• DER Technologies
  • Grid Modernization
  • Data Analytics
  • Grid Transmission and Distribution

Distribution Performance, DER, and Data Are Headliners at the 2018 Grid Modernization Summit

Michael Hartnack
Dec 04, 2018

Overhead Power Lines 1

The 2018 Grid Modernization Summit, held in Broomfield, Colorado from October 23-25, served as an opportunity for utility decision makers, industry innovators, researchers, and regulators to come together for 3 days of enlightening discussions about the state of grid modernization today. A multitude of topics were covered in the 20 conference sessions, including utility initiatives, data analytics strategies, regulatory environments, blockchain, EVs and storage, microgrids, and others. Despite a balanced variation in individual session content, several of the discussions and presentations sought to answer the same principal question: What are the innovations and trends in grid modernization today?

Before discussing the main concept, it is important to note that the foundational terminology used throughout the conference, “grid modernization,” is considered by many in the industry to be a misnomer. “Our grid is modern, we’re just continuing to innovate and integrate evolving technologies to both improve performance and meet the changing needs of our customers,” a grid modernization program manager from a major utility stated about the nomenclature. Xcel Energy, for example, renamed its initiative “Advanced Grid Intelligence and Security” when it filed for (and was granted) over $500 million in electric grid improvements. Con Ed of New York also recently renamed its group, choosing “Grid Innovations” to better represent the goals and priorities of its efforts.

Despite much of the developed world’s existing electric infrastructure aging, various grid modernization initiatives today are seeking to do more than just replace an aging asset with a similarly functioning new version. This established the first part of the overarching theme at the Grid Modernization Summit.

Innovations and Trends in Grid Modernization Today

Across the wide array of utility industry segments listed above, the focal point of the conference panels and discussions was not to simply state which technologies were being integrated but showcase the strategies and goals around which these grid modernization programs have been built.

  • Enhancing Distribution Grid Performance: Adding critical distribution infrastructure and support, data collection and analytics capabilities, real-time monitoring, and improved grid technology are among the most significant trends in grid modernization today. Featured technologies include advanced metering infrastructure initiatives, improved communications networks, condition-based and predictive monitoring, and integrated asset management platforms. Recent Navigant Research reports on grid edge intelligence and transmission and distribution (T&D) sensing and measurement explore these technologies in greater depth.
  • Integrating and Optimizing Distributed Energy Resources (DER): The ongoing effort to increase the quantity, performance, and reliability of DER systems continues to be a focal point for utilities and the grid modernization industry. The growing popularity of DER systems such as energy storage, EVs, microgrids, and distributed generation is driving utilities to augment their distribution grid with the hardware and software required to take full advantage of the benefits offered by DER.
  • Harnessing the Power of Data: With enhanced sensors and data collection technology deployed more frequently across T&D grids, the quantity and quality of data available to utilities has never been greater. However, data is only as valuable as the actionable intelligence gained through analysis, and utilities are working hard to streamline data analytics tools to fully harness the power of this collected data. Additionally, the critical nature of utility data has increased the importance of addressing cybersecurity risks across utility networks.

There are other trends, strategies, and grid modernization deployment goals for utilities around the country (and world), but many utilities and T&D network operators have focused their efforts in the areas above.