The Electric Grid Just Got Smarter

Interesting development… Dominion Voltage, Inc., a subsidiary of Dominion Resources and sister company of Dominion Virginia Power, has announced the launch of a new product, EDGE Stabilizer, to help electric utilities manage the reliability impact of solar, wind and other distributed energy resources (DER) on the electric grid.

“Market forces are significantly increasing the amount of DER, and utilities need cost effective ways to safely and efficiently integrate DER into their grids,” said Todd Headlee, executive director of DVI. “In areas with high levels of DER, EDGE Stabilizer minimizes the need for additional costly hardware devices or other distribution system upgrades by orchestrating the use of existing residential smart inverters, large scale inverters, load tap changers, capacitors, voltage regulators and AMI/smart meters to ensure utility customer voltages remain in compliance.”

EDGE Stabilizer also integrates detailed weather forecasts to anticipate voltage volatility on a circuit by circuit basis.

Bacon’s bottom line: It will be interesting to see how Dominion’s right hand and left hand work together. Will Dominion Resources use its smart-grid technology to help Dominion Virginia Power, its regulated subsidiary, better integrate wind and solar into its generating mix? Or will regulatory obstacles and/or strategic considerations hamper the application of the technology? Another way of phrasing the question: Will a smart-grid technology invented in Virginia be applied in Virginia? I’ll be posing those questions to Dominion when I get the chance.

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12 responses to “The Electric Grid Just Got Smarter

  1. The average electric customer has no idea that there are so many electric products bought and sold over the grid. Sure, there’s the energy itself: kilowatthours. Then there’s “reactive” power, and “regulation” power, and “synchronized reserve” power (aka “spinning reserve”), and “blackstart” power, and ancillary equipment including distributed generation like rooftop solar, and batteries, and capacitors, and exotic energy storage devices like flywheels, and “demand side management” products including “curtailable demand” and other “demand response” products, and demand side management services from third parties who will buy, aggregate, market and re-sell the retail customer’s ability to reduce “demand,” and customer-owned “micro-grid” switching arrangements. If you’re the manager of electricity purchases and consumption for a large institution like a college or hospital, you should be receiving lots of calls from people offering to help you cut or offset your electric bill. The typical homeowner doesn’t have nearly as much cost saving opportunity or technical sophistication to attract middlemen, but the technology will trickle down over time.

    Jim, what you’re highlighting here, however, is deeper technology aimed at the distribution utility’s response to all this customer activity. Assuming that the grid manager, the Independent System Operator (in our case, PJM), has the operation of the high voltage transmission system covered, there are also many local issues arising from the changing nature of retail electric service as more and more customers change their patterns of consumption. For example, your neighborhood electric substation used to have one simple job: step down power voltage. Now your local substation has to deal with potential two-way power flow and harmonics from inverters and inadequate reactive power and capacitance, all due to customer-owned distributed generation, plus new safety equipment and procedures so repair crews can work on damaged lines which might be “hot” from customer sources, greater automated monitoring and remote-controlled switching, and cyber security for all those computerized controls and feedback. It’s a new world out there for electricity retailers — particularly small distribution utilities that would love to be left alone to do “business as usual” with the same old equipment and billing systems forever.

    Dominion is smart to develop new technology — like building its own solar generation — in order to become familiar with it. Dominion can not only make a buck at it, but also get learn about the “new grid” in a hands-on way. We can hope that this will mean less defensiveness on DVP’s part about customer ventures into distributed generation and DSM. I’m optimistic, but not yet convinced.

    I hope BR readers accept that a company like Dominion is not a one-minded monolith but capable of tremendous internal debate over these issues. Undoubtedly that internal debate is going on now. Change is hard, especially for a utility used to worrying mainly about how to finance long-lead-time, steel-in-the-ground generation infrastructure, not, how to build new flexibility into its distribution system. Dominion’s survival as an industry leader depends upon how it responds to change; and recent developments, like backing solar generation and this little subsidiary “Dominion Voltage,” are a pretty good indicator. Now, Dominion, how about some aggressive support by DVP for retail customer DG and DSM (distributed generation and demand-side management)? As you’ve already indicated, you can not only live with them, you can make quite a few bucks helping other do so.

  2. Very informative posts by you guys.

    It’s particularly important for the leftie, anti-capitalist sorts on the blog to understand that companies are not monoliths, that intense internal debate over issues is the norm at good companies. Indeed, even at government offices like the oft-castigated Pentagon, intense internal debate is the norm, and major decisions made by the chief operating officer in the morning can be reviewed and re-debated in 4-5 separate meetings the same day before a final, final decision is made around 10 at night.

  3. has anyone actually VIEWED the video AND understands how “edge” works?

    at 1:38 on the video:

    “optimised setting

    are sent out to the utility’s
    load tap changers, capacitor banks and
    volatage regulators to

    safely lower the voltage

    can someone explain how this actually is working

    and also why optimized is spelled optimised?

    does anyone know what a “top changer” is?

    • Tap changers are installed on power transformers to allow for stepped regulation of the voltage. Voltage regulation is important. If you can reliably maintain a slightly lower voltage, less power is consumed. Also things like inverters from solar panels can disrupt voltage levels. The rest an electrical engineer should explain.

      Optimised is the British spelling – must have a Brit writing the copy.

  4. Dominion Voltage has been around for at least a few years working in other states – Texas, Tennessee, Illinois, Hawaii, etc. They appear to be pursuing many of the leading edge grid analytics and optimization technologies that others are involved in.

    It would be great if they were preparing the Virginia DVP grid to accept the distributed generation and multiple party solutions that can be applied on a smarter grid. They may be doing it to prepare for their own endeavors which would be good but not as good as if they were preparing to provide the Distribution System Platform that NY and other states are developing.

    Dominion has some smart folks and utilities plan far into the future. It would be nice if they surprised us with the same type of work here that they are doing in other states.

  5. so if tap changers are power transformers… is excess voltage dissipated as heat? and if there is too much – the transformer “blows”?

    so… if too many homes using solar or too many solar farms… it can stress the transformers when the voltage or weather varies?

    transformers are already part of the grid – so what is changing so that variances in voltage can be accommodated – different from before?

    • Tap changers are not power transformers – they are attached to them so that different numbers of windings can be accessed in the transformer to vary the voltage in small increments. They assist in voltage regulation, they do not act like a fuse or breaker.

  6. so what does this mean with respect to CPP?

    we can now splatter wind/solar across the Old Dominion and DVP will just put up those new fangled devices and solar/wind nirvana is achieved?

  7. This is not directly related to the CPP, but by building a smarter more flexible and resilient grid, it is easier to accommodate solar and other distributed generation, various demand response options, storage solutions, and all sorts of other things which can help reduce energy use or allow for more carbon free generation which can help with the CPP. More smart grid technology makes sense regardless of CPP requirements. Solar and wind will only be part of the picture, first as a tiny contribution that could rapidly grow larger if it makes sense to do so. It is all about what is cheaper and cleaner and can positively contribute to the overall energy picture. Solar and wind are becoming more attractive options that must be integrated in a thoughtful and appropriate way.

  8. does this mean that DVP will now “thoughtfully” and “appropriately” embrace individual and 3rd party merchant solar?

    😉

    doesn’t this negate the objections to wind/solar?

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  10. Larry, devices like tap-changing transformers are not cheap! And, they have to be controlled by computers and by humans controlling the computers, which is a major additional cost. And they can only do so much. The details of each situation matter, but in general, when you boost the stability of a distribution line — by adjusting the voltage or by placing capacitors on the line to simulate reactive power or by other means — you make the line more “brittle” (that is, it is more stable up to a point, but then it drops off a cliff) and all that monitoring makes the grid more and more subject to computer control and human error. This is no easy panacea for the distribution utility and certainly does not “negate the objections to wind/solar.” I’d compare it to the difficulty, but far from impossibility, of managing and using a section of urban interstate (such as I-66 or I-395/95 near Washington) with ramp controls and HOV lanes, contrasted with, managing and using a section of ordinary interstate (such as rural I-66, say, around Front Royal). Thank God the whole State does not require “urban” management.

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