The Future of Electricity

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Electric and energy industry transformation requires a whole-system, multi-layered architecture that includes the physical electric network, new communication and control systems, new business models, new markets, and new regulatory frameworks.

 

When talking about the future of the grid, it is sometimes referred to as a decentralized, integrated, and distributed electric system; distributed suggests high reliance on distribution-connected energy resources (DER), while decentralized emphasizes local control and customization to meet local needs. Integrated suggests state-awareness and two-way communication between the electric distribution system and the various sub-systems.

Such sub-systems or microgrids (MG) may be, in increasing order of size and complexity:

  • a single building or a portion of a building;
  • a group of buildings and other facilities comprising a single enterprise such as a university campus or military base;
  • a group of buildings and other facilities serving a diverse set of users, such as a residential subdivision, an industrial park, a large shopping mall; often referred to as a community microgrid (MG) or multi-user MG;
  • a local electricity distribution system, consisting of all facilities and energy end-users served from a single transmission-distribution interface; may also be a community or multi-user microgrid (MG), for example, if the transmission-distribution (T-D) substation serves a municipality.

A key feature that defines such a sub-system as a MG is its ability to separate from the larger electricity system to which it is normally connected, and operate in island mode. Widespread islanding capability enhances the resilience of electric service to disturbances (weather/climate or cyber/physical) by limiting their geographic propagation and shortening restoration times. In this vision, most sub-systems will be connected most of the time in order to enjoy the benefits of participating in a larger energy network, and will utilize islanding capability only when necessary.

At the level of a municipality, the community MG should be able to support the convergence of essential municipal services – water supply, wastewater movement and treatment, solid waste management, local transportation, telecommunications, etc. – essentially the set of necessary services that sustain a resilient community that is viewed as a whole system.

The Future of the Grid:

  • An integrated-decentralized electric system.
  • Transformation of a “mainframe” model of connectivity to a network of networks model.
  • Structured as a layered hierarchy of self-optimizing sub-systems.
  • Sub-systems can be customized to meet the needs, goals, and conditions of the local area it serves.
  • A distribution system that is state-aware and communicates bidirectionally.

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