The electric grid is a complex system. As technology continues to develop, it’s absolutely critical that we update and reshape our policies and regulations to make the grid work better for consumers, businesses, and utilities alike. This week, Fresh Energy is helping to lead that process as the Public Utilities Commission kicks off a conversation about grid modernization, with a particular focus on the distribution system that delivers electricity directly to customers.
Our distribution systems are not only complex, but also incredibly tough to understand. That lack of transparency makes it hard to find the “sweet spots” in the grid that present the best opportunities to deploy new distributed, consumer owned resources like solar panels, energy storage, and many others. But it also limits the number of solutions that are readily available to our utilities. If distribution plans were in place that publicly provided a basic understanding of where the grid is congested or has additional capacity, utilities would have the opportunity work with a variety of energy providers, consumers, and businesses in their area to see what solutions these partners can provide to the grid that benefit all utility customers.
For example, if a particular area of the grid happens to draw more heavily during certain parts of the day, a utility might be able to address that peak usage by adding distributed solar or with electric vehicles on smart meters that allow for their stored energy to be deployed when needed most. This can reduce costs for utilities and consumers by preventing the need to build new infrastructure or utility scale power generation while also creating jobs for local installers.
More transparent and comprehensive distribution planning is the first critical step toward a more nimble, localized grid that utilizes efficient local solutions while reducing the need for imported energy from hundreds of miles away. This will not only allow utilities and consumers to take advantage of distributed energy production and storage more effectively, but smart grid technology investments could also allow for the kind of dynamic, market based rate design that has so far been slow to spread in Minnesota. This kind of grid will provide real savings for consumers and utilities while creating opportunities for local businesses – a true win-win-win.
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