Strategies to Address America’s Electrical Grid Challenges

BALTIMORE, MD, September 8, 2022 – New audio is available for media use featuring Pascal Van Hentenryck of the Georgia Tech College of Engineering. He is the Associate Chair for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the A. Russell Chandler (the third) Chair and Professor. He discusses strategies to address America’s electrical grid challenges. This content is made available by INFORMS, the largest association for the decision and data sciences. What follows are 4 questions and responses, these responses were provided on September 6, 2022.



Question 1: What are the major challenges facing electrical grids in the United States right now?

Time Cue: 0:26, Soundbite Duration: :47

“Well, because of the push to integrate more renewables the grid today is much more volatile. If you think about it fundamentally the grid has not changed much in the last century. It used to be the case that operators could predict load extremely accurately, and they could always rely on conventional generators to deliver electricity reliably and efficiently. But this is now changing, and forecasting errors are now increasing significantly. So to integrate renewable energy, let's say wind or solar, the grid now faces significant uncertainty, both in load and generation, and both you know in front and behind the meter. And this would be further exacerbated with the electrification of the transportation system, and with extreme weather events.”  



Question 2: What are the most significant factors contributing to the problem?

Time Cue: 1:20, Soundbite Duration: :32

“Well, it's clear that as a society we need to move away from fossil fuels to a generation mix that is mostly based on renewable energy. But as I said, this raises fundamental challenges in how the grid is planned and operated. But we are moving from a highly predictable system to a grid with significant short term and long term uncertainties. So, in a given region solar energy is only available during the day, wind is often very hard to predict, and electricity is still very hard to store despite progress in battery technology.”



Question 3: What can policymakers and decision-makers do to mitigate the problems?

Time Cue: 01:58, Soundbite Duration: :34

“Yeah, right? So, policymakers now have a fundamental role to play. So, the grid currently is organized around markets. But these markets were conceived in a completely different era. They need to be adapted to this new reality and this transition period is particularly difficult. We may now need to compensate generators not only for the electricity they produce but also for their ability to reduce risk, or to increase reliability. So, you really need a paradigm change in market design and it will have to be led by policymakers.”



Question 4: How would you describe a comprehensive, systematic approach to addressing these challenges?

Time Cue: 02:39, Soundbite Duration: 1:35

“Well, it's a multifaceted problem. So, first the grid organizations should really start reasoning and managing risk and uncertainty much more explicitly. So, we really need to reconsider all the market clearing algorithms and make them risk aware. And that includes the security constraints and the commitments which decide which generators to commit to produce electricity the day before as well as the real-time market which is run every five minutes.  So, these are very complex optimization models but they have to move from deterministic optimizations to stochastic and robust optimizations. And doing that requires significant change in how you price the market, as I mentioned before. Second, we also need to reconsider what transmission and generation is being planned. And that requires models which are at a completely different fidelity, much higher fidelity that what is available today. And then we really need to look carefully at how the system is operated as a whole, looking at more decentralized organizations. Because of distributed energy resources, the boundaries between the transmission system and the and the distribution systems are blurring. And finally, and this is interesting from a technical standpoint, I believe that because of the real-time requirements of grid operations and their complexity, machine learning is going to have to play a much more important role and will complement optimization technology.”


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Strategies to Address America’s Electrical Grid Challenges

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