Grid Modernization Discussions Take Center Stage at EEI Convention

Editor in chief

TERESA HANSEN

I recently attended the EEI Annual Convention, which I’ve attended many times. This year it had a much different feel than any I’ve attended in the past. Electricity generation has typically been the dominant topic. This year, however, even with the EPA scheduled to release the final 111(d) regulation (Clean Power Plan) later this summer, regulations and fossil power generation were not the dominant topics. Preparing the grid to serve customers and accommodate distributed generation and emerging technologies were the topics of conversation.

Many utility CEOs and other executive speakers talked about the continued growth of renewables and the grid investments their utilities are making to ensure they can accommodate all types of emerging and disruptive technologies. They talked about ensuring the grid could accommodate customers’ wants and needs, especially their desire for lower carbon generation. Electric vehicles, microgrids and small- and large-scale energy storage were hot topics. Grid investments that will result in improved reliability, efficiency and resiliency also were discussed. Nick Akins, CEO and president of American Electric Power, which operates one of the country’s largest coal-fired generation fleets, said his company retired nearly 6,000 MW of coal generation in the Midwest. He said the retired generation is gone; AEP has no plans to bring it back. He said AEP will invest in modernizing its transmission and distribution infrastructure so it can make up for much of the retired generation capacity through a more efficient grid. He said the nation is headed toward a lower carbon generation mix not just because of EPA regulations, but because that’s what customers want.

Ted Craver, chairman, president and CEO of Edison International and EEI’s outgoing chairman, said Southern California Edison (SCE) is focused on creating a modern, bidirectional grid that can accommodate California’s growing solar generation capacity any time of day. Craver said if a customer spends $15,000 to $20,000 to put solar panels on his roof, then the utility better be prepared to take on the electricity when the customer has excess and, in turn, provide electricity when he needs more. If SCE can’t accommodate that customer, the customer will invest a little more money on energy storage and disconnect from the grid completely, Craver said.

“Then we have lost a customer for good,” he said.

Everyone agreed that central power stations will continue to be a big part of the generation mix, but many said distributed generation will account for about one-third of the mix by 2030. Utilities are preparing their grids for this changing generation mix.

It’s an exciting and challenging time for the electricity industry. We’ve been hearing for a while that the industry is transforming. The discussions at the latest EEI Annual Convention reflect that. The next few years are sure to be a wild and exciting ride.

 

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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