Distributed Energy Resources

Technologies we're watching in 2018

The power industry is being transformed by new technologies and new applications of existing technologies. As we look ahead to changes in the industry, some of the technologies we’re keeping an eye on are smart meters, storage, electric vehicles, and cryptocurrencies. 

Though advanced metering infrastructure, or smart meters, have been around for years, utilities are beginning to consider potential applications of AMI beyond remote meter reading or outage detection. AMI produces data in short intervals that can give a utility insight into customer behavior and load patterns. Being able to access this kind of data can help utilities to see specific load management profiles and capture emerging reliability constraints at a substation level. AMI also enables different rate structures, such as time-of-use rates, as it allows utilities to send more accurate price signals to customers that are reflective of the actual cost to serve them. 

Solar paired with storage is quickly becoming a more economically viable option for both customers and utilities. While solar panel prices have been declining, storage prices have also declined dramatically in the last year and are predicted to continue to decline significantly. This means that solar energy produced during peak solar periods, but not necessarily times of systemwide peak, can be stored and then used when demand intensifies. This has the potential to mitigate the effects of the so-called “duck curve,” and can help utilities reduce wholesale power costs through peak energy reduction. 

Electric vehicle adoption is important for utilities to understand and monitor because of potential grid impacts and customer benefits. EVs have the potential to stop flatlining load and increase revenue for your utility. Your customers can benefit from lower vehicle operating and maintenance costs. EVs do not have tailpipe emissions, so they can lower pollution in your community. If left unmanaged, EVs have the potential to stress your distribution and transmission infrastructure and add to your peak demand. Whether you want to actively promote EVs or to accelerate adoption depends on your community. However, investigating state and local EV and charging station laws, regulations, and policies; evaluating your rates; monitoring adoption in your service territory; and understanding driver behavior will help you be ready to manage this potential new load. 

As EV interest and adoption grow, more utilities are investigating the use of EVs as a grid resource through vehicle-grid integration technologies. A more simplified form is managed charging, or V1G, where a utility can control the charging of an EV that is plugged into the grid. This is similar to some utility demand response programs that involve altering the use of customer’s air conditioning units or water heating. A more complex technology is vehicle-to-grid, or V2G, where EVs supply power back to the grid. With both technologies, EVs become an asset that utilities can leverage to manage load. 

Cryptocurrency mining, predominantly of bitcoin, is pushing some public power communities into the spotlight. Mining is the process of verifying and maintaining the distributed ledger, which serves as the record of all transactions. The mining and exchange process uses blockchain and is quite energy-intensive. The sizeable load from bitcoin mining has led some public power communities to actively recruit bitcoin mining companies, while others have put moratoriums in place. 

Communities promoting bitcoin mining see it as an economic development opportunity with associated load growth. Some communities putting in moratoriums are dealing with bitcoin mining companies that have circumvented the utility, leading to challenges to public health and safety, as well as reliability. There is also the question of what rates and billing procedures make sense for these companies. Public power prides itself on high reliability and affordable rates, so utilities are looking to ensure that these companies pay their fair share and other customers are not left footing the bills. 

What technologies are on your watch list? Join the Public Power Forward listserv to discuss how public power responds to emerging technology. Email [email protected] to join.