Rethinking Electric Grid Design to Meet Beneficial Electrification and Enhanced Distributed Generation

A PORTLAND AREA CASE STUDY

Maine’s largest electric utility, Central Maine Power, has identified a need for improved reliability of its electric transmission grid in the greater Portland region and a solution for that need involves the construction of additional miles of 115 kV lines, new 34.5 kV substations and the reconductoring of a number of transmission circuits in the region.  The total cost of the utility’s proposed solution is in excess of $200 million.

Simultaneously, Maine had an increasing number of municipalities have adopted policies of achieving near-zero carbon economies by 2050.  These carbon reduction objectives can only be achieved through the conversion of transportation, space heating and commercial and industrial processes from distillate fuels and natural gas to electricity.  Such conversion is only useful to reducing carbon emissions to the extent that new renewable generation is developed on a scale sufficient to meet the increased electricity demands. 

This study presents a first look at the new and very significant electricity demands each of these processes – what have come to be called beneficial electrification and deep decarbonization – will impose on the Portland Region’s electric transmission and distribution grid.  Our analysis and modeling show that for this geographically small urban region alone, the former will result in a more than doubling of the total amount of electricity that will flow to customers on the grid and a three-fold increase in peak loads, while the latter will require the interconnection of thousands of distributed solar generation systems on the rooftops of residential, commercial and industrial buildings in the region.  These are well beyond the capacity of the current electric grid in the region.

Together, beneficial electrification and deep decarbonization will require nothing short of a new electric grid – one that is redesigned and capable of handling much larger volumes of electricity, multi-direction electricity flows across the entire grid and information, communication and control capabilities to manage hundreds of thousands of discrete loads and generation points on the grid.  This new redesigned grid will not result from the current transmission and distribution planning processes.  These processes have led to proposed upgrades to achieve at best modest increases in reliability at a cost of over $200 million.  Instead, Maine needs to develop new measures of electric grid performance and standards that will direct utilities to make investments that enable cities and states to achieve their zero-carbon futures within their established timeframes.  Since the planning, design, development and commissioning cycle for transmission projects can exceed a decade, Maine is already behind the curve.

RICHARD SILKMAN

 
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