The American grid is reaching a tipping point. With electric vehicles (EVs) making up 5% of all new vehicle sales last year, there is an urgent need to prepare for the unprecedented strain that will be placed on the U.S. power grid as adoption continues to ramp up—and this is to say nothing of our efforts to electrify other aspects of society at an incredible rate. Given the historic amount of funding being made available by the federal government for infrastructure projects, the next decade will be critical in determining what the future holds for America’s grid and energy future.
Microgrids and Software Solutions
We are accelerating toward an electric future, but when full saturation will be reached is still unknown. To ensure that the grid is prepared to withstand additional strain, we must integrate advanced digitization technology solutions for modernization—particularly when it comes to distribution.
When looking to build out systems nationally, we must approach today’s challenges with a long-term view. However, software can be deployed right now to increase output and efficiency at lower cost when compared to hardware.
For example, we can use data to improve the effectiveness of our current resources with digital solutions including advanced metering applications to enable utilities to better understand consumption patterns. Consumer-owned decentralized energy systems can facilitate forecasts and communicate more effectively to customers.
Microgrid management system software is necessary to intelligently operate and manage disparate loads and demands—even selling back energy to the grid when a surplus is achieved. Microgrid management system software allows users to interconnect multiple microgrids at the scale needed, providing control on a local level, and ultimately, more resilience. Excess energy production within the interconnected grids is automatically distributed to where it is needed most.
Currently, we’re seeing more utility-scale microgrids being developed, such as in the Bronzeville neighborhood in Chicago’s south side. ComEd is deploying the world’s first utility-owned microgrid cluster that will incorporate a battery energy storage system, solar canopies, and smart charging stations for EVs. ComEd is utilizing Siemens’ Spectrum Power Microgrid Management System (MGMS) to integrate the new microgrid with one at the nearby Illinois Institute of Technology. Ultimately, the additional insights and capabilities provided by software will enable increased reliability across the U.S.
Storage Systems and Bidirectional Charging
To meet the oscillating demands of EV charging throughout different points of the day, or various days of the week, it’s critical to properly manage grid capacity with additional local distributed energy resources closer to the charging point. Battery energy storage systems and solar arrays can provide power when it’s needed most, or during peak demands, ultimately increasing resilience and allowing less disturbance to the distribution feeder.
Another key technology is bidirectional charging, better known as vehicle-to-grid (V2G). We’re seeing a future where EV batteries can actually serve as a source of power for residences during power outages, showing what’s possible when we bring our know-how of electrical work, digitalization, and connectivity together.
Ultimately, software is the key to preparing the grid for the demands to come. When compared to conventional investments, software can modernize our aging grid quicker and easier while also helping to better manage distributed energy resources and microgrids, positioning America for a more seamless transition to an electric future.
—Rafa Da Silva Ozaki is head of Grid Software with Siemens Smart Infrastructure USA.