The Grid has a “Head Cold”

Published January 14, 2022

I often speak of the issue of grid congestion caused by attempting to connect ever increasing amounts of distributed generation. The electric grid was not designed for what is happening to today. It was architected assuming centralized power generation and morphing it into a distributed generation model is no simple task. This has, and will continue to be, a bottleneck to installing increasing amounts of renewable energy.

According to Bob Cleaves of Dirigo Solar,  Maine has more solar development than the rest of New England combined, and that solar investment shows no sign of slowing down.

“What Maine has experienced the past 18 months is that twice the number of projects have been proposed than the grid can possibly accommodate," Cleaves said.

I’m not sure if those statement are entirely accurate. Massachusetts is well ahead of Maine in solar development. And deployment of solar in that state has already been stymied by grid congestion issues, so Mr. Cleaves concern is well founded.

“It’s close to 2,000 megawatts of projects looking to be connected to the grid,” said Harry Lamphier, administrative director of the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

Central Maine Power (CMP) has also been culpable for delays and the escalating cost of interconnecting renewable energy projects. I have no doubt that CMP has contributed to the problem. That’s what many utilities who face the daunting task of modernizing the grid have done. With that said, CMP didn’t create the problem. They are merely taking advantage of it.

So I give credit to Maine for seeking assistance to solve the problem. Most states have

waited too long. (Refer to my aforementioned comment about Massachusetts.)

The Department of Energy is cognizant of the issue and have stood up a new program to provide technical assistance to help transform our electric generation landscape. Maine is one of 21 states that has been approved to participate. Over the next year the state will be working with experts at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory to identify new strategies and technologies to modernize the state’s grid.

“Understanding emergent technologies and how that can be leveraged for Maine’s grid - we don’t have a lot of expertise in that area, to be frank,” Lamphier said. “Obviously, the Berkeley National Lab does.”

Knowing one’s limitations is half the battle. Let’s hope the collaboration yields tangible results.