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    October 01, 2021 | 4:00 PM

    Modernizing the Grid: The Pathway to a Clean Future is Clear

    So far, we’ve covered the wires and the poles and the regulating authorities on our grid journey. Both of these areas provide challenges and opportunities on the road to a clean, green power grid.

    Grid modernization, or smart grids, are often spoken of as necessary tools in that effort. Modernizing the grid is more than fancy software and hardware (although it is also that). Modernizing the grid involves building infrastructure, building the lines and poles we previously talked about to accommodate the immense amount of renewable energy that is forecasted to come onto the grid.

    Luckily, we have a funding mechanism in place for the technological advancements needed.

    The infrastructure bill that passed the Senate in August allocated $65 billion for the grid. However, only about $2.5 billion will be used for direct transmission investment (lines and poles), with the rest going to research and development (nuclear, carbon capture, hydrogen, batteries) and resiliency.

    This is better than nothing, but we need more – enter the Clean Electricity Payment Program (CEPP).

    >> Learn more: Modernizing The Grid: Lines and Poles <<

    Congress is currently looking to pass the CEPP. This is a slightly different version of a Clean Energy Standard discussed on a previous blog, but it seeks to achieve the same result: Deep decarbonization of the power sector.

    A brief summary of the CEPP describes it as:

    “The CEPP provides payments to utilities (sometimes referred to as “load-serving entities”) that meet targets to sell increasing shares of clean power and requires them to pay a fee for each megawatt-hour they’ve fallen short of that target. This is a technology-neutral investment for utilities to build out clean energy, including renewables, nuclear, and carbon capture. The payments can only be used by utilities to fund additional clean energy projects, retire dirty sources, or lower customer bills. The CEPP, when combined with the other incentives proposed by the President, should get the U.S. to 80% clean electricity by 2030."

    We can use the CEPP as a backdrop for grid investment. For utilities to meet their target and get paid, they will have to build out grid infrastructure.

    The CEPP, together with other investments in the broader infrastructure package, are a grid upgrade combo – dedicated funds and incentives necessitating investment. With the right policies in place, we can look to invest in both proven technologies, like transmission lines, and new technologies, like distribution software, to make the grid of the future efficient, effective, and emission free.

    Technologies and Opportunities

    Solving the challenges of the electricity reality will take innovation from both the technology and the operational side of the grid.

    Detailed below are some of the pieces, from largest investment to smallest, of technology we can use to make the grid safer, more efficient, and more welcoming for clean energy:

    1. Transmission Lines - A crucial underinvestment in the US grid is in transmission lines. This is due to siting issues, monopoly control, varied political and environmental interests, and lack of financial incentive. To bring on more clean electricity, we need more transmission lines. In the same way you need more interstates to for more cars.

    • Not only do we need more transmission lines, but they should be strategically sited. There are so called energy corridors, which could link areas with big clean energy potential (wind in the great plains, solar in the south west) with load centers (big cities). Building in these corridors allows clean energy to flow from where it is most readily available to where it is most needed.
    • We need better transmission ties, which is where one regional transmission line links up with another regional transmission line. In some areas, there may only be one or two transmission lines that link whole parts of the country. In order to allow for electricity to flow efficiently around the whole country, we need these ties to be strengthened and increased in size. If you have too many cars on the interstate, you get a traffic jam. This happens with electricity too. If a transmission line is fully saturated, it can’t transport any more electricity. These are called transmission constraints, and they are limiting clean energy all over the country.

    2. Demand Response Markets - Solar generates electricity. However, we can also think of all the devices in your home as inverse generators. For example, if you, and everyone in your city decided to turn off all your appliances, the load (amount of electricity needed) would drop significantly. In peak times (the hottest days of summer and coldest nights of winter), grid operators often need people to control their use of electricity because the system is using all of the electricity it can produce, and if it goes over that amount, it could fry the entire grid. This is called demand response. However, usually, these calls for control are voluntary. If people or companies could get paid to not use electricity, the grid could be more efficiently managed. This is an attractive solution because it takes very little physical investment. The RTO/ISOs or utilities need to create the market, and then individuals and/or organizations can use it as they see fit.

    3. Microgrids / Hardening of the Distribution Grid – Look to the fires in California, the hurricanes in New Orleans, freezes in Texas, or flooding across the US East Coast and you see transmission infrastructure failing, and cutting off huge swaths of areas to power. Transmission is key, which is why it’s number one on this list. But it needs to be paired with microgrids. A microgrid is decentralized group of sources of generation (solar panels, batteries, demand response) and loads (houses, manufacturing centers, hospitals, etc.). When the larger grid is working, they work in synch. When the larger grid goes down because of extreme weather events, microgrids close off from the larger grid and keep the power flowing within them. Placing microgrids in strategic locations can allow for critical infrastructure like hospitals to remain online. They can also protect the most vulnerable neighborhoods, making sure they keep power or that is reinstalled quickly after an outage.

    4. ADMS/DERMS – Advanced Distribution Management Systems or Distributed Energy Resource Management Systems are pieces of software that allow the distribution operators to better communicate with the grid. They are key to balancing supply and demand, as well as provide other grid services when managing all DERs. You could have EVs, batteries, PV solar all on one distribution grid; ADMS or DERMS make sure they all run smoothly.

    5. Smart InvertersInverters change direct current (what comes out of the solar panel) to alternating current (which can be used by consumers). Smart inverters have this functionality along with voltage regulation, frequency support, and ride-through capabilities. All this allows for more renewable energy and greater reliability of that electricity.

    6. Smart Meters- Simply put, smart meters allow for customers to get billed and get paid the appropriate amount for the value they add to the grid. The billing part is easy, you pay what you use. However, getting paid for your value is more difficult. If you have solar panels on your home, you are providing clean energy to the grid. If you lower your energy usage during a time when the utility needs you to, you are providing value to the grid. If you charge up your EV and then inject that power later, you are providing value to the grid. Traditional meters only go one way – they assess your usage. However smart meters can check your usage vs. your value, and give you one simple bill at the end of each billing period.

    >> Learn more: Modernizing The Grid: Regulating The Future <<

    What You Can Do

    We asked you to take action and tell Congress to go big on climate action this fall. You stepped up.

    The result is the Build Back Better Act, the most ambitious climate bill in US history. But now, fossil fuel interests are working overtime to kill the most critical pieces we need to cut emissions – and even the entire bill itself.

    Passing a strong Act – with measures like the Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP) to power America with renewable energy – is the single biggest step we can take to slash fossil fuel emissions and stop global warming.

    Plus, experts project the Act could add nearly 8 million jobs and $1 trillion to the economy.

    It has to pass.

    So, we're asking you to step up again. This time to tell Congress: Pass the strong Build Back Better Act we need to fight climate change and create a future of opportunity for all.

    Take action today and tell your members of Congress to pass the strong Build Back Better Act and CEPP we need to fight climate change and create a future of opportunity for America.

    Before You Go

    At Climate Reality, we work hard to create high-quality educational content like blogs, e-books, videos, and more to empower people all over the world to fight for climate solutions and stand together to drive the change we need. We are a nonprofit organization that believes there is hope in unity, and that together, we can build a safe, sustainable future.

    But we can't do it without your help.

    If you enjoyed what you’ve just read and would like to see more, please consider making a generous gift to support our ongoing work to fight climate denial and support solutions.

    The Climate Reality Project