Leader’s Corner | IEEE Power & Energy Magazine
IEEE Power & Energy Society

Leader’s Corner

The Grid of the Future

How PES Can Help Meet its Demands

Our industry has experienced significant changes in last decade caused by new technology trends, environmental drivers and weather patterns, changing public needs, and regulatory requirements. The electrical power and energy industry in the coming decades will be different than it is today. How will the grid of the future look like to meet the demands of the society and address challenges, and what is the IEEE Power & Energy Society (PES) doing to help the industry chart the road to the future?

Technology Improvements

First, technology has significantly improved.

  • Generating energy from renewable resources continues to become more efficient and economical.
  • Electrical vehicles, particularly hybrids, are manufactured and promoted by major car manufacturers and open up opportunities to use electricity to clean up the air and optimize energy consumption.
  • Electrical storage technologies continue to develop, although we are still waiting for a breakthrough that would make such technologies more cost-effective and environmentally friendly.
  • Smart grid measurement, communications, and control solutions continue to operate and maintain the grid, including demand response; automation and control; equipment health monitoring and maintenance using robotics; and next-generation EMS and wide area monitoring, protection and control systems using GPS synchronized measurements.
  • Ultrahigh voltage dc/ac has improved.
  • The emergence of cloud computing and open source use continues.
  • Supercomputers are becoming affordable.

International IEEE leaders and experts continue contributing to the above through standards and guides, papers, and panels at conferences.

Weather and Security Threats

Second, increasingly volatile weather patterns and security and physical threats to the grid, in combination with increased demands to deliver quality electrical power, have resulted in increased public focus and consequently regulatory oversight and pressure to improve power quality delivery worldwide. Electric system resilience to the above garners society attention and focus; for example, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security lists 17 critical infrastructures with energy on the top as other infrastructures require energy. If one looks at the worldwide electricity usage map, it becomes apparent that one metric for measuring industrial progress is whether electricity is readily available.

There is also a major motivation for carbon footprint reduction. It is important to understand that it comes with a price tag and needs to be addressed worldwide. Are we ready to accept the price tag? And even if some parts of the world are, is it possible to redirect energy usage globally?

The future of electrical energy is being addressed globally. For example, the Knowledge 4 Innovation Forum of the European Parliament is addressing the European energy future. A recent example is a round table on efficiency and competitiveness through smart grid integration that included IEEE. Another example is the U.S. Quadrennial Energy Review (QER) launched by the Obama administration. “This first QER will focus on the development of a comprehensive strategy for the infrastructure involved in transporting, transmitting, and delivering energy…The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will play a key role in providing analytical support to the QER,” according to a press release.

At the request of Bill Hederman, DOE deputy director, Energy Policy and Systems Analysis, IEEE has recruited leaders from its membership to develop responses for DOE priority issues. The unified IEEE team includes the IEEE-USA Energy Policy Committee (chaired by Veronika Rabl) and PES (technical committees led by Jeff Nelson, chair). Miroslav Begovic (PES president) and Pat Ryan (PES executive director) emphasized the IEEE’s unbiased and independent technical leadership worldwide utilizing synergies among utilities, vendors, academia, national labs, regulatory organizations, and other industry participants.

PES is very well positioned internationally to support government agencies in policy development and implementation. PES volunteers possess unparalleled, integrated knowledge of technical, economic, environmental, security, and safety aspects to significantly help policymakers with an all-inclusive and rigorous approach. Our organization could help by reviewing the existing policies and recommending additional legislative actions and assessing and recommending priorities for research, development, and demonstration programs for the transmission and distribution (T&D) infrastructure.

Grid Complexity

Third, grid complexity has resulted in an increasing number and size of system outages worldwide. An important aspect of grid reliability is in preventing large-scale blackouts that are low probability events with a high impact. One could break up the grid to prevent large blackouts, but that would create more small outages. As it is difficult to avoid local outages, managing large grids requires preventing the propagation of disturbances to large areas. The occurrence of widespread electric disturbances depends on strategies for grid management so it is not possible to avoid multiple contingency-initiated outages, but the probability, size, and impact of wide-area blackouts can be reduced. The deployment of microgrids could be an important aspect in preventing large outages.

The recent proliferation in natural gas production has helped address energy needs but has added an additional layer of complexity in managing the electrical grid due to the interdependency between electrical and gas infrastructures. For example, any interruption of gas supply due to physical or market constraints creates additional constrains on the electrical infrastructure, begging a question what constitutes (n–1) reliability criteria in modern grids. In addition, the planning and development of the electric transmission system is changing considerably in the United States as a result of FERC Order 1000 and the elimination of the right of first refusal for incumbent utilities.

In addition to increased grid complexity, energy consumption patterns are changing. Data centers have a higher load density and load factor than traditional “office loads.” They employ significantly fewer people and interact less with the local economies. This requires, in addition to renewable resource forecasting, new energy load and market price forecasting approaches and tools.

Furthermore, demand-side management is a step toward delivering differentiated value of service quality to end users. With this business model, users pay for the reliability, power quality, and overall service they want. This will require different business and regulatory models than what we have today. However, present expectations by end users are to get reliable and inexpensive power, so changing this model will not be easy.

Major Aspects

Let’s look at some major aspects of our industry.

Aging Infrastructure

Although the age of the infrastructure (particularly underground city networks) is a major issue, it should not be viewed as an issue that has to be treated on its own merit. Instead, industry focus should be on the holistic asset-management approach to address grid resilience including relative risks and economics of maintenance, repair, and replacement or retirement for various elements of the physical infrastructure. This holistic approach requires viewing the utility fleet of capital equipment as critical strategic assets impacted by key interrelated areas in support for business goals: aging infrastructure (including condition monitoring and assessment tools), grid hardening (weather-related response, physical vulnerability, and cybersecurity), and system capabilities and characteristics (including improving reliability metrics, such as SAIDI and SAIFI, and managing systemwide outages). Integrating an asset-management approach structured around these focal areas and interacting with spending and resource decisions is needed to best achieve optimal cost-effective solutions. An additional aspect requiring new processes and tools is managing new smart grid assets such as AMI and intelligent electronic devices.

Physical Vulnerability

The risk assessment and characterization effort will need to look to possible future events based on historical data and other potential risks such as a physical attack. While it is not possible to predict when and where future events will occur, it is possible to identify the substations and lines in the system that, as a result of their location, configuration, and electrical characteristics, pose the greatest risk for large-scale outages. These results can then be used to tailor grid-resiliency efforts to focus on those facilities with the greatest risk for future events. To assess the risk of a physical attack, the facilities with the greatest impact or risk based on their ranking can be further focused upon, analyzing components within the facilities that may pose a risk.


Microgrids, as integrated power delivery systems consisting of interconnected loads, distributed energy resources, and storage, address specific applications and needs and have the potential to change how we operate the grid. Some believe that microgrids will be the grid of the future, while others believe that there is no business case for a large proliferation of microgrids. One needs to consider that the grid started as a microgrid and that interconnected grids were originally created to improve grid cost-effectiveness, reliability, and service quality. Although the technology advancements mentioned above made it easier to deploy controllable and more efficient microgrids, the fundamental benefits of a connected grid still hold.

The fact that connecting grids for reliability was followed by their use for market transactions that created reliability problems says more about our shortsighted approach to implement economic laws by conveniently ignoring basic laws of physics. As the grid was not originally designed for that purpose, we learned the hard way (e.g., Enron and 2003 blackouts in the United States and Europe). In any case, we did learn as electrical grids have been significantly improved through major investments in building the T&D infrastructure and managing that infrastructure through smart grid technologies.

Managing the Grid

We are again at the crossroads of making business and technical decisions that will allow us to optimally and cost-effectively manage the grid. It is expected that companies like Google and Microsoft may move into to the energy delivery business and that business and technical delivery models will change. However, microgrids and traditional grids need to work synergistically to form hybrid grids to fulfill all the consumer needs for resilience and cost efficiency. The business case will depend on benefits achieved by microgrids, including the required level of service, and a continued decrease in pricing of technologies such as photovoltaic panels and storage.

The following are some key benefits of microgrids:

  • capacity, reliability, and power quality improvements
    • a low-cost augmentation and alternative to a utility system construction or upgrade
    • better power quality and outage management for critical and remote customers (e.g., for weather events)
  • sustainability enables an optimal dispatch of renewables (accompanied by emissions reduction) and high customer involvement
  • cost savings, a portfolio of resources managed locally but optimized on the system level
    • enables a hedge against a fuel cost increase
    • net-zero model (still relying on the grid)
  • energy efficiency and asset management with lower operating expenses
    • reduced equipment utilization and losses as generation is closer to the load
    • peak load shaving, in conjunction with market pricing.

Key aspects of microgrid operation are managing life cycle costs, efficiency, reliability, safety, and grid supporting resilience. To optimally address all those aspects, utilities may be well positioned to optimize the use of microgrids and reduce costs for end users while assuring required levels of safety and reliability.

Some questions that could help us address the grid of the future:

  • Is it more reliable and cost-efficient for each house to have a generator, or is it better for community to have two (one for a backup)?
  • Is it more reliable and cost-efficient that each microgrid operates independently, or is it important to integrate microgrids and rely on a utility grid as a backup?
  • How is it best to deliver renewable wind and solar energy from remote areas to load centers? One could envision building cities where renewable energy resources are. Is this the realistic way to build society’s infrastructure?

Regulators may want to support promoting, in addition to developers, utilities to develop microgrids for the benefit of safety, reliability, and cost for consumers.

Furthermore, the integration of intermittent renewable generation and converter-based DGs in microgrids requires proper controls and automatic dispatch, including smart inverters and new tools. An illustration of how we need to learn and proactively identify the consequences of our plans is a German example of currently installed inverters that do not provide required functionality to interact with the grid. Major, expensive replacement efforts are ongoing. IEEE has a major role in developing standards to facilitate deployment of the technology (e.g., IEEE 1547 family of standards) that should help reduce such incidents.

In conclusion, the electrical power and energy industry is in the crucial transition phase as initiatives we take today will affect how grid is operated years from now. The PES industry leadership is critical in addressing it.

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