In the world of all things water, there has been a persistently murky issue for landowners: Which surface water features on their property are subject to federal regulation? After decades of such uncertainty, a final rule proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is providing a definition of which waters are subject to Clean Water Act Section 404 permitting that will guide business owners who are exploring infrastructure development.
For all of the positives, renewable energy and applications that change how and when energy is used — from electric vehicles (EVs) to energy storage — are rattling the conventional power industry, propelling its transformation. But headwinds, including rigorous regulations and consumer expectations of reliability, may make the process feel like a bridge too far instead of a once-in-a-century opportunity.
With great power comes great responsibility, meaning it falls to utilities to ensure that their transmission and distribution (T&D) assets can — and will — perform at the appropriate reliability and safety levels while continuing to meet regulatory and environmental standards.
For power suppliers wanting to be vigilant about the threat that hackers pose to the grid, a March 2019 intrusion may have been a benign warning about vulnerability. When hackers disabled a Utah-based renewable energy developer’s control system for about a dozen solar and wind farms in the West, the grid’s operators were left blinded for more than 10 hours to those 500 megawatts of generation sites. Thankfully, no outages resulted.
Hydropower producers make economic choices constantly to maintain the reliability and safety of their assets while trying to operate efficiently and meet regulations. It’s not easy. It’s also never-ending. Facilities age, rules change, economics evolve.
There’s no doubt that the lure of 5G digitalization is strong. This wave of next-generation connectivity is expected to usher in exciting new opportunities such as wide-scale adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT), along with all its innovative new technologies that promise to change how we live, work and play.
Reliable communications networks are crucial to allow utilities to deliver an uninterrupted supply of power to customers. With high-speed wireless technology at the fore, and the addition of hundreds of new field applications that require communications networks — including Long-Term Evolution (LTE) — a digital utility is built on communications that extend to the edge. Converged networks employing IP-advanced private wireless networks enable these systems to become more efficient and extend deeper into the distribution system, where they’re most needed.
From data integration and program planning to full-on project management, utilities and industries will continue to grapple with fundamental shifts as they work to unlock the potential of a truly integrated organization. With “business as usual” no longer an option, leadership will have to work hard to overcome the traditional organizational and market hurdles that prevent innovation, strategy and action.
Let’s face it: The old days were much simpler, when the flow of power from the utility to end-user was, for the most part, a straight line. There were challenges, but there wasn’t much getting in the way between baseload power generation and the light switch.
Ask anyone who’s been in the utility world for a while, and they’ll assuredly tell you: most utilities have operated in silos, separate groups focused squarely on their own little corner of the business. The silo mentality thrives when members of one department don’t share information with other departments, operate with separate goals, use different tools, and follow different processes than those folks across the hall.
When it comes to grid modernization, where utilities want to spend money — and where they have approval to spend money — are not the same thing. Under today’s regulatory models, utilities typically do not have a way to recapture all the fixed costs required for critical upgrades. This can mean the choice between keeping the lights on today and preparing the grid for the challenges of the future.
As climate change continues to flex its catastrophic muscle, a storm is brewing for U.S. utilities. The scourge of extreme weather events — prolonged droughts, pounding hurricanes and deluges blamed for unprecedented flooding — are joining wildfires as challenges that have utilities scrambling to harden their assets to provide the resilience that consumers and regulators demand. Unrelenting threats of cyberattacks and the rising number of technologies that increase the load and strain on infrastructure assets add to the complexity.
Millions of devices are measuring and sometimes controlling the health of our utility networks, and millions more are coming. As distributed resources drive rapid, increasing demand for data-intensive grid management to ensure high- quality, reliable and resilient power delivery, ask yourself this question: How are you keeping up?
Power sector players got a jolt in January 2019 when Virginia utility regulators rejected the $6 billion grid modernization rate case proposed by Dominion Energy. This “no” followed similar decisions in Kentucky and North Carolina from the previous year. Despite such setbacks, results from Black & Veatch’s 2020 Strategic Directions: Smart Utilities Report survey show that utilities are “all in” on grid modernization plans, and it looks like regulators are moving that way, too.
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