By Teresa Hansen
You may have noticed that this month’s cover photo looks more like a renewable generation magazine’s cover than that of a magazine dealing with transmission and distribution automation issues. This issue’s first feature article is, however, about distributed generation, and certainly wind power and other renewables are getting a lot of attention as highly desirable distributed generation options.
Many believe distributed generation will play an important role in the United States’ future energy strategies. According to Chartwell’s Guide to Distributed Generation, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is shooting for 20 percent of new capacity, an estimated 30 gigawatts, to be provided by distributed generation by 2010.
Our industry has viewed distributed generation primarily as a power generation issue, but as you’ll see when you read the article titled “Distributed Generation: Can the Interconnection Barriers be Overcome,” wires companies are facing some major issues related to distributed generation as well. If the DOE’s prediction comes true, the companies distributing electricity are going to have to address interconnection issues.
According to many large end-users extremely interested in on-site power, utilities are currently unresponsive to their needs when it comes to tying their on-site power plants, or distributed generation sources, into the grid. Most of the end users with which I’ve come in contact, don’t believe their utility is doing much to help them solve interconnection issues. It is also clear that many don’t believe it is a technology issue, but that it is a policy, or lack of policy, issue. It is clear that those in charge of operating the country’s transmission and distribution systems must begin to make an effort to accommodate the inevitable use of distributed generation. Utilities must come up with interconnection policies and procedures that will allow end-users, independent producers and generating companies to easily connect to the grid. Continuing to rely on outdated, cumbersome interconnection policies and procedures will not make distributed generation go away, but it could make customers go away.
While many wires companies have taken little interest in advancing distributed generation, there is one segment of the electricity distribution industry that has-rural electric cooperatives. Co-ops have taken an early and active role in distributed generation research and development. They see the technology as a cost-effective way to serve sparsely populated areas of their service territory and create new business opportunities.
The Cooperative Research Network (CRN), the research arm of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, has invested at least $4 million in more than a dozen distributed generation projects in the past five years, according to Chartwell. CRN believes in the future of distributed generation and intends to learn as much as possible about the technology. According to Steve Lindenberg, CRN’s executive director, when sales staffs from manufacturers and distributors begin approaching their (member cooperatives) customers, the co-ops want to know more about the technologies than any other source in the community. They want to be their customers’ main distributed generation information source.
So, the photo on this issue’s cover was chosen not only to depict the interconnection of distributed generation with the distribution system, but also to reflect the fact that it is those wires companies serving the rural customers that seem to understand the importance of distributed generation. It might be time for some of the larger utilities to take a similar interest.