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Eric McDonald, Director, Testing & Infrastructure Development

By Eric McDonald,
Director, Testing & Infrastructure Development

The 2020 Grid Modernization Forum was held virtually on May 19th and 20th. Sponsored by the Smart Grid Observer, the forum gathers industry leaders to view and discuss the latest developments in electrical grid resilience, power distribution and transmission, smart grids, and distributed energy resources. NextEnergy’s Director of Infrastructure Eric McDonald attended the event and moderated a panel exploring electric vehicle-charging infrastructure and its impact on the grid with leaders from Consumers Energy, eCAMION and OSSIACO. Eric shares five key takeaways from the event below.


The future electric grid will be a mix of centralized generation from power plants and distributed generation resources that are located closer to the demand and will aid utilities to reliably meet peak demands. The mix will provide communities with a robust energy supply system. Utilities are making major investments to meet infrastructure needs of nonwire alternatives such as distributed generation, demand response, and smart grid software/controls. Utilities are proactively moving toward carbon-free sources for generation and have no interest in continuing to build and maintain carbon-based generation plants.


The grid urgently needs to be modernized. Utilities’ infrastructure is nearing or has reached life expectancy. One utility noted its average transmission breakers are at 91 percent of expected life, transmission transformers are at 100 percent of expected life, steel transmission poles are at 93 percent, wood transmission poles are at 117 percent. This aging infrastructure can lead to an increase in asset failure. Infrastructure upgrades need to be funded and implemented as soon as possible.


In addition to aging infrastructure, another reason utilities are looking to modernize the grid is to improve reliability and power quality. Increased demand and fewer available skilled personnel makes operational efficiency crucial. Modernization will make power transmission and distribution more resilient in the face of changing weather patterns.


To aid in the evolution to carbon-free power generation, electrification of transportation infrastructure will have to reach 75 percent market saturation and building space heating and water heating electrification will have to reach 70 percent. A major overhaul of transmission and distribution infrastructure will be required to meet the industry’s goal of carbon-free power. To that end, utilities are investing in high voltage direct current transmission and distribution, which will better serve integration with distributed generation.


A recent innovation in smart grids is machine virtualization of the bulk power system (BPS). A BPS comprises power transmission components and associated controls systems. Machine virtualization is a software-driven method to simulate power systems controls to decrease network data center space needs, reduce human error in maintenance of hard-wired network systems, and increase reliability of asset performance. This innovation won the U.S. Department Of Energy Electricity Industry Technology and Practices Innovation Challenge in 2019:

The Smart Grid Observer hopes to have an in-person Grid Modernization Forum in 2021 with its usual networking and informative site tours, but in the meantime, NextEnergy remains committed to working with industry partners to bring cutting-edge energy solutions to communities and cities.

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