The Pacific Energy Institute is pleased to announce the release of its new white paper, “A Gambit for Grid 2035”. This paper by the Institutes’ Fellows examines the evolution of the power industry and structural considerations as we accelerate towards a clean and distributed electricity future. Our intent is to provide an informed and balanced perspective on the complex issues related to a cleaner and more distributed electric system to further industry discussion. This paper is intentionally not prescriptive, but rather reframes the issues to consider what is needed moving forward.
This paper looks at the underlying evolutionary factors in the business ecosystem, including the inherent conflicts between the traditional supply-oriented customer perspective and the demand-oriented customer perspective. The implication is that customers’ interests are not being fully considered under the current model and that the existing regulatory construct overly constrains the ability of all businesses to address rapidly changing customer preferences, technological advancements, and business innovation. The current model is also leading to significant social equity issues as certain businesses, technologies and their wealthier, home owning customers are given preferential treatment at the expense of most customers.
This paper also considers the existing electric grid and markets in the context of technology maturation. The conclusion is that we are very likely reaching the inherent design limits of the physical grid’s performance potential. For 25 years we have systematically made a series of incremental improvements to the efficiency and reliability of the power system. But we have reached the point where just adding more technology and market tweaks to an obsolete physical grid architecture is not going to meet the clean and resilient energy need for a vastly electrified society in 2035 and beyond. This is analogous to trying to improve the performance in an old rusted ‘57 Chevy by putting in an electric motor without redesigning the steering, brakes, suspension, frame and body. The fundamental grid design creates performance limits that the industry has not fully addressed. Recent system failures in Australia, California, Texas and elsewhere provide additional signposts that new grid designs and market structures will be required to enable clean electricity as the primary fuel for the 21st century.