EPRI's Ray on power-sector shifts, technology plays

As the regulatory landscape for the electric power sector shifts under the Trump administration, there are continued efforts within the industry to make the grid more efficient and reliable. During today's OnPoint, Anda Ray, senior vice president for energy, environment and external relations and chief sustainability officer at the Electric Power Research Institute, discusses a pathway to a more efficient and reliable energy system.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello, and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Anda Ray, senior vice president for energy and environment and external relations and chief sustainability officer at the Electric Power Research Institute. Thanks for joining me. Nice to see you again.

Anda Ray: You too, Monica. Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: So, Anda, as the regulatory landscape for the electric power sector shifts dramatically under the Trump administration, there are continued efforts to make the grid more efficient and reliable. As you consider sort of the current regulatory landscape, what are the elements you believe that could have the greatest impact on grid reliability, and are actions that are being taken by the Trump administration improving reliability?

Anda Ray: So let me step back just one minute, and EPRI is a technology-agnostic company. We're not for profit, for the public, and so what we want to do is look forward into the future to see how we can efficiently get a smooth pathway that is cost-effective and sustainable and good for the public to get there. And you might ask why. There's a cacophony of people out there predicting the future.

Well, the one thing that we do, I think, that's different is we look at the future based on what the technology and demonstrations show us that we might be able to get there, and how can we do it efficiently? So when you talk about technologies and where the system is evolving, that's one thing we know for sure, is that the future will change. And so do we want to help shape that future so that we can help those efficiencies?

Let me give you an example on technologies. You mentioned technologies. Tremendous amount of renewables, tremendous amount of distributed energy generation. And there's lots of people who say we don't need the infrastructure, that expensive infrastructure that has served us well for 100 years, the transmission system. And technologically, they are correct. They can move off of that transmission system. But then what happens? Then we have people that want to connect microgrids, and then they want to connect microgrid with microgrid because they want the resiliency and the backup and they want to be able to use their distributed energy. And then all of a sudden, we start connecting them with long lines, and then we're back to a transmission system. So let's just skip the inefficiencies and help us move using the infrastructure that we have to support and get the value out of some of the new technologies on the edge of the grid.

Monica Trauzzi: Regulation's a key driver for all of this though, right?

Anda Ray: Right. So one of the things that I think is really important is that physics trumps policy all the time. You can't — policy, you can't direct the electron where it goes or the gas molecule where it goes. So it's very important for policymakers and regulators to be informed by the science and the technology. So what happens when I put a distributed energy on the edge of the grid? What happens to a system that was originally created for two-way power flow? What happens when there's technology outside the industry that can pertubate it? For instance, the third wave of energy efficiency, which is power electronics and materials that are totally separate with customer devices that are causing these efficiencies. What about the Bitcoin that changes the digital economy and allows peer-to-peer? What about the block chain which allows these transactions? So you need to look at all these technologies and how they work together to utilize the infrastructure we have.

Monica Trauzzi: And so, as EPRI has been working on creating this pathway to a more efficient and reliable system, you've included the thoughts of advisers and leaders across many different disciplines. What's sort of the common thread of insight that you've heard from anyone as you've been doing this work?

Anda Ray: So there's actually two common threads, and it starts with the consumer. The consumer actually only wants five things, and it's not dollars per kilowatt-hour or BTU or molecules of water. They want comfort, convenience, choice, control, and they'd like it cost-effectively. So how does the regulator serve that need? The other thing we're seeing is that, because the consumer wants to use and manage and produce energy the way they choose, is that we're seeing that the integration of different energy sources are now becoming more interdependent. You can't talk about electricity without talking about gas. You can't talk about gas and electricity without talking about water. And you can't talk about any of them without the advances in information and communication technology.

Monica Trauzzi: We have many new technologies down the pike that many people in the energy space are excited about. What are the next-generation technologies for electric generation that you believe will do the best job of supporting these goals and initiatives?

Anda Ray: So there's not one individual technology, but what I think is happening is the tremendous amount of synergies and opportunities because of the combination of technologies. For instance, when you combine an older power plant with information technology and the new sensors that are enabled by materials and power electronics, all of a sudden, I can create a digital twin, something that Amazon may call a device twin or a device shadow. And I then can operate that digital twin, which is an electronic reconstruction of the actual physical facility, and see what happens when I operate that system, allowing me to get even more efficiencies out of the system, more performance and respond to that consumer who's making the choices they want to make, not ones that people are telling them to make.

Monica Trauzzi: I know that you recently presented all this at the NARUC conference. I'm curious if you think that all the right people, all the right parties are engaging and talking with each other about this.

Anda Ray: What's interesting, even in personal relationships, is we all want to be understood. So if you have people saying let me talk at you so that you can understand my position, what we probably need more of as we bring these people together is to help them understand how it works together and what do you need to know. The consumer does not have to understand synthetic inertia and rotating equipment and voltage regulation to know that I want my power and I want to be convenient and I want 72 degrees. So when you bring the technology, the operations of the utility, the regulator and the policymaker, it will take all four of those aspects to drive the market transformation that allows us to get to the future in a way that satisfies the needs for society effectively, economically and sustainably.

Monica Trauzzi: Is a top-down national approach most effective or should the states and the regional transmission organizations, regional systems be the ones who are leading the way?

Anda Ray: There's never, ever a one-size-fits-all, right. In some of the cases where you have the service or the product crossing multiple state lines or multiple geographic jurisdictions, whether it's in the states or in Europe and other countries, then oftentimes a higher central level, in U.S. case, a federal level would be appropriate. In those cases that are handled at a local organization or a local geographic area, those are often best handled by the people who are — have the jurisdictional responsibilities there.

Monica Trauzzi: All right. We'll end it right there.

Anda Ray: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: Lots of moving parts. Very interesting.

Anda Ray: Thank you very much, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: Thank you for coming on the show.

Anda Ray: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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