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Understanding the Future of the Electric Grid

Transmission and distribution lines connecting the future of the electric grid

The U.S. electric grid is a broad network of transmission and distribution systems that millions of people rely on for critical power. However, aging infrastructure along with a changing political and environmental climate may soon require utility plants to make considerable changes to the way they operate. When preparing for the future of the electric grid, utility owners can rely on load bank testing to ensure that their facilities are functional and up-to-speed. Here are the most important ways that load bank testing can help grid owners face the future.

Cost-Effectively Managing Aging Infrastructure
In its most recent report card, the American Society of Civil Engineers rated U.S. energy infrastructure at a D+, pointing to the fact that most power transmission and distribution lines were originally constructed in the 1950s and 60s without a long-term plan in mind. This dated infrastructure now faces increased energy demands from a growing population, complicated variable renewable energy (VRE) integration needs, and a turbulent political climate.

Estimates place the total cost of modernizing the U.S. grid at anywhere from $220 billion to $5 trillion in total. But by focusing on cost-effective, individual upgrades, utility owners can prepare for the future without breaking the bank. For example, by integrating more smart technology, expanding distributed storage, and having flexible load management solutions, owners can produce more cost-effective, reliable power for customers. This in turn helps developing areas to attract more private investment and boost productivity, which in turn can grow a revenue base for the facility.

As new technology shapes the future of the electric grid, extensive amounts of testing will ensure the solutions result in more reliable, clean, and affordable energy.

Integrating VRE
In 2019, VRE sources comprised nearly one-quarter of all power generated in the U.S., due in large part to increases in wind and solar. As VREs become more affordable and widely used, they will likely play a larger role in the overall U.S. power grid. However, that future is dependent on both government policy and the ability of grid owners to successfully integrate clean energy efficiently.

Some experts have pointed to California’s latest attempts to toggle between fossil fuels and renewable energy sources at mass scale as the cause for why the state has deployed rolling blackouts this summer. Without the kind of mass infrastructure it takes to store excess VRE power, adequate transmission and distribution lines, and the ability to integrate other energy carriers efficiently, more states could experience some of the same issues California is facing as it transitions to a clean energy economy.

While it may be complex, utility scale integration of VREs shows no signs of slowing down. In the first half of 2020, VREs accounted for 57% of all new megawatt (MW) capacity installed. In order to meet energy demands, VRE plant owners must work to ensure that their facilities up-to-date with the latest in VRE technology and have more data, more storage, and more distributed resources at their disposal. As state regulators begin to better understand efficiency requirements when it comes to integrating VRE into the grid, testing these upgrades to ensure they work will always be a top priority.

Load banks are the optimal solution for ensuring that VRE technology works in concert with the rest of your facility. With a load bank, critical power parameters such as voltage, current, and load can be controlled and repeated. By setting the exact parameters when load testing, you can mimic real-life testing scenarios to fully energize your system, demonstrating proper performance levels and effective integration.

Facing Manufacturing Restrictions
Political changes could drastically impact access to bulk-power system electronic equipment. In May, an executive order was passed prohibiting the purchase and general-usage of any bulk-power system electrical equipment manufactured by “foreign adversaries.” While the details of the executive order are not fully defined, grid owners and operators may have limited access to generators, reactors, capacitors, substation transformers, and more. New pre-qualified criteria are expected to be put into place for grid owners and operators to limit who they can purchase from. In addition, a new task force will be dedicated to carrying out this order nationwide.

Load Bank Testing, Now and in the Future
Readying the U.S. power grid for this new future is an enormous undertaking that will require state governments to work hand in hand with utility providers. Bringing the grid into the 21st century will also require stringent performance testing in order to ensure that as facilities become more advanced, they remain effective and reliable.

The best method for ensuring a reliable power facility is load bank testing. By offering a flexible and precise way to fully energize your facility, load bank testing provides accurate insight into how each individual component is performing and how the entire facility is functioning.

As a leader in load bank testing, ComRent keeps up-to-date with all sectors of the power industry. We combine our technical expertise and industry knowledge with the largest inventory of load banks to solve your load bank testing and commissioning challenges on time and on budget. Contact us today to schedule a complimentary consultation with one of our experts.

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