Challenges to grid modernization (energy security and resilience)

Inspired by some of ongoing discussions within the Off-The-Grid Energy proposed Subdomain, I’m curious to continue learning from you all:

What are the biggest challenges that exist today in modernizing our power grids? In your opinion is the energy infrastructure of the future better off becoming more centralized (such as supergrids), or more decentralized (such as local community microgrids)?

What are the biggest pain points when it comes to improving the reliability, resiliency, and security of grids to bring us closer to a world of (clean) energy abundance? While the technological challenges for these may be most immediately relevant, I’d love to have some feedback on the social, political, environmental, and economic aspects to consider as well from this community.

Thank you!

@Mehta, @Jesse_Nyokabi, @b0bbybaldi, @AAM_AAU, @ikuzle, @honghong, @khajehoddin, @kpalanisamy79, @Poshgero, and @paolo_mattavelli, can I ask you to weigh in here? What do you see as the biggest challenges in modernizing our power grids?

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@JessicaYoon @NickOttens
The biggest challenges in modernizing our power grid

  1. A quantified value proposition is not clearly articulated. Evolving grid outcomes (such as flexibility, resiliency, and security) have yet to be defined in industry-accepted terms, which are necessary for fact-based discussions on value. We need to develop new key performance indicators (KPIs) to help inform grid planning.
  2. Investment programs are siloed. Many stakeholders—such as customer-facing teams, supply-chain players, regulatory bodies, and IT companies—are frequently not involved in the development of investment programs. Grid investments and other business areas are substantially interdependent; failure to document and consider these interdependencies can result in poor implementation plans.
  3. Enterprise IT and OT systems and platforms are rigid and monolithic. While hardware such as digital relays and smart meters are widely deployed, underlying software systems are frequently not designed to handle the volume of data streamed from the field.
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@JessicaYoon & @NickOttens historically centralised grids have made the most sense, and are indeed still the most financially viable. Nevertheless, a distributed grid would be much more robust, resilient, and capable of interacting in real-time. Trends such as electricity disruptions due to climate change as well as growing distrust of national governments are some of the drivers which are pushing for greater distribution generation beyond the immediately obvious greener feel. Although this trends seems strong and to continue, one can only wonder how truly sustainable it is as giving communities the power to generate their own energy gives them unparalleled independence and thus power which might be handled if it starts getting too distant from centralised governments.

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Hi @Sunbeam, @gyyang, @sanjeevi_12, @zhangx - What are your thoughts on the challenges associated with grid modernization? Do you agree with challenges listed by other experts? Are we missing any challenges associated with improving the reliability, resiliency, and security of grids?

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Thank you so much for sharing your insights, @Jesse_Nyokabi and @b0bbybaldi!

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As we attempt to move much closer to 100% renewable energy sources, the intermittent and seasonal sources (e.g. solar and wind) mean that a (global) super-grid could be useful. For example, in the UK during winter there’s little solar power (and wind might vary daily), so a solar powered source [e.g. solar farms in North Africa] might represent a good supplementary source; similarly between sunny states in the US and Canada, and other links across latitudes. With a resilient global grid it might be possible to transfer energy around the planet as required. High levels of efficiency might be required for this [and a breakthrough in ambient temperature superconductors would be very helpful - worthy of its own XPRIZE!].

Local community micro-grids also offer potential benefits.

Modern aspects to consider might also include the following:

  • high voltage AC and DC interoperability
  • energy storage facilities (to smooth out supply/demand aspects)
  • superconductors, promising low voltage, zero resistance, networks
  • intelligent [AI] management
  • resilience (e.g. like the Internet)

Diagram: Global Renewable Energy Network.

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I believe yet another challenge is that of the public mindset. People don’t care too much about lofty terms like “grid modernization” until they experience power outages, one after another. And even then they may not opt to modernize the grid at costs of billions of dollars.

We need some way to make the benefits of grid modernization clear to the public, possibly by tapping into other sources of concern to the public, like climate change (because of energy losses in old grids) or social justice (as old grids in poverty-stricken neighborhoods make it more difficult for people and small factories to work).

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Hi @jasonsalfi, @Magneto, @Shepard, @Brad, @SonyaD, @Stevenfawkes, @ejnovek - We would love to hear your thoughts on challenges associated with improving the energy reliability, resiliency, and security of grids?

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Hi @wjcarmack, @salmanzafar, @RDuffy, @JimGaston - What are your thoughts on the challenges associated with grid modernization?

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Probable solutions to challenges associated with grid modernization?

Working with artificial intelligence, machine learning and high-performance exascale computing to develop advanced tools, technologies, and system approaches would improve the real-time observability, flexibility, and secure operation of the electric power system and other energy infrastructure. Development of future grid architectures to identify new paradigms and business models to enable better approaches to grid planning and operations would also assist handling the challenges!

I am more interested in resilience, and will let the computer people worry about the security. In my mind, we need to develop a new massive interstate highway for electricity that can move terawatts of electricity around the country. Coupling that with local and regional storage, we should be able to solve many problems. Together, these will provide incentive for producing massive amounts of new renewable energy infrastructure in states/localities where it is plentiful to the urban areas where it is used. With an interstate system, this would create a supply that is cheap and based on multiple technologies (not just wind in the midwest, solar in the southwest, etc). There would be redundancy of sources and areas of the country. Maybe first step would be to have Texas integrate into the grid, and go from there. Resiliency is also about oversupply and storage. We need to go into overdrive to produce as much electricity as possible using renewable energy. The storage will catch up with that over time. However there will never be too much electricity for supply concerns, just too much for the grid to handle. If we can overcome that, we’d be able to electrify more things which in turn would instigate innovations to make the system more reliable (think of plug-in cars as a massive source of battery backup). The electric car movement, hydrogen economy, CO2 capture market, and CO2 conversion market (which will be important for sustainable jetfuel), are all based on a limitless supply of electricity. The techno-economic analyses for all these are almost entirely driven by electricity prices.

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This is interesting points @Brad

Resilience is a holistic concept that embraces the enablers of transition readiness and cuts across the following dimensions:

  • Societies and policy
  • Energy systems and technologies
  • Finance

Further reading:

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Thanks Brad for sharing your thoughts on energy resilience. All important points.

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