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,” https://energy.wisc.edu/sites/default/files/Transforming-the-Grid-from-the-Distribution-System-Out.pdf.