Is Thomas Edison’s electric grid ready for the future? In some ways yes, and in other ways not yet. So says Kevin Curtis, vice president-technical solutions for Dominion Energy Virginia.
The challenges of integrating renewable energy sources and protecting against cyber-threats have created the need for a smarter, modernized grid, Curtis said today in a Northern Virginia Technology Council forum on the topic of powering Northern Virginia’s high-tech economy.
“Grid modernization means a smarter grid, a self-healing grid, with fewer disruptions and fewer customers impacted,” Curtis said. The reliability and quality of electric service is especially critical to technology companies, which not only need to maintain uninterruptible service but keep voltage and electric frequency within a tight range.
In 2015 Dominion had only one megawatt of solar power on its system. Today the number is 744 megawatts online or under development, and the company expects to add 5,000 megawatts over the next couple of decades. The transmission grid of high-voltage electric lines is designed for electricity to flow bidirectionally, which means it can readily accommodate large utility-scale solar farms. But the distribution system of lower-voltage lines that deliver electricity to homes and businesses was designed for one-way electricity flow. Dominion has taken a go-slow approach to rooftop and other small-scale solar as it has learned more about their impact on the distribution system.
Rapid variations in solar output can create fluctuations in voltage and frequency that can damage customers’ machinery and equipment, said Curtis. “It’s not a deal breaker, but we have to be sure we understand the interactions.”
During the solar eclipse, output dropped to 10% of normal solar rating and then jumped back to normal, all within a few minutes. Power companies had to keep supply and load in balance on local circuits or risk adverse consequences. Said Curtis: “It’s an operational challenge.”
A modern grid provides more real-time information of what’s happening on the system, more intelligence about voltage and frequency, and the ability to predict problems before they occur. A smart grid also provides customers more information and control over their energy usage.
While Curtis spoke about the necessity of building a smarter grid, he did not say what upgrades Dominion has planned for its system or how much they might cost.
The other challenge is grid security, both physical and cyber. The “marquis moment” for Dominion came in April 2013 when unidentified saboteurs launched a coordinated attack on a Pacific Gas & Electric substation serving Silicon Valley, knocking it out of service and causing PG&E to reroute flows of electricity.
“The very next day, Dominion began to rethink our system,” said Curtis. Everyone from terrorists to hostile nation states are probing the grid. “We know it’s happening. It’s on the forefront of our minds. We have a team of people at Dominion specifically focused on these issues.”
There is no one approach to securing the grid. Dominion is assessing its vulnerabilities, hardening its facilities, and bolstering surveillance of the system, he said. “We recently completed a brand-new, state-of-the-art transmission center north of Richmond that is protected against electro-magnetic pulses and has armed protection,” he said.
State Secretary of Technology Karen Jackson said that the demand for reliable service is “at an all-time high” and is a growing concern in the state’s effort to recruit data centers. Two key infrastructure considerations for data centers are bandwidth and electricity. “We have to have the infrastructure that can keep pace, while also being respectful to the environment.”
Conversations like the one taking place between Dominion and the Northern Virginia technology community are vitally important, she said.There are currently no comments highlighted.