Grid Modernization: Let’s do Something!

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You might recognize OATI’s beautiful, glass building that sits just off of 494 and France Avenue in Bloomington. What you might not know, is that when the Department of Energy started its smart grid program more than 15 years ago, OATI led the market in the promise of a smarter, more sustainable electric grid for the future. This company that boasts a worldwide staff of 1,000+ has been quietly working on building smart grid solutions that improve grid reliability, increase consumer involvement -- and decrease costs.

Clean Energy Economy MN recently teamed up with OATI, as well as The Energy Transition Lab (ETL), and Minnesota Conservative Energy Forum (MnCEF) to provide a learning opportunity for Minnesota legislators to tour OATI’s microgrid facilities.

The event also convened leaders to talk about the critical and real efforts to modernize the grid in Minnesota. Grid modernization is a broad umbrella term that can encompass a range of advanced technologies and infrastructure developments.

Participants at the event included Jason Burwen from the Energy Storage Alliance who pointed out that battery storage prices are rapidly changing, and therefore price is no longer the biggest barrier to introducing storage onto the grid. Rather, he argued --  working with outdated policies or static structures is now the huge barrier to introducing more energy storage opportunities.

Larry Ward from the Michigan Conservative Energy Forum highlighted that there are many benefits to grid modernization and energy storage which political leaders of both parties can appreciate. He pointed to national security, and highlighted the military’s move to take advantage of the resiliency offered by microgrids.

A business panel that included Mary Brown (OATI), Jennifer Peterson (MN Power), Aditya Ranade (3M), and Brent Bergland (Mortenson) revealed a robust interest from the private sector to deliver innovative solutions for grid modernization and a number of ideas on how it could be implemented in Minnesota:

Some of the takeaways were:

  • Risk is inherent in innovation; we need to carve out space where it is okay to experiment and figure out what will work.
  • Because prices and technologies are rapidly changing -- we need to make models and planning more dynamic so that our assumptions and plans aren’t immediately out of date.
  • There are examples from other states and countries that we can use as models; however, in these early stages solutions are so often site specific our pilots and test sites need to be very targeted, results may not be scaleable or applicable in the next case.
  • We need policymakers to assist in bringing groups together, provide the signals to the private sector on where they can contribute their expertise, innovations and solutions.
  • There are opportunities to help fund and or support emerging technologies, pilots, experiments and figure out what can work.

But the biggest (and most energizing) takeaway was “let’s do something.” We have the resources and stakeholders in Minnesota to accomplish and implement some great projects -- let’s work together to figure out how to accomplish this.

Senator Melisa Franzen (DFL-Edina) represents the Senate District where OATI is located, and welcomed everyone to the event. She asked that policymakers figure out how to get innovations to the market -- a modernized grid is coming, she said, let’s figure out a way to shape it together and create a grid that provides a wealth of benefits and opens up new markets for our MN companies.

– Posted By Amelia