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May 16, 2018

Clearing the Murky Future of Utility Planning: Highlights From EUCI IRP Summit

by Dave O'Connor, Director of Distributed Energy Solutions, Atonix Digital

Utilities and regulators are continuously working to provide stakeholders with a transparent, clear view of electric supply and distribution “roadmaps” but the task of developing these Integrated Resource Plans (IRPs) is becoming increasingly complicated for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Aggressive legislative goals leading to increasing adoption of distributed energy resources, such as solar installations and batteries.
  • Technological advances that supplant old choices with new opportunities, such as batteries to provide grid services.
  • Increasing customer interaction with the electric system through electing time-of-day rates, participation in demand response programs, and selective charging of electric vehicles. 
  • Unknown growth rates.

At last month’s summit hosted by EUCI in Portland, OR, Atonix Digital and Black & Veatch both shared new approaches that have seen initial success in addressing emerging issues and suggested “next steps” that will be required to continue to deepen the understanding and communicate risk, while still offering transparency. 

Key themes that I observed, both from our team and others included:

  • Large scale deployment of high intermittency resources, such as wind and solar, combined with the inherent unpredictability of weather, necessitates the ability to examine electric systems at sub-hourly increments. Our work with the Hawaiian Electric Companies has shown the value of this critical analysis, both in managing grid operations but also for formulating demand response programs that work on a more granular sub-hourly level.
  • Uncertainty and risk should be dealt with explicitly but representing and communicating those issues is a need that is becoming more pressing. It became quite clear that the summit attendees were students of the art and fully capable of understanding risk profiles, technological uncertainty, etc. But it also became clear that many stakeholders would definitely prefer a single “right” answer as opposed to a distribution or array of possible outcomes
  • A more integrated view of electric system planning will be required, both to satisfy various jurisdictional issues but also to provide a more thorough and complete picture of future investments needs. This implies a “meeting of the minds” between transmission/distribution planning and generation planning while still incorporating key initiatives such as carbon reduction, electrification, growth of the prosumer sector, and emergence of new business actors such as Community Choice Aggregators (CCAs).

While the future of IRPs is in many ways muddy, it’s clear that the process is here to stay and will benefit from continuous, collaborative technological innovation. Atonix Digital is excited to participate in this vibrant future! Contact us to learn more.