As America’s gigantic electric grid gets increasingly complex, the holy grail of grid integration looms as a paramount concern, according to David Owens, executive vice president of the Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned utilities.
“Interconnection is not integration,” Owens told grid experts last week at the Gridwise Architecture Council’s Transactive Energy Systems conference in Portland.
The distribution network lacing through American cities and neighborhoods is a platform of evolving technologies, he said.
Utilities are a dynamo with $930 billion in revenues, and they are now spending $108 billion yearly on new infrastructure, Owens said. Half of America’s 130 million households connect to the grid through the latest technology smart meters.
But despite the massive investment and upgrade underway, the grid still has a long way to go to achieve ideal integration of resources.
When it comes to having visibility across distributed resources, Owens said, “That’s not happening.”
Each state is a unique lab pioneering new approaches to the electric grid, he said.
Transactive energy, or the ability to attach an economic price to electricity as it flows along the grid, will one day enable energy users to automate and tailor their energy consumption. Owens said its deployment is five to 10 years away.
But he told the conference attendees that to champion the technology, they need to involve more state utility regulators and utility executives in planning for the deployment of transactive energy. Difficult concepts must be made understandable.
“You need to simplify the language,” Owens said.
The industry needs to prepare to serve an economy that is more “electric intensive” as electric vehicle deployments surge.
The average American home today is served by 26 plug-in appliances.
“Our customers are demanding,” Owens said. “They have higher expectations.”
Responding to those expectations, 24 percent of America’s coal-fired generation has been shuttered and one-third of the nation’s electric fleet today emits no carbon.
“Power is in a period of transformation,” Owens said.