The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), during the 2017 NARUC Winter Committee Meetings in Washington, D.C., revealed the “Integrated Energy Network” (IEN) pathway which, as noted in the document, outlines EPRI’s view of first steps to an efficient, reliable, affordable and cleaner energy future.
“The Integrated Energy Network envisions a future in which customers have flexibility to use, produce and manage energy, while having increased access to reliable, safe, affordable and cleaner power for all,” EPRI President and CEO Michael Howard said, according to an EPRI statement. “To achieve this future requires an integrated view of energy and natural resources – looking beyond just electricity.”
He continued: “Our systems for managing energy and natural resources are increasingly interconnected. Yet these systems remain largely separate with respect to strategy, management and operations. Technological change is amplifying the cost of failing to integrate these systems. We offer our report to stimulate new thinking about the future energy system.”
According to the IEN paper, making the IEN a reality requires new thinking on many fronts, breaking from current trends and practices. For instance, EPRI added, it will require energy companies, policy makers and the R&D enterprise to:
- Manage energy and natural resources as an integrated system
- Guide an efficient transition to more digital, dynamic and networked energy systems, which will require significant technology advances and infrastructure investments coupled with secure communication, control and operational standards
- Accelerate the development of cleaner energy technologies – supply, demand, delivery and storage technologies – that can operate more flexibly, ensuring the reliability of energy systems while emissions are reduced significantly
- Unleash and promote opportunities for efficient electrification, recognizing it as essential in the cost-effective path to a more efficient and cleaner energy system
- Create new business models that build on the strengths of today’s energy infrastructure, expanding customer choice
- Increase energy system resiliency and security while protecting privacy
EPRI said that the IEN pathway is rooted in pervasive, secure interconnections of data, information and market signals that can enable more sophisticated monitoring and control of energy networks and expanded customer choice.
The IEN pathway also illuminates the critical role of electrification as a means of integration and achieving greater value, EPRI said, adding that where fossil fuels are combusted directly today – such as within onboard engines on cars and trucks – electricity will increasingly become the driver. Accelerated electrification may emerge as essential to enhancing efficiency, improving productivity, and providing cleaner energy, EPRI said.
Noting that it introduced in 2014 its Integrated Grid concept, aimed at maximizing the value of central and distributed electric resources, EPRI said that it views the Integrated Grid as an essential enabler of the IEN, which expands the Integrated Grid concept in many dimensions.
For instance, EPRI said, the IEN includes a comprehensive, integrated consideration of the environmental consequences of all choices, while the Integrated Grid addresses environmental issues only indirectly. The IEN energy sector view also expands the range of options considered for addressing key challenges, such as balancing load with variable renewable and distributed energy resources, EPRI said.
The IEN, taken to its fullest extents, suggests the need for a fundamental rethinking of an energy system that has evolved gradually for most of the past century, EPRI said, adding, “This transformation could rival the late 19th and early 20th century when the basic elements of the modern electricity industry emerged.”
In considering the complex and multi-dimensional global energy sector, the IEN examines its systems from three perspectives, EPRI said:
- Using affordable and cleaner energy through efficiency and electrification. From this perspective, consumer desires for reliable, affordable, and cleaner energy combine with expanded choice and control
- Producing cleaner energy through more efficient and environmentally sustainable and flexible generation. Energy service providers reduce costs and environmental footprint, while operating more flexibly, leading to wider use of electricity as an energy carrier
- Integrating energy resources through new control technologies, communications, standards and markets. Improved control of electric systems, coupled with communication and security protocols and online systems, support interoperability of connected systems. Integration of distributed generation and the grid improve system productivity and flexibility
Discussing the first listed perspective – using affordable and cleaner energy through efficiency and electrification – EPRI said that policy, regulation and technology advances are required to promote energy efficiency and to enable or encourage electrification. Key actions involve exploring technical options and policies for achieving cost-effective efficiency gains; evaluating energy and environmental policies and regulations that allow or encourage electrification; as well as developing and demonstrating advanced and clean energy end-use technologies, EPRI said.
Discussing the second perspective – producing cleaner energy through more efficient, environmentally sustainable, and flexible generation, EPRI said that in working across the energy sector, a clear priority is to refine and deepen a common understanding of the opportunities and challenges inherent in each energy resource and system. Key actions include advancing renewable technologies, developing a better understanding of renewable energy integration challenges, and informing policy, regulatory and business models; demonstrating advanced low-emission fossil fuel technologies and the policies, regulations and standards needed to support them; supporting development of new nuclear designs and the policies, regulation, standards and market reforms needed to support existing and new nuclear; exploring bioenergy technology options, carbon accounting, feedstocks, and policies; as well as exploring the role of hydrogen as a clean carrier of energy and the economic and policy impediments to its development, EPRI said.
Discussing the third perspective – integrating energy resources through new control technologies and markets – EPRI said that a first step is to create a robust and secure integrated electric grid to efficiently integrate central and distributed electric resources. Key actions include developing interconnection rules and communications technology and standards; assessing and deploying advanced distribution and reliability technologies; creating strategies for integrating distributed energy resources with grid planning and operation; informing policy and regulation development to enable flexible, yet reliable, operation of the electric system for effective DER integration, reflecting the costs and benefits of the various components and systems; as well as strengthening and expanding the transmission system to maintain reliability and enable more flexible operation, EPRI said.
Key actions relevant to all three IEN elements, EPRI said, include implementing funding mechanisms and processes to support development and demonstration of new technology; focusing on security, reliability, resiliency and privacy; as well as expanding public education and communication.
Among other things, EPRI said that it plans to release more detailed characterizations of each IEN pillar, (“Producing cleaner energy” in March; “Using affordable, cleaner energy,” in June; and “Integrating energy resources” in August as part of a complete IEN paper), and invites comment and input as they are developed.