What is Grid Modernization—And Why Do We Need It?

Modernizing the electric grid has always been an ongoing effort. But in recent years, it’s become apparent that the grid we have today is unable to meet the increasing demand for energy. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the United States consumed more energy than ever before in 2018, and as the population increases, so will the demand for energy.

According to Stephen Bennett from Georgia Power Company, “Grid Modernization” is largely driven by two initiatives with two different purposes—the replacement of aging and obsolete infrastructure and the advancement and adoption of technologies.

How Aging Infrastructure Can Lead to Disaster

When Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico in 2017, the U.S. island’s 50-year old energy infrastructure was no match for the torrential rain and 175 mph winds brought on by the storm. After the island’s power lines were destroyed, 3.4 million Americans were left in the dark in what became the largest blackout in U.S. history, and the second largest ever recorded in the world. Without electricity, elderly people were without access to essential medical equipment and vital drugs like insulin went without refrigeration. In addition to energy, the damage to critical infrastructure virtually eliminated all lines of transportation, communications, water supply, and wastewater treatment and resulted in approximately 1,427 deaths.

The Benefits of Replacing Aging Infrastructure

According to Mr. Bennett, many of the assets that deliver power from generating plants to substations—and ultimately to American homes—are 80 to 100 years old. And although they may be well-maintained, they are well past end-of-life.

Replacing these aging assets results in better reliability for electricity users. In our increasingly digital world, reliability and power quality are more important to electric customers than ever before. And with millions of Americans staying home because of the pandemic, dependable electrical power is crucial. Newer infrastructure will mean fewer outages due to operational stress or end-of-life failure.

New Technologies Can Improve Grid Reliability

To achieve better resiliency and reliability, new grid modernization technologies must be implemented. Smart meters, for example, can help utility companies better manage electricity demand. Smart meters capture and collect more data than manual energy meter reading, and the tools they provide for usage tracking can ultimately help save money for both the consumer and the electric company.

Advancements in data analytics also make it possible for electric companies to continuously monitor the condition of grid assets throughout their entire life cycle remotely. These tools can immediately alert electric companies when equipment needs servicing to prevent failure. Implementation of these types of technological advances improve system efficiency and reliability.

Why Grid Modernization?

With the demand for energy increasing and aging assets across the country reaching their end-of-life, grid modernization is perhaps more crucial now than ever before. Creating an electric grid for the 21st century has enormous benefits. It can help improve system efficiencies, reduce costs for both electric consumers and companies, allow for the integration of renewable-energy generation and distribution, and help lower carbon and other emissions.

To learn more on this topic, watch our webinar on grid modernization, featuring guest speakers from Georgia Power Company, DTE Energy, and Dominion Energy.

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