Texas Crisis Reveals the Grid’s Complications

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The recent Texas disaster  has accelerated the conversation about creating a clean, resilient grid.

resilient grid

By gopixa/Shutterstock.com

But much work needs to be done to achieve that goal, according to three speakers who participated in a the recent Pecan Street webinar, “Addressing Technology Roadblocks to Clean Energy Adoption.” Pecan Street conducts research aimed at advancing climate solutions.

“The events in Texas have driven energy headlines and accelerated the conversation about a clean grid that is also resilient,” said Neil Chatterjee, commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Roadblocks include policies that incentivize fossil fuel use, market barriers, transmission constraints and a need for smart meters and data about issues such as weather, according to the speakers.

The speakers said that the most cost-effective path toward a clean, resilient grid is unclear.

“The desire to change is there, but the most cost-effective path forward is not clearly defined. Each region has to define its unique path,” said Rory Christian, principal, Concentric Consulting Group and board vice-chair of WeAct for Environmental Justice. But the industry needs to make the right investments now to move toward a decentralized grid that features power and services from customers, he added.

Pecan Street also released a white paper, “Technology Roadblocks to the Clean Energy Future,” that identified obstacles to creating a clean and resilient grid. It focuses on the need to collect more energy data, ensure interoperability among distributed energy resources (DERs), and provide technology that can optimize systems — rather than specializing in one function. In addition, gathering data related to weather, market, emissions, customer location and lifestyles is important, the white paper said.

For its part, FERC needs to focus on reducing market barriers and enabling new players and technology to compete, said Chatterjee.

Stunning action by FERC

Key to moving toward these goals are the recent FERC Orders 841 and 2222, said Chatterjee. FERC Order 2222 lays the groundwork for aggregated DERs to compete alongside traditional power plants and other grid resources in wholesale markets. Order 841 aims to eliminate barriers that prevent energy storage operators and owners from participating in wholesale capacity, energy and ancillary services markets.

“These sound wonky but are truly stunning in their power to catapult us forward. This year, we will focus on these orders, which will enable DERs to compete with traditional resources,” Chatterjee said. “This will change how Americans generate and consume energy.”

To make the most of these FERC orders in the new electric world, aggregators will have to pitch to businesses and residents the business case for installing and owning rooftop solar, EV charging and other DERs, which can generate significant revenues through aggregation, he added.

Another FERC goal is ensuring enough transmission resources to handle the DERs that are being connected to the grid, Chatterjee said.

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“Transmission will be central to the future, and it really will take a ‘whole of government’ approach to address transmission,” he said. “When you get into siting, transmission is multiple balls of yarn intertwined. You pull out one strand and it pulls out others.”

According to Christian of Concentric Consulting Group, policies that incentivize DERs are important, but additional policy work is needed to address entrenched practices and policies that incentivize fossil fuel use.

“Many state policies serve to hinder progress toward electrification and more robust electric markets,” he said. “The system is complicated, and change is hard.”

He also pointed out the need to ensure DERs are accessible to marginalized communities. California and New York are involving the environmental justice community in the decision making process early, he said, and should be role models.

Joshua Rhodes, postdoctoral researcher for Webber Energy Group/Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, focused on the need for more data, echoing a recommendation by Pecan Street’s white paper.

Why smart meters didn’t help in Texas disaster

“Any engineer will say the more data we have, the better off we will be. We need to make informed choices,” Rhodes said. Texas did a smart meter rollout a few years ago, but it didn’t help during the recent crisis, he noted. Smart meters could have helped by focusing on cutting power to specific homes or businesses in ways that kept power flowing for essential services. “The smart meters should have been able to cut off power to individual homes instead of entire circuits. It could have been more surgical, even with current technology,” he said.

Christian also pointed to the need for data, saying that an important first step for homeowners is knowing what’s going on with the grid. In the past — and even now — customers have to call utilities to confirm that there’s an outage and obtain information about what caused it.

“We need smart meters and infrastructure behind the meters so customers can see what’s going on behind their meters without having to pick up a phone,” said Christian.

Chatterjee concluded that it’s important to invest in innovative new technologies and find ways to deliver more affordable electricity in a reliable and clean way. Working toward these changes is a challenge, but it’s an exciting challenge, he said.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge and what the future will hold,” he added.

Learn how microgrids help create a resilient grid. Join us this spring for Microgrid 2021: The World Awakens to Microgrids. Participation is free for those who register in advance

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Comments

  1. ““The smart meters should have been able to cut off power to individual homes instead of entire circuits. It could have been more surgical, even with current technology,” he said.””

    Yeah, surgically ‘removed’ from the grid like a wart or a mole. Why don’t I just buy into my own microgrid and make the utility grid only necessary when my home has several high surge devices starting in the same time frame and do without grid input after the device(s) are up and running. The micro grid would be smart enough to power shed and keep critical circuits online using battery and solar PV in perpetuity while the grid flounders in its own failed policies and practices.

    “Chatterjee concluded that it’s important to invest in innovative new technologies and find ways to deliver more affordable electricity in a reliable and clean way. Working toward these changes is a challenge, but it’s an exciting challenge, he said.”

    The “challenge” for Chatterjee is to make FERC what it is supposed to BE, that would be the ombudsman of distributed energy generation and energy storage for the (nationally) interconnected HVDC grid that would shuttle solar PV and wind generation from north to south and coast to coast as a part of the wholesale electricity market. Getting rid of State to State and County to County and even City to City roadblocks of needed transmission infrastructure will slow progress of non- fueled, non commodity electricity to flow throughout the nation within a day ahead energy market. You can lease a construction right of way in a Kansas wheat field and have GW of wind turbines for miles and miles, now how do you get this power to the south or east coast or west coast without 100 years of babbling, crying and cajoling to slow the installation of this needed infrastructure?

  2. Just has to comment on this: ““The events in Texas have driven energy headlines and accelerated the conversation about a clean grid that is also resilient,” said Neil Chatterjee, commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).””

    From the stories in the aftermath of the polar vortex, overall the Texas grid is not all that “clean”, there’s still a lot of fueled generation in use and it was the incompetence of ERCOT and even the individual aggregate energy utilities under the ERCOT umbrella that failed to harden their grid connections and fuel delivery to their generation stations. When one gets (past) the method of electricity generation that is placed on the grid, these remaining (wires) to the end user ratepayers need resiliency and even the (wired infrastructure) needs hardening also. Texas (could have had) 100GWh of back up energy storage at the ready and still have had nearly the same outcome with this particular polar vortex event. Running the grid on a razorblade edge, then (capturing) massive amounts of revenues with “demand charges” when bad weather starts taking down the grid is not the best business model one can “rely” on. Moral of the story in Texas: Resiliency costs money, either the utilities does this or the end user ratepayers will do this. How long do these utilities want to stay in business?