A utility microgrid system would divide — and protect
A recent article featured a discussion centered on how Connecticut ought to bury all of it major power lines in order to avoid future outages such as we have recently experienced. Same old. Same old. This maintains the frail heavily centralized nature of the grid with widely spaced generators joined by long stretches of transmission wire. Just putting the lines underground is not only very costly but still maintains that frail centralized structure of a few huge generators many miles apart.
It seems people forgot how we reacted after the major storms in 2011-12 that gave us much the same agonizing on loss of power. Not only is burying of lines costly but would take years to provide any degree of real safety and then mostly for storms and not for other hazards such as cyberattacks which also deserve close attention.
Currently, the utilities in Connecticut operate the demand side management (energy efficiency) programs that provide energy conservation and load management services. Going way back in energy history, under Connecticut Public Act 88–57, utilities are eligible for a 1% to 5% bonus rate of return on their conservation investments. This is a form of what we now call Performance-based Ratemaking (PBR) which is currently widely discussed nationally.
Specifically, the concept I suggest would extend this performance-based rate-making for utilities to cause to be built (but not necessarily owned), operate and maintain microgrids of 30 megawatts (MW) or less. These are smaller areas set up to provide their own power with diverse generators relatively close to the place of use and significantly smaller power line runs. These are referred to as decentralized grids.
Microgrids, which have their own multiple, diverse, internal generation systems provide a greater degree of robustness.
This results in the ability for a majority of them to continue operation through any given storm or cyberattack. Ideally, they would not employ large degrees of “smart” technology which does open potential cyberattack pathways for those who would do us harm. They might also be able to use potential emerging technologies such as what have been referred to as Attack Surface Interruption Zones that would not allow the intrusion of malware by going from digital to analog-based information at certain key transfer points.
Depending upon how well utilities might accomplish this, they could be eligible for an additional 1% to 5% greater return based on the performance of such microgrids. Well worth it if it keep the power up and running and provides an extra dose of safety for all of us.
Joel Gordes lives in West Hartford.
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