Illinois is emerging as the best kept secret in grid modernization, taking big strides that go unnoticed in the shadow of high visibility coastal states that are pushing for flashier industry reforms.
That’s the word from a new report, “Generation to Generation: An Energy Evolution,” by management consulting firm ScottMadden and the Smart Electric Power Association (SEPA).
The report finds that Illinois has “quietly solidified its position as a market to watch” while “New York and California are often identified as leading the charge on innovative energy policy.”
The penetration of distributed energy resources (DERs) remains relatively small in the Midwestern state. But the report authors expect it to grow as a result of two significant pieces of legislation:
Of note, Illinois utilities are investing $3.2 billion in grid modernization improvements, including installation of smart meters, says the report. The state also has set demand reduction targets of 17 percent by 2025 and 21.5 percent by 2030 for ComEd, which serves 74 percent of the market. Ameren, which serves 24 percent of the state, is charged with reducing demand 13 percent by 2025 and 16 percent by 2030.
In addition, the state is allocating $140 million/year for the Illinois Power Agency to purchase renewable energy credits, a move expected to boost development of green energy. The state renewable portfolio standard now includes carve outs for both utility scale and distributed solar.
“Illinois has laid an excellent foundation that positions it well for increasing penetrations of DERS and renewables,” says the report. “When DERs arrive at scale, the state will be ready.”
Indeed, the state already has a leading-edge microgrid, which Ameren began operating earlier this year. The demonstration project features a cybersecure microgrid that also is one of the few in the world that operates at utility-scale voltages and can seamlessly transition from grid-connected to island mode.
In addition, ComEd has a microgrid cluster on the drawing board, the interconnection of two microgrids that would work together to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Known as the Bronzeville microgrid, the project would connect with an operating microgrid at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
With the help of a federal grant, ComEd has developed a master microgrid controller, designed to manage multiple microgrids. Some expect such activity – the management of microgrid clusters – to offer future business opportunities for utilities.
“Illinois is leading with the degree of transformative change taking place with the physical assets being installed across the utility systems and the variety of options and efficiencies being made available to the retail market,” says the report.
That’s not to say grid modernization will be smooth sailing in Illinois. The report notes that grid operators PJM and MISO must resolve how DERs will participate in wholesale markets. In addition, the state must find a path to resolve the competing requirements of maintaining viable utilities that ensure electric reliability, while making room for third parties to install distributed energy and drive down consumer costs.
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