Connecting Renewable Energy to a Smarter Grid

Transmission Linemen
Transmission Lineman
photo: mnorri, some rights reserved

There are many hurdles for connecting renewable energy projects to the existing electric power grid. Transmission lines already operate near full capacity. Substations may not handle new interconnections. Regulatory processes span state and federal authorities, and interconnection standards vary from state to state. Plus, it's not clear how to best allocate costs for infrastructure improvements between utilities, energy developers, and rate-payers.

The good news is that both industry and government groups have invested in research on how to better connect renewable energy projects to the grid and how to construct a smart grid that can support a clean energy future. While there is clearly need for technology improvements, much of the research points to improved policies, consistency in standards, and adoption of best practices. Here are recently released reports on these topics.

The sixth edition of the Interstate Renewable Energy Council's (IREC) Connecting to the Grid Guide provides a comprehensive introduction to a span of topics that relate to grid-tied renewable energy sources. The sixth edition has been revised to include information on IREC's recently updated model procedures, alternative billing arrangements for net metering, energy storage and several other emerging issues in the field. This guide is designed for state regulators and other policymakers, utilities, industry representatives and consumers interested in the development of state-level interconnection and net metering policies.

The National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), part of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) laboratory system, hosts a Modern Grid Strategy web site that regularly issues whitepapers. The Transmission Smart Grid Imperative outlines the technologies that are ready to be deployed while considering the complexities of building consensus for new transmission construction. Accomodates All Generation and Storage Options defines how a smart grid can be powered by small distributed energy resources (DER) which include both distributed generation and storage, as one of seven "Smart Grid Principal Characteristics" identifed by NETL.

Perspectives for Utilities & Others Implementing Smart Grids by The Smart Grid Stakeholder Roundtable Group represents the outcome of meetings with a range of stakeholders including state agencies, consumer groups, environmental groups, commercial and industrial consumers, utilities and public utility commissions. The report was sponsored by the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability with the goal "to help utilities and other smart grid project developers better communicate how and why they think smart grid technologies will benefit consumers and the environment, as well as the overall electric system in general."

Under the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), partnering with DOE and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), has "primary responsibility to coordinate development of a framework that includes protocols and model standards for information management to achieve interoperability of smart grid devices and systems..." The NIST Framework and Roadmap for Smart Grid Interoperability Standards, Release 1.0 is a draft of a framework that includes protocols and model standards for information management to achieve interoperability of Smart Grid devices and systems. NIST has currently identified 16 initial standards and is considering an additional 46 potential standards.