Stallard — From Centralized to Dynamic Distribution Systems

This lesson was perhaps the most interesting one in the entire course to me because of the topic — how to transition a century-old centralized or central station electric system to one of local generation or decentralization. The Wisconsin Energy Institute’s paper “Transforming the Grid from the Distribution System Out” offers clear ideas on how to transition to a dynamic distribution system and new energy marketplace while ensuring profitability for the traditional electric utility and reliable and affordable retail electricity rates for consumers — all through a new, dynamic use of the distribution system. This idea bridges the gap between developing renewable energy resources for environmental and economic reasons without regard for supply and demand requirements to a system that investigates the market and sites generation according to load requirements, availability of supply or resources, storage and available base load generation to supplement and stabilize demand. The dynamic distribution system and marketplace discussed in the article seemed to me to be the design that provided the best promise of transition. It integrates the best of central utilities and the best of distributed energy resources without creating a system of winners and losers. (Wisconsin, Page 4) The effects of greater decentralization of power generation, if done correctly, are effective integration of renewable energy resources, local reliability with a degree of independence, local control over resources and ultimately price, jobs and a boost to the local economy.

Many new businesses will have to evolve in this transition. The battery storage technology will have to be perfected to improve reliability. Small and large energy consumers will have to be educated and encouraged to participate in micro-grid or dynamic distribution systems. Residential energy consumers will also have to understand the new electricity distribution model. Engineers specializing in load controls, heat recovery, energy storage and carbon minimization technology will have to be involved. Flexible utility business models will have to be developed and promoted. Educational opportunities will exist with regulators and legislators as incentives, laws and regulations will have to be changed. Finally, the transition will require the talent of many people and firms who have the vision and knowledge to recreate the central distribution system of today to a more sustainable electric system of tomorrow.

I would absolutely love to be the person who could figure out how to recreate the electric cooperative we have today to a new cooperative that embraces a dynamic distribution system and new energy marketplace of tomorrow. I have been interested in this for quite some time and the Wisconsin Energy Institute paper advanced my thinking on the topic quite a bit. I am not an inventor or engineer, but I think I could create a business that would advance the concept of transforming our existing system to the dynamic distribution system described in the paper. I think demonstration projects are very important in the transition. Often times, people need to be able to learn from an example; and that’s what demonstration projects offer. I think I could start with our local community college, promote the development of a micro-grid that integrates with the existing electric cooperative distribution system and results in a reliable, affordable and sustainable model for others to use in the future. The business would have to either employ electrical engineers, financial experts (to secure funding) and construction workers or would have to be able to partner and collaborate with the local utility and engage the local community to be successful. I prefer the latter, in which I would be a consultant, as it is a way to start out slow, with little capital investment and grow as conditions permit. Once the demonstration project was completed, the business could use the same concept in developing micro-grids at wastewater treatment plants, hospitals and other major industries. Other business opportunities include community project coordinator, project proposal developer and educator (either through developing school curriculum to teach the new concepts, training the new skills existing linemen and utility workers will need or marketing the concepts to potential project owners).

Beihoff, Bruce, Jahns, Tom, Lasseter, Robert and Radloff, Gary. Wisconsin Energy Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison, July 2014, “Transforming the Grid from the Distribution System Out,”

5 thoughts on “Stallard — From Centralized to Dynamic Distribution Systems

  1. Christine, you always write such profound posts! I am learning such a great deal from you, I feel like I should be paying you $500 per credit! I really like how you discuss learning from models. I believe, you would be successful starting out as you describe. Once a project proves energy independence or substantial energy reduction, you will have clients lining up. You know much more than I about the connection fees and utility transmission fees, and having worked in that industry you have the knowledge of what to expect and how to go about doing it. I believe, you have a great idea and should start a consulting firm to profit from your knowledge!! Let me know when you are hiring?
    Thanks again for the info!!

    • Wow! What a compliment! Thank you so much for your kind words. It’s been a rough couple of weeks at work; and this was a real boost. Thanks again.

  2. Hi Christine,
    I agree with you. This was one of the best lessons that I have had in the ESP program. I work in the electrical generation, distribution and maintenance field so this was a very interesting read for me also. I wish this lesson was broken up into 2 lessons to give us more time to read through the material. I think this is very essential to our degree. Some of the readings were long but they kept my attention. The article, “The Failure of Electricity Deregulation: History, Status and Needed Reforms” was interesting. There is a myth that deregulation will lower the electrical rates. The readings point this out if you read between the lines. I would like to have seen more about the structure of the utility companies. They are really protected by the stock market. They are required to maximize their profits for their stockholders. All of this gets tried together. This is why I think we haven’t seen a major change in the electrical infrastructure in the United States.
    Thanks for your insight and sharing your knowledge with us throughout the class.

    • Hi Mark. I would be interested in learning more about what you do. Perhaps after we complete this class we could stay in touch? Anyway, with regard to your post, I too enjoyed the reading material in this lesson. Deregulation has been a rocky road, so to speak. I touched on California’s failed experiment when I wrote the history of my local cooperative for our 75th anniversary. At the time, retail electricity rates were projected to drop by 20 to 30 percent. Enron changed all that; and the market manipulation that occurred sent rate shockwaves throughout the Pacific Northwest. Here’s an interesting article that discusses your point about how everything is connected and why deregulation doesn’t always result in lower prices. Thanks for replying to my post!

      The Center for Responsive Politics. “Electricity Deregulation.” Retrieved 11/10/14 from
      Stallard, Christine L. Coos-Curry Electric Cooperative, Inc. 2014. “Follow The Line.” Published through Ruralite Services, Inc.

  3. yes I too really loved this lesson. I really got into the readings and I too point to the Wisconsin Energy Institute paper quite frequently. good ideas on the community college involvement to provide examples. You’re correct in saying many people learn well from example. I am one of those. If I have to theorize, forget about it. My spatial reasoning is nil, but I learn well from participation and excel. A business idea is also that micro grids need to be managed. Local stakeholders can be elected from a local committee to perform that job. Keeps it local..…consumer-power/

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