Changing Energy Mix in U.S. Creates Challenges for the Grid

Over the past decade, sources of electricity generation have become more diverse as a result of national security and environmental considerations. There has also been an increase in demand for reliable, sustainable and clean energy around the world, which is creating a heavier burden on an already overstressed and aging global power generation infrastructure.

Recent increases in distributed energy resource penetration, rise in renewable energy generation, and adoption of plug-in electric vehicles, combined with the retiring of key coal and nuclear power plants, have also introduced new challenges such as power grid integration, system stability, congestion, atypical power flows and energy storage gaps.

Modern power grids are complex, tightly interconnected systems. Extraneous conditions at key locations can have unpredictable effects over a wide area. In fact, grid outages cost the U.S. economy an estimated $78 billion in annual unplanned downtime losses. What’s more, climate change and population growth are driving global demand for reliable, sustainable clean electricity. Those factors are putting a heavier burden on the already overstressed and aging power infrastructure worldwide.

As the world’s largest economy, we can ill-afford to have an unreliable electrical grid hamper the production and transport of goods, as well as the movement of people who perform services for a living. Today, the services sector accounts for nearly 80% of our $21.5 trillion GDP.

Unfortunately, the existing grid suffers from a lack of effective distributed monitoring and predictive analytics, further increasing the probability of widespread breakdowns due to the cascading effects from a single fault.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) estimates that grid asset failures cause 31% of non-weather-related unplanned outages. With increased unpredictability from aging assets, extreme weather, security issues and renewable power generation capabilities, there is a growing need for effective distributed monitoring and predictive analytics to make truly smart grids a reality.

System Analytics

To realize the vision of smart grids, accurate high-fidelity streaming asset information is critical for reliable delivery of power from generation facilities to customers. The impact of structural degradation, equipment failures, capacity limitations, and natural accidents and catastrophes that cause power issues and outages, can be largely avoided by online condition monitoring, diagnostics and predictive analytics.

PARC’s team of engineers has developed MOXI™ IIoT System Analytics. MOXI uses an innovative low-cost fiber-optic sensing system which is designed to help improve the maintenance and management of grid infrastructure.

Monitoring various assets of the grid can greatly improve performance and resilience by preventing outages of transformers, predicting damage to wind and turbine components, and understanding and managing degradation of electrochemical energy storage devices, to give just a few examples.

Re-Thinking the Power Grid

As the saying goes, the only constant is change. Eventually, at some point over the next 20 years most likely, the majority of our electricity will be generated by renewable energy sources, including solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, and wood and other biomass.

In the meantime, it’s in our collective best interest to optimize the performance of an aging electrical grid, powered by traditional fuels, while carefully transitioning to renewables.

Given the importance of reliable electricity sources to our economic vitality and national security, it is imperative to have full awareness of the assets within the grid, and to have a strategy in-place for proactively limiting the number of disruptions, and for reacting promptly to any disruptions which occur.

Learn more about how the MOXI technology suite can help improve power distribution maintenance programs.

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