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Toward a Better-Managed Grid

Speakers and exhibitors at an IEEE meeting in Dallas, Texas, draw attention to proven and new tools that could help make the U.S. grid systems much more robust

4 min read

Wider deployment of certain hardware--semiconductor-based power controllers, superconducting fault current limiters, high-voltage, direct-current lines, and the like--would make electricity grids a lot more robust [see "Five Technologies to Keep Blackouts at Bay"]. Just as important, however, are grid-management tools--both software and hardware--that have been found to work but are not used nearly as well as they might be in the United States. Such tools figured prominently in discussions at the IEEE Power Engineering Society's Transmission and Distribution meeting in Dallas the week of 8 September. Those mentioned most frequently by attendees follow.

Special protection schemes. When power outages cascade precipitously, as in the Western U.S. blackouts of July and August 1996 or the great northeastern-midwestern blackout of 14 August 2003, human operators scarcely have enough time to determine what is going on or to develop a coordinated response to keep supplies and loads balanced without overloading transmission lines or generators. Accordingly, power systems can be safer if the most likely breakdown scenarios have been identified in advance and if preprogrammed strategies have been devised to deal effectively with each scenario as soon as it's recognized--either by human operators or by computerized monitoring systems.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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