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Energy in Transition


Who is responsible for securing the future power system?

One of the big trends in the transition towards a sustainable energy supply is the change observed in electric power generation. More and more businesses and individuals generate electricity and want to sell the excess power. These developments are mainly driven by market opportunities and technology, and are only partly the result of government policies. Having said this—for the development of transmission and distribution system transition—do we have to rely upon the government? Or can we leave this also to “the market?” In regard to the market solution, advocated by industry, arguments have been focused on addressing issues like physical and cyber security, as well as mandatory standards for critical infrastructures to ensure an efficient and reliable operation of the power system. (View this WSJ video for more background information on “Who should secure America’s power grid?”).

If, however, a massive distribution dominated small scale renewable generation scenario becomes a reality, not only will the excess power generated have to be transmitted over increasingly longer distances to maintain active power and energy balance, but also the (local) reactive power balance will have to be carefully maintained under all normal and fault conditions to ensure a stable grid operation—and of course someone has to take care of this.

There also has to be a system in place that safeguards generator payments for additional Investments and operation of the transmission system—not only for consumption, as is now often the case. There is a risk that if cheap local storage becomes widely available, the transmission system could even become a marginal, risky, and unsecure business. This would create a future in which businesses and individuals (local communities) with generation capabilities, storage, and local grids take care of themselves. On the other hand there are those who would not belong to this category and would face high(er) electricity prices.

So, who has to secure the future power system? It will most likely be a combination of market driven businesses that develop short- and medium-term solutions for a sustainable energy system, in combination with the government that safeguards the longer term objectives of the transmission and distribution functionality and affordable electric power to all the people.

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