We can no longer talk about renewable energy’s slow march on power generation and distribution. Utility leaders across the United States and the world recognize that solar, wind, microgrids and distributed generation are prominent in the new discussion around resource efficiency, and customers are compelling their infrastructure providers toward sustainability.
Yet a fundamental question raised by this trend – the question of reliability – persists throughout the industry and is found across the nearly 700 responses we received for the 2016 Strategic Directions: Electric Industry Report. Utilities conscious of the rise of new forms of energy and power generation are meeting the challenge in exciting ways, suggesting a natural evolution from legacy generation to a new era of balanced power portfolios that showcase new technology. The low price of natural gas, which has been positioned alongside renewables as a cleaner and relatively inexpensive generation source, and large, advanced technology combined cycle projects are certainly bridging these two eras and helping to assuage reliability and intermittency concerns associated with renewables.
But many providers are taking sometimes halting steps toward distributed generation, expressing uncertainty about whether these changes can meet the expectations of an always-on, always-connected society that demands 100 percent uptime. Reliability, as it has in recent years, tops the list of industry concerns, followed by cybersecurity, environmental regulation, aging infrastructure and the management of long-term investments.
The report describes microgrids as a key element of power grid modernization. Their complexity allows them to fulfill three goals increasingly pursued by communities: low-carbon energy, resiliency and electric reliability. Microgrids do so by managing multiple forms of generation with advanced controllers. This sets microgrids apart from simpler distributed generation projects.