl, IEEE USA Energy Policy Committee chair, had been in contact with Bill Hederman, senior advisor to the Secretary of Energy, who was seeking input for this review on critical topics related to the power grid.

Novosel informed me of the frenetic pace required of IEEE to perform the review. “In May, we agreed to provide a draft by the end of June and a final report by the end of August. In the two months between draft and final reports, we put our report through a review process with IEEE and industry experts.”

How did they pull off this seemingly impossible timeline?

Jeffrey Nelson, chairman of the IEEE PES Technical Council, rounded up IEEE PES technical committees to contribute to and review materials. Each topic lead had IEEE members to assist them. This approach enabled IEEE to form a global team of experts so the Department of Energy (DOE) could have the broadest possible view of potential solutions and approaches.

When I got back home, I went on the IEEE website and downloaded the IEEE draft report. Each chapter begins with a summary of key drivers and issues, then discusses best practices, applications and appropriate technologies, and ends with recommendations and conclusions.

The first topic discusses how the intermittency of renewable resources affects the electric power grid and the potential role of energy storage in addressing related impacts; Tom Schneider, an expert on energy storage and renewables, led that team and focused on transmission, while Julio Romero Aguero, who is involved with IEEE PES distribution efforts, addressed the distribution.

The second topic focuses on utility and other energy company business case issues related to microgrids and distributed generation, including rooftop solar photovoltaics; John McDonald, one of the foremost industry leaders in smart grid and former IEEE PES president, led the team addressing that topic.

The third topic addresses the implications of aging infrastructure and how to deal with it, including advanced asset management techniques; Massoud Amin, chairman of IEEE Smart Grid Initiative, led that team.

The fourth discusses the implications for transmission and distribution systems of integrating electric vehicles (EV) with the grid; Doug Houseman, who currently leads IEEE’s DC@home initiative, led the EV team.

For the fifth topic, the DOE wanted recommendations for developing metrics on smart grid issues that could help policy-makers determine the importance of protocols; that was Veronika Rabl’s assignment.

The sixth topic focuses on skilled workforce issues; that team was led by Robin Podmore, a leader in the IEEE Community Solutions Initiative for bringing energy solutions to developing countries.

The IEEE and the DOE deserve kudos.

Let’s face it, we are no longer able to address technical issues in a vacuum. Our energy world is getting so complex and moving so fast that it requires simultaneous action at the business, regulatory, legislative and technical levels. And our society must step it up — just as it has with this review — if we are to influence the direction of the industry so that strategies and policies are developed that make sense and can actually be executed. It fits in within the IEEE’s mission to focus on technological evolution and excellence for the benefit of all.

Take some time to peruse this report and see what the future grid might look like. The experts that IEEE gathered made sense out of issues that I couldn’t get my hands around.

There is a lot more in this document than I can comment on now, but here are a few nuggets. From what I read, with modest system upgrades, we can handle renewables integration with a penetration of up to 30% without requiring significant storage. But when we go much above 30%, we will need storage along with a much more sophisticated grid, with continuously variable power flow control devices replacing or augmenting tap changers. I found the section on integrating EVs particularly enlightening, too.

Novosel tells me that the IEEE input has been well received by the QER team at the DOE. He expects it is largely because of the quality and objectiveness of the guidance provided. Novosel told me, “We expect the DOE to incorporate it into the QER, which, in turn, will define the President’s and the nation’s energy policy for the remainder of President Obama’s term and beyond.”

It was quite encouraging to me to see that the DOE is committed to addressing serious issues facing our power industry in a pragmatic way. And I am also ecstatic that our IEEE technical society is committed to getting our voices heard on a national scale and at a pace that it will make a difference in setting policy. The best is yet to come if we stay focused and build on the momentum our society has generated. It is not enough to have our voices heard. We must push hard to see that our recommendations are acted upon.

Quadrennial Energy Review

Earlier this year, President Obama addressed the need for a Quadrennial Energy Review, stating:

Affordable, clean and secure energy and energy services are essential for improving U.S. economic productivity, enhancing our quality of life, protecting our environment and ensuring our nation’s security. Achieving these goals requires a comprehensive and integrated energy strategy resulting from interagency dialogue and active engagement of external stakeholders. ...

The initial focus for the Quadrennial Energy Review will be our nation’s infrastructure for transporting, transmitting and delivering energy. Our current infrastructure is increasingly challenged by transformations in energy supply, markets and patterns of end use; issues of aging and capacity; impacts of climate change; and cyber and physical threats. ...

The first Quadrennial Energy Review report will serve as a road map to help address these challenges.

 

 

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