On October 5th and 6th, the Midwestern Governor’s Association, with assistance from the Great Plains Institute, convened its sixth transmission summit in Columbus, OH. This year’s meeting focused on modernizing the electric grid, and the emerging technologies and regulatory hurdles that accompany an industry in transition.  Information is available at the Midwestern Governors Association website.

To kick off the meeting, attendees were ushered from the Ohio State University campus to American Electric Power’s (AEP) state of the art training facility in Pataskala, OH to tour the facility and learn about AEP’s Breakthrough Overhead Line Design (BOLD) transmission tower design, which was publicly unveiled in October of 2015. The alternative design to existing transmission towers improves the efficiency and capacity of the transmission lines AEP builds, and reduces roadblocks to siting transmission lines because of its reduced footprint. According to Carlos Casablanca, AEP’s Manager of System Performance Analysis, the BOLD design allows the utility to move more power over the same distance as conventional designs, or the same amount of power over longer distances. AEP has deployed the technology in its systems in Indiana and Texas, and is looking to export the technology to other utilities and regions of the country.

Back on Ohio State’s campus, meeting attendees participated in two half-day sessions on a variety of topics including the implementation of advanced technologies in electricity generation, energy storage, industry preparation for catastrophic events, grid modernization, regulatory preparedness for grid advancements, and transmission in the era of the modernizing grid. Panel participants and attendees brought a wide array of expertise and experience, representing several state regulatory commissions, regional transmission operators, investor-owned utilities, cooperative utilities, non-governmental organizations, technology developers, industry groups, two national laboratories, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Common themes that emerged throughout the meeting helped attendees understand the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead. One key challenge to modernizing the grid in an efficient manner is access to data. Not only access to data, but the assimilation and aggregation of that data into compatible models of the grid itself are critical for moving forward in an increasingly complex world.

Representatives from Siemens and ABB discussed technologies to make the grid more efficient and integrate more distributed generation and advanced technologies without having to rebuild the existing system.

There was also discussion on the future of seams integration projects, which require new agreements on how to select and share the cost of building cross-border transmission lines. Regional planning processes work to ensure all costs and benefits of a given project are distributed equitably. However, where there are seams in the system, such as between Midcontinent System Operator (MISO) and Southwest Power Pool, or MISO and PJM, there are gaps in the models which leads to disparate calculations of these critical cost/benefit parameters. This is why we see a dearth of interregional transmission projects.

To be clear, there are multiple perspectives and nuances to these issues that are not captured here. However, the examples above highlight why we work to put these meetings together. Through these conversations, we help thought leaders, researchers, and policy makers answer questions and understand complex issues from other perspectives.  We create ongoing relationships that help drive the energy community forward toward a more modern, efficient, resilient, cost-effective, and sustainable grid.

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