Thursday, July 29, 2010

Post # 32 - Smart Grid Reliability Concerns

On important element of smart grid technology is its potential to help reduce greenhouse gas emission reductions through increasing efficiency and conservation, facilitating renewable energy integration, and enabling plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. But, as with other aspects of smart grid, things are not that simple. Just this week, the North American Reliability Council, or NERC -- the self-regulatory, non-government organization designated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to establish and enforce mandatory electric reliability standards for the U.S. transmission grid -- reminds us that, beyond the debate over the potential economic costs, there also are reliability components to carbon reduction initiatives such as smart technologies.

NERC's Reliability Impacts of Climate Change Initiatives Report concludes that various climate change initiatives will require substantial changes to the bulk power system, including the addition of new or upgraded low carbon generation and transmission, expanded demand resources, and changes to the processes and approaches used in system planning operations. The Report states that, in the future, a variety of demands on existing infrastructure will be made to support transition from the bulk power system's current model to one that meets carbon emission reductions.

In that regard, the Report cautions that legislators and regulators need to consider the reliability impact of large scale transition away from fossil fuels. Further, the Report concludes that policymakers cannot count on large amounts of renewable energy, demand reduction from smart grid systems or new storage technologies before they prove they can be worked onto the grid without endangering the system's reliability.
The Report's basic findings:

  • The timing of carbon reduction targets will require an unprecedented shift in North America's resource mix.
  • Regional solutions will be needed to respond to climate change initiatives, driven by unique system characteristics and existing infrastructure.
  • the addition of new resources will increase the need for transmission and energy storage and balancing resources.
  • Carbon reduction from increasing demand-side management must be balanced against potential reliability impacts.
  • Climate change efforts that increasingly depend on distribution system options and applications can, in aggregate, impact bulk power system reliability
The Report, or course, deals with the entire universe of carbon reduction initiatives and has a broader focus than smart grid. However, with particular respect to smart grid and smart technologies, NERC is concerned that unless carefully planned an operated, new communications channels can provide a vehicle for cyber attack through a variety of entrance and exit points. Among other things, the installation of smart meters can "amplify the number of points for potential cyber attacks." Overall, the physical assets that support the smart grid will require protection as dependence grows on their functionality. Planners must design the bulk power system "to ensure it will have the resources/technology to respond to cyber attacks and remain reliable." And this will increasingly be a task for local distribution planners as well as transmission planners.

It must be emphasized that the Report is not calling for retreat on carbon reduction or smart grid development. But the Report is a reminder that decisions aimed at greenhouse gases have reliability components, which must be addressed along with the socio-economic components.

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