Former National Grid COO sees line-scoring technology as a game-changer for US grid

➤ Transport operators need more visibility on power grids.

➤ Dynamic line ratings are one of many network enhancement technologies.

➤ Utilities are looking for ways to leverage existing infrastructure.

Chris Kelly is ready to hand over the keys to America’s electrical system to the next generation.

Kelly began his career at National Grid USA 34 years ago as an associate engineer. Since then, Kelly has held various engineering and operations positions within the company, ultimately bringing a “boots in the field” mentality to the role of COO.

In April, Kelly joined the advisory board of LineVision Inc. after retiring from subsidiary National Grid PLC. Backed by National Grid, the company manufactures non-contact power line monitoring equipment that enables power transmission operators to implement dynamic line ratings, or DLRs.

Chris Kelly, former COO of National Grid USA
Source: US National Grid

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently proposed requiring long-range transmission planners to consider dynamic ratings as part of a rule to help ease the nation’s fight to build enough power lines to accommodate more renewable energy. .

One of a number of emerging grid-enhancing technologies, DLRs can unlock spare capacity on existing power lines by producing a constant stream of real-time data for transport operators on factors such as the speed of the wind, cloud cover and line voltage sag.

National Grid USA’s parent company is already working with regulators to roll out DLRs across the UK. FERC is also getting feedback on whether it should require transmission operators to use dynamic line ratings after issuing a rule mandating the use of ambient temperature-adjusted ratings, a more accurate than traditional static line ratings.

Incumbent transport owners and regional network operators in the United States have said DLRs would be expensive and difficult to implement nationwide, but Kelly has a different view.

S&P Global Commodity Insights recently spoke with Kelly about the challenges and opportunities presented by DLR technology and its connection to the clean energy transition in the United States. The following conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

S&P Global Commodity Insights: When did you discover network enhancement technologies and how have you seen the technology evolve over your career?

Chris Kelly: I actually got into the energy business in 1988. At that time, computers were just starting to become available. I got into the industry because I really saw an opportunity for technology overlay. We used electromechanical counters. … We have used many field teams to carry out many meter readings in substations, etc. We were very manual.

I had just seen a revolution happen with computers and electronics, and I was eager to join the energy sector. Network enhancement technologies have always been part of my career. We have always tried to find opportunities to layer technology.

The first real “things are different” moment was in 2008 with Washington’s American Recovery Act. We implemented a $60 million smart grid program and obtained approval from the City of Worcester, MA to complete an end-to-end smart grid pilot project with 15,000 customers that included infrastructure advanced metering, smart switches and tariffs to make time. use rate.

It was an opportunity for the next generation. As I enter the twilight of my career with National Grid, I am simply delighted that the next generation is planning and operating the system in a radically different way to what we have done in the past.

What are the main barriers to the widespread adoption of network enhancement technologies such as DLRs?

The challenges we face as a public service are threefold. As a utility, we want to be a plug-and-play entity within the game. We don’t want developers to have to think about how and when they connect, so we want to design and operate our system in a way that allows barrier-free interconnections; it’s number one.

Second, we have climate change beating down on us. We’re starting to see fiercer storms on a more frequent basis that linger longer in our territory, so we need to spend money on resilience.

But we also have infrastructure right now that needs to be in place until we can make that transition to a more resilient system and a more network-enhanced system. It’s the third leg of a three-legged stool that I see.

The challenges are really, how can we spend money in these three areas while keeping the bill impacts to a minimum for customers? Being part of a regulated industry, regulators watch very closely how and where we spend our money, and we have those three slices. We have to optimize as well as possible.

In terms of low-hanging fruit, what are some of the easiest policy solutions you see that could remove some of these barriers to adoption?

The challenge we’ve always had is that utilities are allowed to rely on predicted load expectations. We are allowed to build in advance. What we cannot do is build for generation; we are not allowed to do that.

Every time we need to touch the system, it can be a long process. The more we can build before the build, I think that’s really a chance for us to get a head start and become this kind of plug-and-play entity where nobody thinks about utility.

Are there any key lessons or lessons to be learned from the UK experience? They are obviously more advanced than the United States in terms of DLR deployment.

National Grid is having some very good discussions with some of their regulators focused on the question, “Hey, if we’re not spending money on traditional transmission, is there an opportunity to get clawback in other parts of the system that will help pay for this new design?”

What is interesting in the UK is that they are decommissioning power stations, but they are also interconnecting large systems on their transmission network, which creates some stability. In the Northeastern United States, state incentives are driving a ton of interconnections with the distribution system, which flips the whole design scenario for us.

How do you see DLRs being factored into decarbonization plans in places like New York and Massachusetts?

We can put these systems in place without experiencing transmission failures. It’s huge. We need more situational awareness data about the system than we’ve ever had before on how the system is performing in a more frequent and granular way.

The biggest difficulty small businesses face when trying to hire utilities is that when we have to install new equipment in our electrical system, it takes a while. It’s high voltage, you have to do it safely, and it’s not fast.

The awesome thing about [technologies like LineVision’s] it’s non-invasive. We can put their equipment on a tower, they watch using their technology, and we don’t have to suffer a line outage to get the data we need. This is absolutely a game-changer for me.

S&P Global Commodity Insights produces content for distribution on S&P Capital IQ Pro.

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