Greater situational awareness among priorities needed to ensure continued bulk electricity system reliability, report says

Controlling an increasingly distributed electricity system is one of three key priorities that are necessary in order to ensure the continued reliability and efficiency of the bulk electricity system as the penetration of emerging technologies continues to expand, according to a report published on March 16 by an affiliation of nine ISOs and RTOs in North America.

The other two priorities are renewable supply and integration, as well as greater situational awareness, according to the report titled, “Emerging technologies: How ISOs and RTOs can create a more nimble, robust electricity system,” by the affiliation, which is known collectively as the ISO/RTO Council (IRC).

The report noted that 80.3% of all wind capacity on the continent is located in IRC regions, while 81.1% of solar capacity is situated in regions served by IRC members.

According to the report, the IRC’s Operations Committee in summer 2015 created the IRC Emerging Technologies Task Force (ETTF) to identify where technological deployment intersects with operational and policy considerations, and the newly published report is the culmination of that effort.

Discussing controlling an increasingly distributed electricity system, the report noted that the prevalence of distributed energy resources (DERs) has affected the system’s overall operability, challenged a century-old regulatory model of electricity distribution, and led to the emergence of new concepts such as distribution system “platforms” to allow for the two-way transaction of electricity.

Some of the fastest growing impacts to the bulk electricity system are happening outside of the traditional purview of ISOs and RTOs, and implications for IRC members include decreasing technology costs and declining electricity demand growth rates.

The report added that the IRC believes that due consideration should be given by jurisdictions in which distribution system operators (DSO) are implemented and require such entities to conform to a sufficiently rigorous set of standards that allows for the safe interaction between DSOs, non-utility actors, and the bulk electricity system.

The report noted that the IRC supports policies to ensure that if variability at the distribution level results in a risk to system reliability, then ISOs/RTOs have appropriate authority over DERs – or otherwise isolate their impact from the bulk electricity system.

Of renewable supply and integration, the report noted that throughout the world, solar energy capacity rose 28.1% in 2015, and that that has been the result of more than 40 years of scientific endeavor that has steadily improved the technology.

Now those advancements face a serious challenge – that is, the electricity system itself, the report said, adding that 2016 marked the midpoint of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) SunShot program with a goal of achieving a levelized cost of energy for solar power of 6 cents per kWh by 2020. While the recent SunShot midterm report noted that the program has reached 70% of that goal, it also noted that solar curtailment could easily push that figure back up to 11 cents per kWh in some cases, the IRC report said.

As noted on DOE’s website, the SunShot initiative is a national effort to drive down the cost of solar electricity and support solar adoption.

Also, in its “2015 Wind Technologies Report,” DOE said that wind constituted the single largest source of capacity additions in the United States in 2015, but the operating characteristics of renewable resources are presenting a challenge to the electricity system’s ability to accommodate increasing levels of intermittent generating capacity.

The IRC report added that to manage the variability of supply and renewable integration enabled by emerging technologies, the IRC recommends approaches that avoid early technological lock-in. Experiences catalogued in the ETTF report show that a suitable policy environment is required to ensure that new technologies and approaches can continue to be developed, tested, and applied to the renewable integration challenge, the report said, noting that several IRC member organizations are piloting various “outlier” technologies that may someday overtake present-day mechanisms if their effectiveness can be proven.

Discussing situational awareness, the report noted that in the past two decades since wholesale electricity markets have been established across North America, the situational awareness of IRC members has largely centered on the bulk electricity system. However, that is changing in terms of data sources and the intensity of the data itself, the report said.

Regarding data intensity, IRC members have matured beyond the technological framework that existed at the time of market deregulation in the 1990s, the report said. For instance, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems typically provide data at the two-per-second resolution, but that has been supplemented with phasor measurement unit (PMU) data that provides a data at a time-synchronized sampling rate of many times per second, the report said.

While PMU technology has been deployed in most IRC member organizations, the future use of that technology could continue to change drastically, the report said.

The IRC believes that data should no longer be treated as the constraining factor with respect to situational awareness arrangements across the transmission/distribution interface – particularly, in regard to data transfers, according to the report.

At a minimum, North American ISOs and RTOs should have access to basic static data series about DERs in their respective service territories, the report said, noting that location, size, and technological capabilities are just a few examples of critical and reliable data that IRC members need to formulate a comprehensive strategy for managing an increasingly distributed electricity system.

“It can’t be overstated how remarkable it is that so diverse a group of organizations – serving in vastly different geographic regions and operating in varied regulatory and operational circumstances – overlap so much in their thinking on the role of emerging technologies in reliably and economically operating the North American bulk electricity system,” Nick Brown, current chair of the IRC, and president and CEO of one of its member organizations, the Southwest Power Pool, said in a March 16 statement. “Any time the IRC speaks with strong consensus on a matter like it has done here, I hope our industry takes notice.”

Edward Arlitt of Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator, who served as chair of the ETTF, said in the statement: “Each of the IRC member organizations is unique. One ISO/RTO may have greater solar capacity in their region, another may be farther along in their handling of DERs, and all of us have regulatory and operational constraints unique to the provinces, states and regions in which we serve. No matter our specific circumstances, though, we all have to keep the lights on and can agree on issues of common importance to that goal.”

About Corina Rivera-Linares 3286 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares was TransmissionHub’s chief editor until August 2021, as well as part of the team that established TransmissionHub in 2011. Before joining TransmissionHub, Corina covered renewable energy and environmental issues, as well as transmission, generation, regulation, legislation and ISO/RTO matters at SNL Financial from 2005 to 2011. She has also covered such topics as health, politics, and education for weekly newspapers and national magazines.