Why Utilities Must Create A Stronger Digital Architecture to Manage the Future Power Grid Amid Climate Challenges

This year, many of us watched with audible gasps as high temperatures shattered records and extreme weather destroyed homes and displaced people across the globe. These uncontrolled events have undoubtedly strained our old, antiquated electric grids, causing outages and downtime. The Biden administration has stepped up with $167 Million in energy grid resilience funding to assist in modernizing these grids using new technologies to improve the digital architecture of networks. Theoretically, the funding will ensure that utility companies can unlock more renewable energy sources, manage grids more effectively, and distribute cleaner energy to their customers. But is this enough to address the growing need to effectively manage and integrate these sources into the existing power grid?

The answer is not that simple. As the share of intermittent renewable energy sources (such as wind, solar, and electric vehicles) increases, so do the challenges of integrating them into the grid. Traditionally, network planning was based on predictable production from centralized power plants and forecasted consumption with identifiable peak periods. However, with these external production sources, the estimation of injection becomes uncertain. That is even true as the consumption load remains stable throughout the day and night, reducing peak demand occurrences.

To make that sustainable future a reality, utilities must adapt their technology, systems, and businesses to become more agile and adaptable. One of the best ways to do this is through a relational digital twin, which models a network through a combination of engineering and operational data sources. A relational digital twin enables utilities to run analytics, predictive models, and forecast how to adjust during disruptions or proactively plan to remediate disruptions before they occur. The sooner utility companies can do this, the quicker they can realize increases in return on investment (ROI), experience fewer outages, and better respond to incidents and outages related to weather events and other climate disasters.

However, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, which is why we also are seeing the distributed energy resource management systems (DERMS) market evolving rapidly. A long-term DERMS investment with flexible, end-to-end technology solutions will lead utility companies toward more rapid grid modernization. That is possible because a DERMS investment allows utilities and grid operators to manage and optimize the integration of distributed energy resources (DERs) into the electrical grid. Taken together, this approach will enable utilities to actively contribute to mitigating climate change and building a more sustainable future.

In the end, recognizing and responding to our changing climate and investing in digital architecture and infrastructure will allow utility companies to bring in more renewable energy sources, scale and manage grids more efficiently, and distribute energy as needed to their customers. Utility companies must embrace the power of digitalization to thrive in the evolving energy landscape. Only then can states and municipalities prepare for a more resilient clean energy future. Creating a stronger foundation of digital architecture will allow states and municipalities to better plan, operate, and maintain their grids to avert climate crises that are on the horizon.

David Kenney is vice president and general manager of North America Infrastructure for Hexagon’s Safety, Infrastructure & Geospatial division.