Line Contractor

The Supply Mix Changes: The challenges and opportunities of replacing legacy infrastructure

Published On
Jun 15, 2022

The transmission grid is facing unprecedented challenges. As the supply mix changes, and as consumer usage patterns evolve, a massive shift is accelerating. This is a move toward an increasingly clean, intelligent, mobile and distributed energy ecosystem. With it comes a mega-transformation across the entire energy value chain.

The 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides U.S. power infrastructure $65 billion of new funding, spread out over five years. This historic investment makes a down payment on the core infrastructure needed for a low-carbon economy and reduced emissions.

One section is focused on preventing outages and enhancing the resilience of the electric grid, authorizing $5 billion for fiscal years 2022–2026 (FY22–26). It directs the Department of Energy to establish a grant program to support activities that reduce the likelihood and consequence of impacts to the electric grid due to extreme weather, wildfires and natural disasters.

Another section is focused on electric grid reliability and resilience research, development and demonstration. “Program Upgrading Our Electric Grid Reliability and Resiliency” provides federal financial assistance to demonstrate innovative approaches to transmission, storage and distribution infrastructure. This will harden resilience and reliability while demonstrating new approaches to enhance regional grid resilience, implemented through states on a cost-shared basis. It also directs rural and remote areas in improving resilience, safety, reliability and environmental protection and—in collaboration with other agencies—developing a framework to assess the resilience of energy infrastructure.

Guidehouse Insight’s “Energy Cloud 4.0” white paper outlines the effects of severe weather, which has increased uncertainty and variability in weather patterns and their associated impacts, and have spurred new technologies and solutions designed to enhance grid resilience.

However, these advancements also present challenges. The white paper’s authors make the case that it is not practical or possible to quickly and completely replace legacy infrastructure. Furthermore, new infrastructure is hard to develop, which means technologies that enhance existing infrastructure investments are the first step to a transformed electricity future.

In seven different dimensions of the problem, here is what they have concluded will be necessary:

Engineering and hardware improvements: As equipment and components are replaced, new conductor technologies and other advancements are low-cost improvements that enable utilities to transmit more power. In addition, monopole installations, upgraded hardware, advanced digital imagery and control technologies reduce the likelihood the grid will be an ignition source. Hardened barriers increase public safety and protect equipment from weather events, intrusion and equipment theft.

Situational awareness: Knowledge of grid condition affords operating personnel a real-time assessment of grid health. Advancements include infrared inspections, LIDAR, flow measurement devices, sensing technologies for perimeter control and protection and inspections conducted through unmanned aerial vehicles.

Operational capabilities: Supervisory control and data acquisition technologies enable system operators to rapidly respond to changing conditions or interruptions. Dynamic line rating systems offer significant increases in annual or seasonal transmission deliveries. Advanced power flow control technologies improve real and reactive power profiles that improve power transport and throughput efficiency, thus reducing losses and improving power quality overall.

Communication improvements: Advanced communications such as fiber optics with radio communications systems (5G), portable cellular enhancing technologies (cellular on wheels), dispersive technologies that can leverage internet protocols and additional broadband capabilities to remote areas enhance a utility’s ability to monitor and safeguard the transmission network.

Supply-chain improvements: Transmission equipment requires significant capital investment, often with long lead times. Supply chain improvements that facilitate equipment inventory collaboration and specialized companies to track and manage difficult-to-source equipment accelerate recovery from even catastrophic failures.

HVDC to transport across long distances: High-voltage direct current (HVDC) is being used in new ways. Voltage sources conversion technology enables power to be transported across greater distances without degradation in line performance. This is important in interconnecting remote resources such as offshore wind into and across regional power markets. Advances in power quality equipment enable more cost-effective integration of HVDC resources.

Expanded integration and multihub facilities: Integrating variable renewable resources has encouraged transmission grid operators to consider collaborative arrangements including joint dispatch agreements, coordinated bilateral markets such as the Southeast Energy Exchange Market, energy imbalance market participation, extending the reach of existing regional transmission organizations and the formation of new RTOs. As hydrogen is introduced as a clean energy option, production facilities can use renewable resources to shift between producing renewable energy for direct consumption to manufacturing hydrogen, mitigating the curtailment of renewable oversupply.

About the Author
Gordon Feller

Gordon Feller

Gordon 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...

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