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Architecting the Modern Grid: Transferring Understanding into Action

The utilities’ destination hasn’t changed: safe, affordable, reliable and clean electricity.

More paths exist to get there than ever before, with new devices, markets, automation, interactions, and capabilities adding both complexity and opportunity to a byzantine grid. At the same time, new entanglements make it impossible to know whether these paths will lead to the promised destination, or to a dead end. The discipline of Grid Architecture, however, can at least provide a contextual view of the entire labyrinth, help us find some golden threads woven by others…and perhaps help us avoid the minotaur waiting around a distant corner.

Managing Increasing Complexity

Grid Architecture is the practice of describing the electric grid and defining the many complex interactions that exist. It is a tool to help those in the electric sector think about the overall shape of the grid and how its individual parts interact to help them understand, explore, and make informed decisions.

It does this by adopting a common language to define various “grid elements” such as components, functions, physical structures, communications requirements, system limits, and basic elements of exchange like energy, information, or money. It then provides a methodology to group these elements into interacting structures such as physical infrastructure (i.e. poles, wires and components), market structure, regulatory structure, information and communication networks, coordination structure, and system control. This electric grid super-structure enables the industry to define various complex relationships and interactions that occur. This expansive view of the grid can help electric sector stakeholders understand how the electric grid works, explore and enable new capabilities, and remove outdated or unnecessary restrictions.

Panel at 2018 Grid Evolution Summit (Photo by Momenta Creative)
Grid Architecture in Action

For example, say a utility is exploring the impact of a large electrified commercial fleet charging station on a feeder. While an engineering impact study can define the challenges and the constraints, Grid Architecture will:

  • Enable system planners to see a prospective change to the grid in the context of the entire system — thereby identifying hidden interactions and points of constraint. By adding a commercial fleet vehicle charging program on a feeder, what communication and control systems are needed and how will they interact? What data must be exchanged to manage the load and do the current market and regulatory structures support the program goals? Most importantly, how do these changes fit into the utility’s long-term goals? Can an investment in communications and controls reduce the need for physical upgrades or can it be leveraged for other strategic purposes?
  • Relate prospective changes to utility and regulatory goals, strategies, and constraints. It can allow utilities to describe to regulators and consumers why they chose one approach over another by detailing the various interactions taking place and the consequences of different proposals. It may, for example, highlight data security and privacy concerns. The utility can then explore whether a solution is possible, and how it might affect other programs. Ultimately, it allows stakeholders to share a common and well-defined vision of the future grid.
  • Identify technological gaps and procure solutions using a clear and common language set. For example, a utility can use Grid Architecture principles to test whether an unrelated commercial PV+Battery program can serve as a basis for a fleet charging program. The physical components are different, but how different are the exchange of services, how different are the communications requirements, how different are the value flows?
Gaining Interest Across the Industry

Grid Architecture is both a problem-solving tool as well as a communication tool. It not only enables utility planners, vendors, researchers, and regulators to see and understand the electric-grid superstructure; but it also provides a common language to share insights and apply solutions used on other electric systems.

With work started in 2016 under the Department of Energy’s Grid Modernization Lab Consortium, the current discipline of Grid Architecture resides mostly in the academic and research disciplines of the electric sector with new tools being developed at national laboratories, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), and SEPA’s Grid Architecture Working Group. At SEPA, we see more and more interest from industry members in Grid Architecture. In 2018, SEPA’s Grid Architecture Working Group grew by 30%.

Grid Evolution Summit Opportunities

To help further the industry’s understanding of Grid Architecture, SEPA is hosting a full-day interactive learning lab titled, “Managing Large Loads on the Grid Edge” at the upcoming 2019 Grid Evolution Summit in July. Attendees will join thought leaders from SEPA’s Electric Vehicle, Grid Architecture, and Transactive Energy Working Groups to learn how new trends such as the proliferation of fleet vehicle charging impact the grid, and perform hands-on exercises applying Grid Architecture to find solutions to the challenges they pose.

Full-day Grid Architecture Learning Lab – Thursday, August 1st, 2019

  • This day-long interactive learning and application lab will take a deep dive into best practices for distribution planning in high-penetration DER environments, specifically focusing on grid architecture techniques and theory.

Session: Grid Architecture: Enabling new solutions for changing times – Wednesday, July 31st, 2019

  • This session will focus on how grid architecture, a design discipline, has been used to enable innovative approaches to incorporating new technologies for the changing grid.

View the full agenda here. 

Why Grid Evolution Summit?

Those who have previously attended a multi-day industry conference understand the challenge of using leave to attend — and then catching up on the work you may have missed. SEPA is keenly aware of this challenge, and we designed this year’s Grid Evolution Summit to be a learning experience that is collaborative, practical, and valuable to justify the time spent.

The event features content meant to inspire solutions to the challenges outlined by industry thought leaders on day one, and then engage in diverse and practical panels on day two. The conference culminates in the aforementioned interactive learning lab on the final day, where attendees apply the lessons learned throughout the event to address real-world challenges with their peers. This focused ‘hands-on’ program contributes to SEPA’s mission to provide progressive, engaging, and compelling content that supports the smart transition to a clean and modern grid.

Transfer Understanding into Action