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Smart Electric Grid Technologies Are Adopted, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

The Grid: In the U.S., the networks of local electric lines that businesses and consumers depend on every day are connected with and interdependent upon a national system of major lines, power plants and controllers collectively called “the grid.”  The grid is divided into three major regions, named East, West and Texas.  These regions are also known as “interconnects.”  In total, the grid is a compendium of about 7,000 power plants sending electricity across 450,000 miles of transmission lines and 2.5 million feeder lines, all managed by 3,300 utilities.  
The grid’s three interconnects are broken down into about 120 control areas, but operators of those control areas have very little authority beyond making requests (but not demands) of utilities participating within their areas.  Unfortunately, much of this grid was designed and constructed with technology developed in the 1950s and 1960s, and it was never intended to carry the amazing amount of power that today’s electricity-hungry Americans consume.  Simply put, much of the grid is out of date.
When a local utility system needs more power than it is generating, it can draw upon the grid.  (In fact, many utility companies in America have no generating capacity at all and draw all of their power from the grid and then resell it to end users.)  Conversely, when a generating system is producing more power than is needed locally, it can push power into the grid for other areas to use.
Since electricity cannot be easily stored in large volume for future use, the grid is absolutely vital in smoothing out the fluctuations that occur in supply and demand.  Unfortunately, the grid suffers from a long list of inadequacies.  For example, about 6% of the energy pushed into the grid is lost during transmission, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.  Also, the grid has bottlenecks, or distribution squeezes, particularly in densely populated areas like New York City and San Francisco.  This means that utilities cannot always get all of the electricity they need in order to meet local demand, and blackouts or shortages occur.  Today, the rapid growth in renewable power generation is placing new types of strain on the grid, as wind and solar plants that are constructed in remote locations require significant extensions of major power lines in order to get their electricity into the grid for distribution.
In late 2021, President Biden signed a $1 trillion+ “infrastructure” reconciliation bill into law, of which $73 billion is allocated for grid updates, including a $2.5 billion Transmission Facilitation Program.  The goal is to modernize the grid, enabling it to carry more power from renewable sources.  The Biden administration has a net-zero emissions goal for the U.S. by 2050.  However, to meet that goal, electricity transmission systems will have to expand by 60% by the end of 2030 (at a cost of as much as $360 billion, and possibly triple in capacity by 2050 (at a cost of $2.4 trillion), according to research from Princeton University.  This translates into thousands of miles of new transmission lines to connect widely spaced wind and solar farms and hydroelectric plants.  It remains to be seen whether or not this immense task will be accomplished in a timely or cost-effective manner.
Increasing sales of electric vehicles (EVs), spurred by government regulations and tax credits, will put further stress on the grid.  Tesla CEO Elon Musk predicts that U.S. electricity consumption will triple by around 2045.  PG&E projects that demand will rise 70% between 2023 and 2043, while McKinsey & Company forecasts U.S. demand doubling by 2050.
Building Smarter Grids and Microgrids for Distributed Power: The utilities industry is pushing its own vision of the grid’s future, via the respected Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI,, an organization of members representing more than 90% of the electricity generated and delivered in the U.S.  EPRI envisions creating an environment in which utilities are encouraged to invest heavily in new transmission technologies.  Part of its plan is aimed at developing constant communication among the systems pushing power to, and pulling power from, the grid.  EPRI hopes the grid will become a self-repairing, intelligent, digital electricity delivery system.  As a result, a system breakdown in one area might be compensated for by users or producers elsewhere, aborting potential blackout situations.
The electric industry, encouraged by the Department of Energy, is slowly moving toward a “smart grid,” by using state-of-the-art digital switches and sensors to monitor and manage the grid—a vast improvement over today’s equipment.  Congress passed Title XIII of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA).  Several sections of this act are aimed at boosting a national smart grid with interoperability among regions.  Such a smart grid would incorporate sensors throughout the entire delivery system, employ instant communications and computing power and use solid-state power electronics to sense and, where needed, control power flows and resolve disturbances instantly.  The upgraded system would have the ability to read and diagnose problems.  It would be self-repairing, by automatically isolating affected areas and re-routing power to keep the rest of the system running.  Another advantage of this smart grid is that it would be able to seamlessly integrate an array of locally installed, distributed power sources, such as fuel cells and solar power, with traditional central-station power generation.  The largest U.S. electric companies are collectively expected to invest as much as $1.8 trillion from 2022 through 2030 in these technologies, according to Deloitte.

Internet Research Tips:
The GridWise Alliance,, is a consortium of public and private utility and energy companies that supports a stronger electricity grid. Members include General Electric (GE), IBM, Duke Energy and Cisco Systems.

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