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What effect will new technologies and renewable integration have on the future transmission network?

I had the opportunity to attend DNV GL’s 2015 Utility of the Future Leadership Forum last week, and it provided some unique perspective on the state of the industry.  Solar energy and storage were topics that were brought up in multiple discussions, with a focus on integrating these types of resource on the distribution system.  This does seem to be a major trend in where the utility sector is headed these days, but there is also a place for grid-level solar and storage solutions.  According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), more than 4 GW of utility-scale solar photovoltaic is currently installed on the grid[1], and that number will only continue to climb as the price of photovoltaic panels continues to drop.   In addition, California has a mandate for 1.3 GW of energy storage by 2020 to help meet the state’s goal of having 50% of its energy met by renewables in 2030. 

There is certainly going to be a challenge in integrating all of these new renewable resources, along with new storage technologies as well.  Large-scale storage is a new technology for the power grid, and it will no doubt bring its own set of planning and operational challenges.  One thing is for certain, though.  All of these technologies will require a flexible and robust transmission network to ensure these resources are able to deliver (or withdraw) their energy in a safe and reliable manner.

How do we plan the grid for the integration of these new resources?  And how do we ensure that transmission expansion is being done in the most robust and cost-effective manner?  FERC Order 1000 lays out several requirements for transmission planning that can help in that regard.  First, Order 1000 requires planning authorities to consider the impacts of public policy in their planning studies.  Certainly, requirements such as California’s renewable and storage mandates would fall under the public policy umbrella.  Another consideration is the impact of the EPA Clean Power Plan.  While the final rule has not yet been released, it will likely have large impacts on the way energy will be generated.  These types of public policy impacts can have large impacts on the transmission grid, and requires careful consideration when choosing what types of transmission projects to build in the future.

Secondly, Order 1000 opens up competition in the transmission planning arena, requiring RTOs and ISOs to allow for non-incumbents to bid for transmission projects.  This can help drive innovative solutions and lower the cost for transmission projects as bidders get creative in their solutions.  Unfortunately, while we have seen a keen interest from transmission developers in this arena, there have not been many projects awarded to non-incumbents through these processes.  Admittedly, this process is still in it is infancy and hopefully we will see greater numbers of projects going through these competitive bidding processes.

The Forum also featured a FERC Order 1000 panel with experts from FERC, Hunt Power, PJM Interconnection, Southwest Power Pool, and LS Power. These experts discussed lessons learned from the implementation of Order 1000 in various RTO/ISO regions, as well as the impacts this may have on the future. Stay tuned for key video excerpts and highlights in the coming weeks!

Good planning, however, is all about the assumptions that go into the planning processes.  In this author’s opinion, there has been too much of a focus on “Business-As-Usual” scenarios as part of the transmission planning studies performed by the RTOs.  If there’s one thing for certain, it’s that business will not be proceeding as usual in the near future.  With the challenges in integrating new resources, and impending public policy changes, the transmission planning processes need to adapt to put more focus on these types of futures and scenarios in order to develop a robust and flexible transmission network that can meet the challenges of the future.  More focus also needs to be given to refining the Order 1000 competitive bidding and planning processes to ensure that the most cost-effective solutions are identified and selected.

Last month, I also hosted a webinar with Southwest Power Pool’s Antoine Lucas, Director of Planning, on understanding transmission planning under FERC Order 1000 outlining the impacts, challenges, and what you can expect in the future. If you’d like more information you can now access the on-demand recording and download the presentation slides here.

Related information:



Whitepapers and Reports:

Service Overviews and Case Studies:

[1] http://www.seia.org/sites/default/files/Q4%202014%20SMI%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf


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