3 Questions for Planning Electric Grid Modernization

by Mark Feasel, Schneider Electric

Aging infrastructure, regulatory pressure and an increasing array of distributed energy resources have altered the utility landscape and are spurring utilities to evolve. These challenges require new skill sets and come as utilities face a talent gap because of an increasing retirement-eligible work force.

Grid modernization efforts are critical for utilities to remain competitive because it enables them to address these challenges and strategically reinvest in upgrading the aging U.S. electric distribution system. This will enable them to provide more reliable services, enhance operational efficiency and increase consumer engagement.

Utilities should consider grid modernization questions as they plan, including:

  • Should we upgrade our current equipment or buy new?
  • How important is a solutions approach?
  • How does my modernization program support the overall utility goals?

Utilities should consider their options as the industry undergoes the smart grid evolution.

Modernizing Existing Assets

As assets become increasingly expensive to replace, cost-effective modernization and upgrade solutions are attractive options for organizations that are looking at cost-effective ways to update their systems without full equipment replacement. Upgrading existing equipment enables utilities to expand the life span and capabilities of the electrical system with minimal downtime while achieving improved reliability and efficiency. Through maintenance, monitoring, upgrading existing equipment and other new ways of operating, an opportunity exists to make the most of the assets utilities already have. Companies can save up to 35 to 40 percent of the cost of buying new by selecting this option. Companies such as Schneider Electric can provide upgrade solutions for any manufacturer’s equipment.

Solution-oriented Approach

Schneider Electric offers modernization solutions to upgrade utilities’ existing electrical distribution equipment using both advanced technology and a solutions approach. Many organizations can realize better returns on their investments and achieve reliability and customer engagement goals with focus on the integration of hardware and software capabilities.

Modernization solutions range from switchgear retrofits, direct replacement units for low-voltage motor control centers, circuit breaker reconditioning, contact conversions for motor-starting applications, network protectors, protective relay, meter, and RTU upgrade, security system augmentation and legacy product support. Electrical engineering services are an important complement to provide utilities with industry-leading expertise to help manage the life cycle of equipment, address power system requirements and ensure safe, reliable and continuous power.

Linking Grid Modernization to Overall Utility Goals

In this evolving market, it also is critical to ensure a technical solution is tied to the organization’s overall goals. For utilities that might be resource-constrained, external advisors can help and share best practices from utilities across the market to ensure a strong link between technical upgrades and overall utility goals.

By considering each question outlined, utilities can be successful in a rapidly changing market. An integrated approach is critical as utilities face new technology, regulation and business models while trying to maintain high-quality, ongoing operations during a talent shortage. To achieve goals, utilities should consider modernization, a solutions approach and clear linkage back to overall business goals.

To help utilities meet the needs of the evolving energy landscape, third parties offer consulting services and assistance with smart grid upgrades.

This is important as utilities transform their operating models and technological approaches simultaneously to meet new demands around information technology, analytics, distributed resources and customer interaction.

Mark Feasel is vice president of electric utility segment and smart grid at Schneider Electric.

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