The transformation of the nation's electric grid will be driven by a variety of factors, depending on where in the country you look. But according to GTM Research, the end result will look fairly consistent.
This new ecosystem will leverage advanced infrastructure, new technology and a robust software and applications layer to facilitate a yet to be achieved level of integrated planning and intelligence, GTM predicts in a white paper titled "Evolution of the Grid Edge: Pathways to Transformation."
That's a vision of the future which is, albeit slowly in some areas, gaining widespread acceptance. But just how California reaches that point what regulatory regimes or customer demands push that grid edge will be different from what happens in New York or Florida or Texas.
As with any transformation, this change will not be linear and systematic, GTM predicted.
So depending on where you are on the nation's distribution system, three broad pathways are pushing progress: Advanced energy consumers, innovative regulators, and proactive energy providers. Those three will play out in a variety of ways and at times will overlap, said Steve Propper, director of Grid Edge at Greentech Media and author of the paper. But they are the basic forces which will drive the adoption of grid edge technologies.
We're still in the early stages of how the future distribution system is going to work, said Propper. This tends to be a slow-moving industry. It's widely known that this 100 year-old model is not going to last. That's been said for 10 years, but it's finally being addressed.
A grid that accepts all resources
Distributed resources are perhaps the largest driver of grid edge technology. But while rooftop solar may be the face of customer-owned distributed resources, Propper said there is room in this paradigm for energy efficiency and demand response. The future of the grid will be one which allows a range of resources to integrate smoothly.
In the markets where you see this moving more quickly, are places where utilities or regulators are coming up with innovative demand response programs, Propper said. And all the way through. The one area where demand response programs are really weak is the residential sector. Large C&I probably has a pretty good base to go from.
Demand response has always been something seen as interesting, and I think now people are saying it's essentially a leverageable distributed energy resource.
GTM believes it will be the consumer but more specifically, an advanced consumer focused on their type and amount of energy consumption which will drive adoption in states like Hawaii, Arizona and Colorado. And the firm believes in those areas the technology will spread rapidly.
In places where the customer is driving this, it's our conjecture that we'll get there faster, Propper said. The reason is, customer demand and putting more distributed energy resources behind the meter in places like Hawaii and Arizona, and to a certain extent California, the utilities and regulators are put in a position where they don't necessarily have a choice They have to react to the demand of the market.
Much of the consumer-driven cycle is based around the deployment of distributed resources, but that point is also just a first step. Customers acquire distributed resources, which puts pressure on existing utility incentive programs and resource planning to adapt. As the customer then demands more information to maximize their investment, it can trigger a re-evaluation of regulatory constructs, and a better alignment of utility incentive structures and infrastructure needs.
Hawaii and Arizona are prime examples of this pattern of grid-edge deployment, as they both have
an abundance of renewable resources and are early leaders in the deployment of distributed solar, the report notes.
Hawaii may be the most high-profile at the moment. There, Hawaiian Electric Co. ran into issues with the rapid proliferation of rooftop solar and halted installations. But the utility has a goal to triple the amount of distributed solar on its system and achieve 65% renewable use by 2030, and to these ends partnered with SolarCity and NREL last year to study grid interconnection issues. But the backlog in interconnection applications continued, and now regulators in the state have directed the utility to continue connecting customers.
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