PAC hosts lively day exploring grid transformation

On May 23, the ISO New England Planning Advisory Committee (PAC) hosted a special day of presentations and discussions focused on the ongoing transition to an electric grid powered by renewable and distributed energy resources.

Welcoming a full house of state officials, policy and regulatory stakeholders, and market participants, ISO Vice President of Planning, Stephen Rourke, opened the meeting with a brief overview about the region’s evolving grid. He explained that the ISO is actively taking renewable, storage, and distributed resources into account through its planning, operations, and markets processes, and that the region will need better forecasts, flexible resources, and transmission improvements to plan and operate the system.

Grid Transformation Day at the Double Tree, Westborough, MA.

Throughout the day, experts ranging from national laboratory engineers to transmission operators to renewable energy service companies explored the challenges and benefits of deploying and integrating greater amounts of renewable electricity into the grid while maintaining a high level of reliability. The event featured speakers who are nationally recognized engineers involved in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), as well as many regional energy policy leaders. All of the speaker presentations and biographies are available here.

Keynote speaker Aidan Tuohy, an engineer specializing in distributed energy resources (DER) integration at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), articulated several technical issues and future scenarios for achieving high levels of distributed renewable energy integration in an increasingly complex physical and economic system. The first panel explored these technical issues in greater depth, led by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) engineer, Steve Widergren. Widergren and his fellow panelists agreed that very high levels of renewable energy penetration are possible, but that the transition will need to be well coordinated and managed through greater demand-side responsiveness and improved frequency control, among other critical infrastructure enhancements.

From left to right: Stephen Rourke, Chris Root, Brian Gemmell, David Forrest, Vandan Divatia.

The second panel (shown right) featured utility stakeholders that are living and breathing grid transformation in New England today. Chris Root, COO of the Vermont Electric Power Company (VELCO), said Vermont is like the “Hawaii of the East,” because it offers a present-day glimpse into our future grid. As an example, Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom region is home to 450 MW of renewable generation capacity, only 50 MW of load, and limited export capacity. This dynamic challenges a system that was designed to instantaneously match supply and demand.

The third panel (below), featuring regulatory and business experts, agreed that while there are true challenges, such as the one posed in the Vermont example, there are also many solutions. Examples of innovations and solutions include the microgrid projects unfolding in Boston, smart regulatory policy, and the growing deployment of battery storage.

From left to right: Stephen Rourke, Jessica Bian, Nathan Wyeth, Bradford Swing, Stephen Pike, Mike Henderson.

Additional key themes raised throughout the day by panelists and participants alike included the need for a proactive process for integrated transmission and distribution planning, better collaboration among policymakers and grid operators, as well as how to pay for hardware and software upgrades. Participants posed insightful questions about the future regulation of projects that operate in both state and regional markets, how to improve the visibility of behind-the-meter solar PV, and many more.

ISO New England is committed to working with all of our region’s policymakers and stakeholders to ensure that our grid transformation achieves the goals of the states while keeping the lights on. This important discussion will continue within the ISO and across New England, including at the upcoming Regional System Plan (RSP) Public Meeting on September 12 in Boston, MA. Registration for the RSP Public Meeting will be live in the coming weeks and available on the ISO Training and Events Network (ISO-TEN).  

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energy markets, energy storage, renewable resources, transmission planning