Grid Coordinators Call for Policymaking Collaboration

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Grid Coordinators Call for Policymaking Collaboration

October 25, 2021

The best energy policies can easily flounder, say electric grid coordinators, without close coordination on planning, cost allocation and siting issues.

So warned the Eastern Interconnection Planning Collaborative (EIPC), a coalition of 19 major U.S.-based bulk power grid coordinators who serve throughout approximately two-thirds of the United States and Canada. The group in October released a white paper on “challenges and recommendations that local, state and federal policymakers should consider when making decisions or taking actions that affect the transmission grid in light of a significant increase in the development of renewable generation.”

The EIPC paper focuses on lessons learned and studies of future electric systems with a high penetration of renewables. Expressing a critical need to better inform policymaking with technical expertise, the EIPC recommended that policymakers considering energy-related goals invite system planners and operators to provide input as to planning and operational challenges, costs and trade-offs.

The energy transition is well underway, noted the paper, and the electric industry has already learned many lessons. As the electric generation fleet transitions, it is a challenge to maintain electrical reliability, efficiency and affordability.

The EIPC recommends that any policy initiative clearly provides regulators, the industry and other stakeholders the opportunity to monitor and correct course in a timely fashion if it is leading to unnecessarily higher costs, limited choice for customers or negative reliability impacts.

Transmission Necessary to Achieve High-Renewable Penetration

Because the electricity market must maintain a perfect supply and demand balance at all times, legacy synchronous generators and strong transmission networks were built to transmit power to load centers. Renewable resources are located to make the best use of wind or solar availability, noted the paper, but are not necessarily located near existing transmission infrastructure. These resources often interconnect at the extremities of today’s grid. Integrating these resources onto the transmission grid may require transmission upgrades and/or non-traditional assessments.

When digital, inverter-based renewable resources displace mechanical, synchronous machines, studies indicate a decline in grid performance.

Inverter-based solar and wind resources will need to be able to support system voltage and assist with primary frequency response due to system events (faults, generation trips). Regulatory support is needed to ensure appropriate control systems for such renewable resources.

The industry is also seeing changes in load composition due to the installation of home backup generators, home chargers for electric vehicles, conversion of gas and oil heating to ground-/air-source heat pumps, increased penetration of rooftop solar arrays, and whole-building battery backups. Some distributed energy resources trip offline before transmission-level resources, which can exacerbate outages or other grid disturbances.

The lack of standardized performance requirements for renewable resources with inverter-based control systems, said the paper, has been the cause of significant delays in the interconnection study queues.

Operating the power system is becoming more challenging due to (a) limited availability of transmission, (b) the need for system operators to maintain the proper mix of generation resources to accommodate variable renewable resources, and (c) load and resource uncertainty based on weather conditions.

System operators must carefully manage the impacts of renewable resources ramping up and down due to wind or solar variability, with a limited amount of dispatchable (likely fossil-fueled) generation resources quickly available to follow variations to maintain system reliability. Monitoring and correcting for grid stability requires real-time assessments that are becoming more complex with the need — in real time —to study many more contingencies to determine adequate reserve requirements.

The energy markets face future challenges in determining how to most effectively provide ancillary reliability services such as generator ramping, voltage support, reactive power, frequency response and system inertia. These ancillary services have been supplied by legacy synchronous resources either at no cost or through regulated rates. The reliable and efficient delivery of electricity requires those ancillary services.

Additionally, falling marginal energy prices due to the increase in renewable resources has already put pressure on existing resources that rely on energy or capacity revenues to remain operational.

Capacity of and energy produced by renewable resources varies a great deal. This makes it difficult to align the availability of renewable resources to when they are needed. In addition, flexibility (dispatchability) of all resource types will be necessary to ensure reliable integration of increasing levels of renewables and continued reliability. Pairing storage devices with new wind and solar resources can increase their effectiveness and add value to the reliability and efficiency of the bulk system, but these hybrid resources will require additional technological development to ensure that their capacity value is properly recognized.

Policy coordination vital

The EIPC believes that when policymakers craft timelines, goals and deadlines, it is essential to consider and balance the need to ensure that the power grid can remain reliable.

Policymakers must recognize the need for additional transmission to ensure that new generation can deliver electricity to customers. Who pays for the new transmission? Cost allocation requires close coordination between federal authorities—which regulate wholesale transmission rates—and state (or local) authorities, which regulate retail rates.

 Transmission development can take more than a decade.

Challenges in siting new transmission, including issues of property rights, land use, and environmental and social justice. Siting issues have often foiled otherwise beneficial projects. Siting is primarily within the authority of states and, in some cases, local authorities, except on federal and tribal lands.

 The EIPC encourages policymakers to engage with planners to harmonize policy discussions with the physics of the grid, to ensure the reliability of the power system and meet public policy objectives. Resulting decisions should create a system that is always reliable, efficient and meets customer needs.

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