By Michael Pesin
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Grid Systems and Components
The Office of Electricity’s (OE) Grid Systems and Component Division ensures that the nation’s electric grid can accommodate and support all electrical generation sources and loads. When I’m asked to describe what the division does, I start by telling my audience to envision the electric grid as a house. A house consists of many different elements: a roof, windows, doors, and more. The inhabitants often focus on the home’s most visible components like its bathrooms, flooring, or kitchen appliances. The home’s most critical component, though, is a well-built foundation. Without this strong foundation, the quality of windows, floors, and appliances is irrelevant; the house will crumble.
The electricity delivery system—which includes transmission and distribution systems— is like a home’s foundation, and that home is rapidly evolving. Our electric grid’s foundation was originally designed over a century ago without considering the many new challenges faced by the grid today. The division I lead focuses on the research, development, and pilot demonstrations of that foundational system—one that interconnects all sources of generation with electric loads, efficiently bringing electricity from its point of origin to the destinations where it is needed.
To build a 21st-century electricity grid to power our communities, we need a new generation of equipment and systems at the grid foundation to ensure it is reliable, resilient, secure, and affordable. Our program’s portfolio considers holistic solutions to improve the foundation’s systems and components. The right foundation should not only support the house that is built today, but also ensure that any future changes or additions to the house can be reliably supported.
We start by looking at the grid’s architecture from a high level and examine the impacts from changes to the generation portfolio, load, and consumers’ energy demands and expectations. We then analyze systems, such as microgrids, that make up this architecture and consider how they may need to change to address challenges. We evaluate the system components—like microgrid elements and grid equipment like transformers and breakers—to determine if they need to be improved, modernized, or completely redesigned to support system functionality. And finally, we consider any new parts or materials to improve these components. This allows us to have a logical, coordinated strategy that informs all our efforts.
Our country currently faces growing challenges posed by climate change, including more intense weather events like hurricanes and wildfires. In response, we are developing suites of tools to detect and mitigate these disasters. We have invested in drone technology, for example, which more quickly and efficiently monitors power lines in remote or wooded areas. Our work transcends the mere provision of electricity; it encompasses the creation of a resilient, sustainable, and efficient grid that underpins the promise of a better tomorrow. These all contribute to building the foundation for a brighter, cleaner, and more sustainable world, one system, one grid component at a time.
In the world of grid infrastructure, every system and component depend on each other. To function well, they need data, controls, and communications. The three OE divisions do not operate in silos; my team works alongside the Grid Controls and Communications and Energy Storage divisions very closely. We are a united front, pursuing R&D in harmony to build a grid designed for the future.
We need to accomplish so much to ensure that the nation’s electric grid can support our new expectations and meet ambitious decarbonization goals. The upcoming World Energy Storage Day observance helps the public understand that grid modernization is not an option; it is an absolute prerequisite for a sustainable future. And the electricity delivery system is what holds everything together. As the house changes—like adding new bathrooms or putting solar panels on the roof—we need to make sure the foundation can support it. We must ensure that our grid’s foundation, the electricity delivery system, can operate reliably and be resilient and secure while ensuring that the electricity is affordable to all.