Resiliency Investments: Priorities for hardening and investing in the grid

By Gordon Feller | Dec 15, 2021

Against the background of broad U.S. electricity disruptions, Congress passed President Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, which includes funding for grid modernization efforts.

Kevin Ludwig, associate vice president and technology portfolio manager for Black & Veatch, Overland Park, Kan., a global electric infrastructure solutions company, said the bill’s debate in Washington, and publicized outage events in the U.S. power grid, amplify the need for resiliency investments.

The infrastructure bill, Ludwig said, highlights a gamut of responses that begin with hardening power lines and substations. Areas of investment include burying or relocating power lines, utility pole upgrade/replacement, incorporation of fire­-resistant technologies, improved vegetation management and more. These measures, which reinforce assets, reduce risk exposure or deploy measured application of local generation and aim to improve grid reliability against disruptive events.

“It all comes down to bolstering resilience,” Ludwig said. “These investments will ensure that there is plenty of work to be done by utilities and their contractors to improve the reliability of our power grids.”

Contractors skilled in line construction, underground conversions and substation construction all stand to benefit from these grid investments. Additionally, grid investments are expected to advance in support of the continued build-out of large-scale renewable plants that rely on a beefed-up power grid to deliver electricity from remote generation sites to consumers that are increasingly dependent on power grids, considering the migration of vehicles to electric platforms.

Kieran McLoughlin, vice president business development, industrial IoT solutions at Schneider Electric, Andover, Mass., said the world is becoming more sustainable, energy-efficient and digitally connected. The rapid pace of change is driven by environmental, societal and economic factors.

McLoughlin pointed to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, where “the combination of monitoring and control of the base electric network, with cybersecurity processes and technologies, is made possible with a grid-tied microgrid,” he said.

Miramar’s microgrid uses enhanced renewable energy, reduces utility demand charges and increases facility demand-­response programs. It’s designed “to be able to operate the flight line and base electrical infrastructure totally off-grid for several weeks to fulfill its military mission. It recently proactively islanded from the grid to assist the local utility during rolling blackouts,” he said.

This allowed more than 2,200 homes to remain connected to power during a crisis. While the microgrid has many benefits, it also bolstered cybersecurity practices base-wide. Implementing the proper cyber tools protects the base and the grid through a controlled loop of visualization of the grid. This ensures effective network model monitoring, protecting the base from anomalies.

The country needs the $65 billion federal infusion to build a more connected, flexible, resilient electrical grid that meets
21st­-century needs. There are at least four priority areas where Gary Rackliffe, vice president of market development and innovation, North America for Hitachi ABB Power Grids, Raleigh, N.C., believes electrical grid investments could have the greatest impacts.

Priority areas

Transmission: Rackliffe anticipates significant investment in additional transmission infrastructure will support the integration of remote, renewable energy sources onto the grid, addressing the rise of electric transportation, accommodating existing power plants’ retirements and facilitating interregional energy sharing. He also expects to see support for efforts to improve the efficiency of existing transmission corridors with modern technologies that can increase the capacity and performance of existing lines.

Digitalization: There is funding within the infrastructure bill to deploy more digital technologies to ensure grid resilience by anticipating, sensing and mitigating disruptive events. Investments in innovations to address wildfires, storm response and vegetation management can help the industry reduce the impact of these events.

“We anticipate significant investment in additional transmission infrastructure to support the integration of remote, renewable energy sources onto the grid, address the rise of electric transportation, accommodate the retirement of existing power plants and facilitate sharing of energy between regions,” Rackliffe said.

Storage: Energy storage will be key to building a more resilient grid. While many storage concepts are being explored, the clear winner will be batteries. While the bill includes funding for battery material processing, manufacturing and recycling, a very positive step, he thinks that the United States needs to go further and foster public-private partnerships to encourage additional R&D and innovative solutions.

Security: Energy infrastructure is a major target for cyber criminals and nation-state actors targeting the United States. As a result, the United States needs to invest in cybersecurity solutions for electric grids that build on the strong foundation already in place.

About The Author

FELLER has worked to bring new ideas into the electrical contracting world since 1979. His articles have been published in more than 30 magazines, and he has worked with dozens of utilities, associations, investors and regulators. Reach him at [email protected].

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