Prep for Renewables: Standardized Grid Components

During the global transition to small scale, renewable energy, electric utilities will need to revise their rate structures so that infrastructure costs (connection fees) and energy costs are separate charges in monthly electric bills. This change in billing structure will have a significant impact on customer relationships as consumers will become very aware of the cost of facilities. During this transition, it will be essential for electric utilities to control their expenditures.

To moderate utility expenditures, new components with standardized, plug-connected wiring should be designed and implemented across the grid. These new components will be universally transferable from one company to another. Standardized components will plug into new or updated grid elements, just as most appliances can plug into electrical outlets across the U.S. This will eliminate the need for a specialist to perform intricate wiring when installing new components, as is the current practice.

Once standardized, components used in substations, distribution lines, and transmission lines can be quickly and efficiently installed, repaired, or replaced. Standardized equipment can be centrally warehoused and shipped to electric utilities for use “out of the box” in any location across the U.S.

One specific use of standardized components is in new electric warehouses (EW), which are designed to be standard-component ready. The focus of this post will be on the use of standardized components specifically in EWs. However, standardized components can be installed in every sector of the grid, especially once transmission and distribution lines have been updated to electric powerways and electric serviceways. Browse our next generation blog collection to learn more about EWs and other upgraded infrastructure.

Let’s take a closer look at standardized, plug-connected components for use in EWs.

Upgrade Substations to Electric Warehouses

The transition to standardized components should begin by upgrading substations to electric warehouses. An EW is an emerging concept that includes a collection of components usually found in a substation (incoming lines, transformers, circuit breakers, outgoing lines, etc.), along with some new energy storage technologies. Energy storage modules will be added to substations to provide back-up power when not enough power is available. Additionally, voltage control modules must be incorporated into EWs.

EWs will smoothly integrate renewable energy from three key sources: distributed energy resources (DERs), such as rooftop photovoltaic (PV) systems or wind turbines; remote power supplies from central generating stations, such as hydroelectric dams or nuclear power plants; and energy stored at the warehouse. EWs will provide much more flexibility than traditional substations because of the variety of energy sources that can provide customers with power.

Standardized Components

Standardized components with plug-connected wiring will be modular and interchangeable when a part needs to be repaired or replaced. Any EW will be able to use the same replacement parts no matter where the EW is located. Electric utilities would be able to use the equipment directly out of the box, with no customized wiring required.

The cost of an EW includes design (5%), material (65%) and construction (30%). Standardized, plug-connected equipment could reduce design costs by 25%, material costs by 10% and construction costs by 50%. The cost difference for the construction of a traditional EW and a standardized, plug-connected EW is illustrated in Table 1.

While material costs remain about the same, design and construction costs will decrease significantly. Construction duration will decrease as new tools and methods become commonplace, increasing worker productivity. Designs will be consistent across the grid, reducing expenditures on design upgrades. This will lead to an over $2 million reduction in total costs of installing new components when upgrading substations or repairing EWs.

However, increased construction productivity should not result in staff reductions. Rather, workers should be reassigned to focus on other opportunities, including operational excellence activities and enhanced storm recovery preparations.

Component Classifications

Standardized components will have four classifications: instrumentation, control, power, and high voltage. Instrumentation will include fiber and specialty cable. Control will include traditional copper conductors that do not have a significant contribution to heating (I2R losses are less than 10% of the losses of the same gauge power conductor).

Power includes conductors that contribute to heating. High voltage includes all conductors energized above 1000 volts. Gas insulated substations (GIS) and control cables can have as many as 40 conductors in each plug assembly. Power cables can have eight or fewer conductors in each plug assembly. High voltage cables should only have one conductor in each plug assembly.

Standardized, plug-connected cables can be utilized in both switchgear and GIS applications. A 12.47 KV circuit breaker in switchgear can be equipped with three control and instrumentation plug assemblies and three high voltage plug assemblies. A 138 KV circuit breaker in a GIS application can be equipped with six control and instrumentation plug assemblies and three high voltage plug assemblies.

Consistency and Efficiency

Standardized components will provide consistent parts for replacement and repairs of equipment across the electrical grid. Electric utilities will no longer have to spend excessive money and time when repairing or replacing electrical components. Electric powerways and serviceways will be designed for plug-connected component implementation, so that consistency and efficiency become the hallmarks of electric utility repairs.

Opportunities to enhance the design and operation of the electric energy grid should not begin or end with standardized, plug-connected equipment. In future posts, I’ll discuss other novel component applications that will be valuable in providing consistent and efficient updates to grid infrastructure.

To learn more about Prescient’s innovative ideas for the next generation power grid, browse our next generation blog collection. Or contact us to discuss the opportunities and advantages of standardized, plug-connected components at greater lengths.

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