Illinois effort to help policymakers understand emerging grid technology
Illinois regulators have launched a collaborative, statewide effort to share knowledge and build consensus around the myriad challenges facing a modernizing, 21st-century power grid.
The effort, called NextGrid, aims to evaluate emerging grid technologies and to educate policymakers on the complex economic and engineering challenges that come with digitizing and decentralizing what for a century has been a largely analog and centralized system.
The Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC), the state’s public utility commission, will manage NextGrid with the assistance of an unnamed “expert, independent third-party facilitator.” Utilities, communities, academics, environmental groups, consumer groups and other constituencies are invited to participate in the process, which will culminate in reports to be published in early and late 2018.
NextGrid, which was announced last week, comes on the heels of the passage of the Future Energy Jobs Act late last year – one of the few legislative accomplishments of a gridlocked Illinois General Assembly. That bill provided a much-needed subsidy for two of the state’s cash-strapped nuclear plants while also expanding funding for renewable development and efficiency programs in Illinois.
“Some of the key elements the Commission will be looking at over the next several years in the wake of the Future Energy Jobs Act are the factors of where on the grid different energy assets create value, when during the day and the year those assets create value, and how they create value to support reliability and efficiency,” said Andrew Barbeau, a consultant retained by the Environmental Defense Fund to work on smart-grid issues. “These are complex questions with no easy answers.”
Utilities, advocates, academics and analysts across the country largely agree that the U.S. power grid – the elaborate, inconspicuous web of electric production, distribution and consumption that keeps the lights on – is in dire need of an upgrade. Earlier this month, researchers at the MIT Energy Initiative published a report proposing one possible framework for regulators that aims to “establish a level playing field for the provision and consumption of electricity services and enable the integration of a cost-effective combination of centralized generation, conventional network assets, and emerging distributed resources, whatever that mix may be.”
Precisely what that power system mix is – and how it balances a dizzying array of new power innovations and constituent demands – is still up for debate.
“[T]he advent of distributed generation and storage, demand response and energy efficiency, interconnected smart devices and appliances, microgrids, electric vehicles, the use of big data and analytics, environmental objectives, and a host of new technologies, products, services—spurring the development of entirely new energy markets—is challenging existing network design, capability, and regulatory policy,” reads the ICC resolution announcing NextGrid. ….