The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has launched a study on the transformation of the electric power grid, with the rapid rise of distributed energy resources (DERs) – such as rooftop solar panels and high tech microgrids – and how these could be integrated so customers can enjoy both their benefits and those of the central power system in the most cost effective way.

The potential for this “integrated grid” is a transformation in the ways that electric power is supplied and used, with DERs contributing more effectively to system capacity, flexibility, efficiency and environmental attributes.

“The grid is expected to change in different, perhaps fundamental ways, requiring careful assessment of the costs and opportunities of different technological and policy pathways to fully integrate DERs into the electric power system,” said Dr. Michael Howard, president and CEO of EPRI. “If we are going to realize the full value of these resources, while at the same time continue to provide affordable and reliable electricity, we need to integrate them into every aspect of grid planning, operations and policy.”

Phase 1 of the project is the release of a concept paper outlining the main issues along with real examples to support open fact-based discussion, and an action plan.

The paper finds that global collaboration is required in four key areas:

Interconnection rules and communications technologies and standards, including interconnection rules that preserve voltage support and grid management; situational awareness in operations and long term planning; robust information and communication technologies, including high speed data processing; and a standard language and common information model to enable interoperability among DERs.

Assessment and deployment of advanced distribution and reliability technologies, including smart inverters that enable DERs to provide voltage and frequency support; distribution management systems and ubiquitous sensors through which operators can reliably integrate distributed generation, storage and end-use devices; and distributed storage and demand response, integrated with the energy management system.

Strategies for integrating DERs with grid planning and operation, including distribution planning and operational processes that incorporate DERs; frameworks for data exchange and coordination among DER owners, distribution system operators (DSOs) and organizations responsible for transmission planning and operations; and flexibility to redefine roles and responsibilities of DSOs and independent system operators (ISOs).

Enabling policy and regulation, including capacity-related costs becoming a distinct element of the cost of grid-supplied electricity; power market rules that ensure long term adequacy of both energy and capacity; a policy and regulatory framework to ensure costs incurred to transform to an integrated grid are allocated and recovered responsibly, efficiently, and equitably; and new market frameworks using economics and engineering to equip investors and other stakeholders in assessing potential contributions of DERs to system capacity and energy costs.

The next phase II of the project, which is anticipated to take 6 months, will comprise the development of a framework of analytical tools and procedures that can lead to the effective integration of distributed and central resources. These will then be used in phase III to conduct global demonstrations and modeling, in order to provide the comprehensive data and information needed for system-wide implementation of integrated grid technologies.

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