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Utilities eye grid-enhancing technology incentives amid US infrastructure push


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Utilities eye grid-enhancing technology incentives amid US infrastructure push

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A growing number of electric utilities are looking at grid-enhancing technologies to gain better visibility into the operational capacity of their transmission systems.
Source: Jeff Clow/Getty Creative via Getty Images

A growing number of electric transmission and distribution companies are experimenting with grid-enhancing technologies as the U.S. Congress advances legislation that would offer billions of dollars in matching grants for those types of investments.

One of the latest companies to implement a grid-enhancing pilot project is Duquesne Light Co., or DLC, a utility with more than 600,000 customers in western Pennsylvania.

On Aug. 31, the DQE Holdings LLC subsidiary announced a new partnership with LineVision Inc., a company that manufactures no-contact sensors that give transmission operators the ability to implement dynamic line ratings.

Dynamic line ratings give transmission operators close to real-time visibility into a power line's potential operating capacity based on a variety of data inputs, including ambient temperatures and line sag.

LineVision already has dozens of customers globally and counts National Grid USA, Xcel Energy Inc., Dominion Energy Inc. and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District among its top U.S. clients.

DLC is starting small with just 12 sensors on a single line, but the company has high hopes for the technology's potential going forward, said Josh Gould, the utility's director of innovation.

"We are very excited about the potential for using this technology on other transmission lines," Gould said in an interview. The director declined to share details of the deal for confidentiality reasons.

DLC is situated within the PJM Interconnection's 13-state footprint, where more than 90% of new proposed generation projects are either wind, solar, storage or hybrid resources. The company does not own any generation but needs to respond to projected changes in the power supply mix, Gould noted.

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In addition to allowing customers to avoid expensive congestion costs, dynamic line ratings can also help incorporate additional renewable energy generation onto a system by allowing transmission operators to safely run power lines at a higher capacity, Gould said. The technology also gives transmission operators health readings on conductors, providing more insight into the potential useful life of a transmission asset.

"They offer at least the potential for something of a free lunch," Gould said. "A dollar of avoided congestion costs is a dollar directly tied to a customer's bill, so that's a one-for-one relationship. There's huge potential customer impact."

Tiffany Menhorn, director of sales for electric utilities at LineVision, added that DLC was a natural fit for a pilot project because its service area is located in coal country. "The lines are actually there, but they're really old," Menhorn said in an interview.

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LineVision Inc.'s V3 sensors collect real-time transmission facility data, including line temperature, sag, horizontal motion and anomalies.
Source: LineVision Inc.

'Orders of magnitude in growth'

DLC is implementing its pilot program as a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by the U.S. Senate last month includes $3 billion for a federal smart grid investment matching grant program.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is also set to hold a Sept. 10 technical conference on shared savings incentive approaches as part of a broader line ratings proposal (RM20-10) that stopped just short of requiring transmission operators to implement dynamic line ratings where feasible.

"From a regulatory standpoint, we want to be prepared for a number of different potential outcomes and futures, and this is a project that helps us prepare for that," Gould said.

The two policy developments come as LineVision is experiencing "orders of magnitude in growth," Alex Houghtaling, the company's vice president of sales, said in an interview.

Utilities are gravitating to dynamic line rating technology because it typically costs about 5% of the total relative unit cost of building new transmission, but dynamic line ratings can effectively increase a line's available capacity by up to 40%, Houghtaling said.

A February report produced by the consulting firm The Brattle Group also found that widespread deployment of technologies such as dynamic line ratings could produce $5 billion in annual energy cost savings while reducing carbon emissions by 90 million tons per year. The study was produced on behalf of the Working for Advanced Transmission Technologies Coalition, whose membership includes LineVision.

The investment arms of traditionally risk-averse investor-owned utilities are already making bets on dynamic line rating technology as well. In April, LineVision announced that National Grid PLC subsidiary National Grid Partners Inc. was among the participants in a $12.5 million series B financing round.

"These utilities now aren't just using it, they're investing in it," Houghtaling said.