A future-ready grid requires infrastructure built with the latest technologies, including everything from complex devices compatible with digital technology to fundamental capabilities, such as mapping out the flow of electricity. Grid-enhancing technologies (GETs) maximize the electricity transmission across the existing system through a family of technologies that includes sensors, power flow control devices, and analytical tools. These technologies will help us continue adding clean, renewable energy like solar and wind to decarbonize the grid.
The electric power system must balance electrical supply and demand in real time because of how quickly electricity travels. When there is not enough capacity to carry the electricity across the lines from where it is generated to where it is used, less-than-optimal conditions can introduce complications, such power quality issues and customer power outages. To ensure optimal supply and demand, operators adjust and distribute generation to meet consumer and economic demands. In a real-world application, operators initially distribute the most affordable generation, if available, and then distribute more costly generation as needed to meet customer demand. However, physical system constraints restrict this possibility.
GETs show improvements in electricity delivery via existing transmission lines. Because they can quickly enhance existing power grid infrastructure, they also save money and avoid the complexity of building new transmission lines. However, U.S. transmission organizations and system operators have not adopted these GETs since the data are not always available and the GETS devices lack rigorous, independent testing. Often, utility decision makers must trust the vendor to alleviate concerns about cost, real-world economic benefits, deployment options, usage characteristics, and challenges of integrating the technology with existing systems and business/market practices.
That is where GETs can help. They include dynamic line rating, power-flow control devices, and analytical tools that reduce the need for new infrastructure and support the integration of renewables️ and maximize the grid’s current capacity. Here is an explanation of each technology type:
- Dynamic Line Rating relates to hardware and/or software that updates calculated thermal limits of existing transmission lines in real time. Often, these schemes establish new limits to determine the true, real-time capacity of power lines. On cold or windy days, power lines can easily deliver 50% more energy than their labeled limits.
- Power-Flow Control Devices allow grid operators to reroute power to lines with available capacity, increasing or decreasing the total power delivered by the system to balance overloaded lines with available corridors within the transmission network.
- Supporting Analytical Tools such as sensors, smart meters, and monitoring devices collect real-time data, helping grid operators make informed decisions and respond quickly to grid changes.
The Office of Electricity (OE) works tirelessly to develop solutions to make the future grid a reality, including GETs. OE strongly supports investments that expand good-paying jobs. OE also offers funding opportunities to enhance grid technologies, such as the recent announcement about four GETs projects to fill gaps about real-world benefits. This funding helps demonstrate how GETs can improve a variety of systems with different scale, geography, topology, and renewable generation resources in specific locations.
Grid modernization is a necessity for a sustainable future. The electricity delivery system is the crucial foundation that keeps the entire grid together.
Sandy Jenkins is a general engineer in OE’s Grid Controls and Communications Division. She is a key member of the GETS team.