Micatu Incorporated, a leader in cutting-edge optical sensing technology, recently partnered with ZPryme, an energy industry research provider, to conduct a survey to gain insight into how North American utilities are addressing renewable integration. The survey reinforces the urgency of the grid crisis with the revelation that a majority are already integrating renewables on a severely outdated infrastructure but are struggling to find the right measurement tools to manage the grid’s changing topography safely.
A few of the key points from the survey include the following:
- 43% of utilities have already integrated renewables; in five years, 90% will have integrated renewables
- Power quality is a top challenge for 64% of utilities, but 17% of utilities have no plans to address real-time power quality data
- Backfeed is also a challenge for 48% of utilities, but 82% said they do not currently monitor this issue
- 77% of utilities said safety is a top power quality concern
- 21% of utilities plan to integrate EVs onto their grids within the next five years
- 68% of utilities are not satisfied with the quality of data used in grid management systems; 20% will switch sensing solutions to mitigate environmental safety concerns
- Connectivity is key for utilities, with two-thirds of the responding utilities implementing grid connectivity applications
- 51% of utilities say integration with internal and external IT systems is a challenge
More than 100 utilities, including investor-owned, public-owned, municipal, and cooperatives participated in the survey. The respondents are located throughout North America and ranged in size from fewer than 25,000 to more than 2 million customer accounts.
“This survey makes it clear that traditional methods of measurement and management just won’t cut it if we want to prevent large-scale disruption and have sustainable and balanced grids,” said Micatu CEO Michael Oshetski. “Renewable integration is causing a grid crisis now, and the only way for utilities to manage it is through the deployment of safe, accurate measurement tools, such as optical sensors, that will give operators situational awareness of what is happening on the grid.”
Survey respondents made it clear that renewable integration is not something that is coming – it is already happening. More than half of the responding utilities started implementing renewables over the past three to five years. Over the next five years, 90% will have renewables integrated into their grids.
The COVID-19 global pandemic did not appear to slow things down in 2020. Instead, nearly a quarter of utilities saw an increased reliance on renewables in 2020. While lockdowns taking place early in the pandemic depressed overall electricity demand, the low operating cost of renewables gave it priority access to the grid, according to the IEA’s January 2021 report “COVID-19 impact on electricity.”
With renewables and distributed energy sources (DERs) integrating onto the grid at an unprecedented pace, operators are struggling to manage a half-century-old infrastructure that was not designed for the bi-directional energy flow. Survey respondents said the two biggest challenges to renewable integration are power quality (64%) and backfeed (48%).
Power quality issues manifest themselves in the forms of voltage swags, swells, flickers, harmonic distortions, power interruptions, and voltage imbalances. From a safety standpoint, poor power quality can result in electrical fires or overheating of electrical networks. Safety stands out as a top power quality concern for 77% of the survey respondents. Safety is reinforced, with 20% of the respondents stating they will switch sensing solutions to mitigate environmental safety concerns.
The cost of bad power significantly impacts commercial and industrial consumers through additional maintenance, repairs, and expensive machinery replacement. Add in the cost of lost productivity, the inability to produce and sell products and customer service issues, and poor power quality become an expensive problem for end-users.
The top power quality concerns expressed by survey respondents were voltage sags (51%), harmonics (49%), and voltage surges (45%). Although the most effective way to manage these issues is to measure them and analyze the data, 17% of utility respondents have no plans to address real-time power quality data.
Backfeed is another area of concern for the responding utilities as it involves power flowing in the reverse of typical power flows. Renewable integration and the expanded use of DERs increases the number of points for backfeed, resulting in both safety and power quality issues. Despite this concern, 82% of responding utilities said they do not currently measure backfeed.
In recent years, more homes and businesses started supplementing their power with solar and storage options. Within the same timeframe, most major car companies announced plans to develop more EV models to reduce carbon emissions. The emphasis on creating more EVs is driving 21% of the utility respondents to plan on integrating EVs onto their grids within the next five years. This move reinforces that backfeed is an issue that must be urgently addressed.
Although utilities are not measuring backfeed, there are several other uses for which measurement tools are being leveraged. More than two-thirds of the utility respondents identified reliability analysis data as the primary use case, followed by fault analysis (58%) and power flow (51%).
The survey also provided some insight into the increased reliance utilities have on digital tools to better manage legacy infrastructure systems. More than two-thirds of the responding utilities started implementing grid connectivity applications, while half have already implemented outage detection and service restoration solutions.
Leveraging digital tools does not come without some challenges. According to the survey, 51% of the responding utilities say integration with internal and external IT systems is the most challenging aspect of implementing grid measurement and management systems.
The industry widely accepts that the best way to manage renewable integration is by collecting accurate data that will provide situational awareness of what is happening on the grid. However, 68% of utility respondents are not satisfied with the quality of data used in grid management systems.
“The concerns expressed by the utilities in this survey reinforce that Micatu’s optical sensing technology is the most effective platform for managing the modern grid,” Oshetski said. “Our non-conductive optical sensors are safe, affordable, and provide voltage, current, temperature, and vibration measurement far beyond what traditional equipment can provide.”
Get the Full Report, “Managing the Growing Renewables Crisis”
A white paper covering the results of the entire survey is available at https://www.micatu.com/utility-survey .
Micatu is a driver of next-generation optical sensing technology. The company provides solutions for highly accurate grid measurements and analytics through a modular, optical sensing technology platform that is safer, more accurate, and more affordable. Micatu’s optical sensing technology platform helps customers collect real-time data and grid visibility necessary for increased use of renewables and grid modernization. To learn more about Micatu’s product portfolio and industrial solutions, please visit www.micatu.com.
Michelle Hargis, Mercom Capital Group