DOE Comments on Report: Pathways to Commercial Liftoff Grid Deployment

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By Linda Barney, Barney and Associates

On April 30, 2024, GridForward hosted a Utility Business Model (UBM) Working Group session where a representative from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Technology Transitions introduced innovative ideas laid out in the Pathways to Commercial Liftoff: Innovative Grid Deployment Report. Bryce Yonker, Grid Forward executive director & CEO, moderated the session.

Accelerating deployment of commercially available advanced grid solutions

Louise White, advisor to the U.S. DOE Loan Program Office / DOE Office of Technology Transitions, introduced the newly released report. “We recognized that we still critically need new transmission distribution infrastructure, but it takes well over a decade right now to build that out,” she said. “In the Pathways report, we specifically looked at the opportunity to accelerate deployment of commercially available advanced grid solutions that could be used on the existing transmission and distribution system to better leverage the grid we already have today and get more value out of it.”

The report focused on 20 advanced grid solutions across the following four categories:

  • Advanced transmission technologies: Focuses on existing right of ways, permitting, and technologies such as advanced conductors, as well as high voltage direct current (HVDC) lines that can be used to expand capacity, reliability and efficiency.
  • System automation solutions: Includes distributed energy resource management system (DERMS), smart reclosers, and reliability solutions that can help enhance visibility and automation on energy distribution.
  • Grid enhancing technologies and applications: Includes transmission solutions like dynamic line rating, which can help tap into capacity that’s already on the system, that is not being fully used. Other solutions include energy storage or virtual power plants that can better optimize and manage demand to overall increase the utilization and efficiency of our existing system.
  • Foundational systems: Includes communications technologies or data management systems or other foundational infrastructure necessary to enable other advanced solutions.
DOE Grid Liftoff Report Table 1

Source: U.S. DOE Report Pathways to Commercial Liftoff: Innovative Grid Deployment

For a quick overview of the advanced technologies, see the Pathways to Commercial Liftoff: Innovative Grid Deployment summary document.

How these solutions can increase grid efficiency

Several solutions in the Pathways report, such as advanced conductors or dynamic line rating, can increase effective transmission capacity on the book system to get more power. Many of the solutions can help provide capacity relief on the transmission distribution system through non-wired investments like energy storage or virtual power plants that can help serve demand, and alleviate some of the constraints on the transmission distribution system.

Deploying these solutions today when installed individually could support 20-100 gigawatts (GW) of incremental peak demand. There is at least 91 GW of peak demand growth expected within the next decade. And the demand is expected to increase with the extensive power usage required in data centers and for artificial intelligence (AI). The advanced Pathways grid solutions are an important bridge to address near-term needs while new infrastructure is built. According to White, “So if we think about stacking these solutions up and deploying them in different combinations across a full system, you see a real opportunity to get significantly more, system capacity out of our grid.”

Improving grid reliability, resilience, sustainability and equity

Solutions in the Pathways report can also help improve reliability and resilience by improving visibility into the system, as well as the ability to quickly automate and respond to reconfigure the system during times of outages to help reduce outage times or avoid it all together. Another goal is to bring on more renewables and distributed energy generation more quickly. The technologies can help improve affordability by helping increase system efficiency and lowering energy costs.

“By improving our visibility into how communities are being served, we can better identify and correct any solutions for communities or areas that are not being equitably served. We see an opportunity that if managed intentionally and thoughtfully, there is an opportunity to help promote energy justice and equity outcomes as well by improving affordability outcomes for communities and households,” stated White.

Implementing advanced technologies

Various technologies identified in the Pathways report technologies are fairly low cost, particularly relative to some of the conventional physical kind of wired alternatives. Many of these technologies have already been deployed widely overseas, particularly in Europe and parts of Asia, and several utilities across the US are starting to implement them.

“As of 2023, $87 billion dollars was spent on transmission and distribution systems, but less than seven percent of that went to advanced technologies, including those in the Pathways report. In this grid space, what we see is an opportunity that liftoff will be achieved when these advanced grid solutions become part of the core utility and regulator planning investment and operational toolkit,” said White.

State and utility perspectives

In addition to the Liftoff Report summary, the April 30 UBM Working Group meeting included a representative from U.S. DOE describing funding options available through the DOE Grid Deployment Office (GDO). In addition, PUC and Commercial Commissions officials from Illinois and Colorado talked about how they are pursuing federal funding and awards granted to the two states. Grid Forward will be continuing this topic in a May 14 webinar entitled Scaling Advanced Grid Solutions – Pathways in Action. You can register for this webinar here. Watch for a summary of both events coming to the Grid Forward website in May.

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