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Modernizing the Grid – the Challenges Utilities Face


Grid infrastructure is moving away from large, centralized power stations and towards a more resilient grid with many different inputs from large renewables like solar or OW, to microgrids and EV battery storage. This article looks at some of the challenges and opportunities.


In 2019 the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) required a budget of $114.5 million for the Grid Modernization Initiative (GMI) to develop new tools, concepts, and technologies that will enable the grid of the future. The DOE says, “Our extensive, reliable power grid has fueled the nation’s growth since the early 1900s; however, the grid we have today does not have the attributes necessary to meet the demands of the 21st century and beyond.”

The FY21 budget request focuses on technologies that promote electricity affordability, generation and hybrid systems, resilience modeling, advanced sensing, energy storage, system flexibility, cyber-physical security, and research that goes beyond the LCOE (Levelized Cost of Energy).


GMI Objectives


The GMI works across the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to create the modern grid of the future. A modern grid must have:

  • Greater resilience to hazards of all types 

  • Improved reliability for everyday operations 

  • Enhanced security from an increasing and evolving number of threats 

  • Additional affordability to maintain our economic prosperity 

  • Superior flexibility to respond to the variability and uncertainty of conditions at one or more timescales, including a range of energy futures 

  • Increased sustainability through energy-efficient and renewable resources


“The United States’ energy system is going through dramatic changes. This places a high premium on investing wisely in the energy infrastructure we need to move energy supplies to energy consumers.” Dr. Ernest Moniz, Secretary of Energy, 2013 to 2017.


The focus for this project is the Multi-Year Program Plan (MYPP), started in 2015.

The plan says, “The current business-as-usual trajectory for the electricity industry will not result in a timely transition to a modernized grid. Innovation in the electric power sector is inhibited by regulatory, market, and business model uncertainties. Moreover, large investments initiated today may not fully come on line for ten years or more, and may remain with us for decades afterwards. Our nation finds itself at the point to make investment decisions that will create the modern grid of the future. The Federal Government recognizes this is a public good issue, and is in a unique position working with states, industry, and other stakeholders to accelerate efforts through research, development, and demonstration (RD&D), analysis, and outreach and convening initiatives. “

There are three factors behind the GMI and MYPP – firstly developing new technology, including sensors, transformers and inverters.

Secondly, creating improved software for analysis and management of many new inputs and outputs for the grid, such as renewables.

Thirdly, improving business models to take advantage of greater efficiency to deliver cost savings to customers.


The grid will not be unidirectional, from power producer to consumer but now energy will travel in both directions, as consumers create their own power production facilities and integrate them into “Smart City” developments. EVs, battery storage, and management improvements such as AI will mean there are opportunities for agile companies in the sector to find new niches to prosper.

In the light of recent natural disasters, including Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, it is clear that the US grid infrastructure needs a thorough updating to ensure it is able to meet the electricity needs of the 21st century. That will include integrating the estimated 1 GW of OW wind power currently projected to be built by 2024.


The US offshore wind market is probably the most rapidly-developing renewable energy sector in the world.

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By Julian Jackson – writer on technology, arts, blockchain and cryptocurrencies

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