DOE’s Strategic Plan for Grid Modernization
- Written by Kerry Cheung, William Parks and Anjan Bose
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Grid Tech Team, utilizing the convening power of government, the capabilities and expertise within DOE and targeted RD&D investments and initiatives, is building collaborations and catalyzing the industry to modernize the grid by enhancing the visibility, understanding and flexibility of the electric power system.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has an established reputation for technical excellence in the research, development and demonstration of clean energy solutions spanning generation through end-use technologies. Recent interactions with diverse stakeholders during the Quadrennial Technology Review indicated these stakeholders also appreciate DOE’s role as convener; its ability to aggregate and disseminate unbiased information; and its ability to provide technical and analytical expertise. Leveraging its reputation, resources and capabilities, DOE is uniquely positioned to play a critical role in grid modernization.
The Grid Tech Team (GTT), established by the Office of the Undersecretary of Energy in June 2011, is tasked with coordinating grid-related activities across the department and with accelerating modernization of the electric power system. In this role, the GTT provides thought-leadership, convenes relevant stakeholders, facilitates open dialogues and coordinates results and actions. Dictating solutions is not its mission. Instead, the GTT advocates a comprehensive, holistic systems approach that balances technical and institutional solutions with sensitivities to regulatory, policy and market challenges.
The GTT developed a draft vision that describes a future electricity system and lists salient characteristics of that system. This vision accepts the diversity and uncertainty in future energy demands and generation portfolios, and recognizes inherent regional differences in needs, goals and available resources. In the future, the electricity system will be cost-effective, seamless from generation to end-use and capable of meeting all clean energy demands and capacity requirements. Key characteristics include: (1) significant scale-up of clean energy that is sensitive to impacts on consumer costs and economic prosperity; (2) universality of consumer participation and choice, from electric vehicles and energy efficiency to producing and selling electricity and services; (3) holistically designed solutions, including AC-DC transmission and distribution technologies, a mix of centralized and decentralized control, energy storage and microgrids; (4) two-way flows of energy and information; and (5) reliability, security against cyber and physical threats, and resiliency to disruptions and outages. This vision will continue to evolve and be refined as the GTT engages with the broader stakeholder community.
The complex, pervasive and interdependent nature of the electric power system means that no single entity will be able to overcome the numerous challenges of grid modernization. Recognizing this key tenet, the GTT proposes a modernization strategy centered on continued dialogue and engagement with appropriate stakeholder communities. Focused collaborative discussions are crucial to identify priorities, national goals, specific targets and stakeholder roles, and to develop a network of effective public-private partnerships necessary to implement any proposed actions. The GTT will work with external stakeholders and other federal agencies to plan and coordinate the three elements of this strategy–RD&D activities, initiatives and regional engagements.
RD&D activities will be coordinated around overcoming mid- to long-term technical issues identified during workshops and discussions of grid modernization challenges. RD&D activities include analyses, basic science research, modeling and simulations, applied technology development and proof-of-concept demonstrations. The GTT recognizes that developing technology solutions does not guarantee mass deployment of those advancements, so that their impact on grid modernization efforts may be less than desired. Institutional barriers associated with technology adoption, such as markets, policies, regulations and standards, must be considered and addressed in parallel with technology RD&D. These barriers will be addressed in part through DOE initiatives and regional engagements.
Initiatives will be coordinated around overcoming institutional barriers and near-term technical issues associated with institutional arrangements that represent obstacles to the deployment and commercialization of technology solutions. Initiatives include educating stakeholders, streamlining processes, developing tools to better inform market or regulatory decisions, developing standards and establishing workforce training programs, and also possibly some focused RD&D investments, such as technology and systems integration.
Regional engagements are necessary to identify geographic differences and sensitivities associated with executing initiatives at regional, state and local levels. These regional engagements will consist of meetings and other forums where DOE can serve as a convener, disseminate relevant information and help identify public and private actions necessary to implement initiatives. Regional, state and local variations in resource mixes, infrastructure, loads, markets, regulations and policies result in unique challenges that call for unique solutions.
The GTT believes the electric power system can be categorized into asset domains (generation, transmission, distribution and end users) and system domains (interfaces, connectivity, operations and planning). The system domains cut across the boundaries of the asset domains and encompass the complex interactions between the informational, analytical and physical dimensions of the grid. Challenges arising from these interdependencies can only be effectively identified and resolved using a holistic systems perspective that looks across the multiple domains and dimensions simultaneously.
Taking a holistic systems perspective, a strategic framework was developed that organizes RD&D activities and initiatives into three interrelated dimensions: informational, analytical and physical. This framework can be depicted in a Venn diagram as three overlapping circles and is representative of the systems nature of the grid. Each of the dimensions has a corresponding strategic focus that aims to improve the visibility of grid conditions, increase our understanding of the implications of the observed or projected conditions and enhance the flexibility of the grid to respond to that understanding.
The logic behind these focus areas is that a modernized grid should be able to “see” an event or condition, “know” what is happening or about to happen and “do” something appropriate in response–quickly and seamlessly. In addition to the overlap and interactivity among these three technical focus areas, there are many institutional factors (markets, regulations, policies, standards, etc.) that influence the success of RD&D activities and initiatives and can be depicted as a fourth larger circle that encompasses the Venn diagram. The diverse institutional challenges associated with specific technical challenges must be identified, and possible solutions integrated into initiatives to support the three strategic focus areas.
Goals for each of the three focus areas (Visibility, Understanding and Flexibility) will be developed to provide guidance towards implementing a modernized grid. National goals that acknowledge regional diversity are needed to develop and align stakeholder targets, identify actions needed by stakeholder groups (including the DOE) and facilitate the development of regional implementation plans. Such goals are expected to be defined, expanded and refined as the dialogue continues.
Grid modernization is a long, progressive process that will require close coordination and public-private partnerships. Orchestrating this process requires leadership to bring together diverse stakeholders to work towards a shared national vision that recognizes regional diversity associated with the electric power system. DOE is uniquely positioned to provide a long-term perspective, a sustained commitment and the collaborative environment necessary to overcome the technical and institutional challenges associated with grid modernization. The role of the GTT is not to dictate solutions but to provide thought-leadership, convene relevant stakeholders, facilitate an open dialogue to develop a shared vision of the future grid and help generate implementation plans to achieve that vision.