To Save the Grid from Climate Change, We Must Digitize All the Way to the Edge

All eyes in the energy industry – and the country – are on Texas right now, as the state grapples with rolling blackouts in the wake of frigid Arctic weather. As Axios’ Ben Geman astutely noted, there’s connective tissue between what’s happening in Texas, the “fiery emergencies” in California, and climate crises elsewhere in the country:  

“Electricity grids and infrastructure need to be better equipped for a changing climate or they can have deadly consequences.” 

While Texas faces unique challenges related to weatherization of their generation assets and preparing for a new peak in demand due to extreme cold weather, the problem unfolding there highlights the urgent need for robust grid modernization. 

Earlier this year, in a piece published by the New Jersey Star-Ledger, our President and Chief Operating Officer Jess Melanson called on utilities to treat climate change like the crisis it is and modernize the grid with the same sense of urgency that they bring to storm response. 

We’ve all seen the heroic actions that go into a widespread storm restoration. Mutual aid crews are called in from across the country and with the urgency of a military operation, they work around the clock to repair broken infrastructure. All because the utility knows the health, safety, and economic well-being of their customers is on the line. 

But where is that sense of urgency to prevent catastrophic failures on every other day of the year? And why do we continue to wait for disaster to strike instead of taking proactive steps to modernize the grid and combat climate change? 

In an excellent New York Times piece about the crisis in Texas, reporter Brad Plumer writes: 

“The task of building resilience is becoming increasingly urgent. Many policymakers are promoting electric cars and electric heating as a way of curbing greenhouse gas emissions. But as more of the nation’s economy depends on reliable flows of electricity, the cost of blackouts will become ever more dire.”

Climate change, the transition to clean energy, and electrification are all driving an urgent need to modernize and digitize the grid, all the way to the edge. The edge of the system is no longer the end of the line for a one-way power system; it’s now where supply meets demand, and where the grid meets customers and their distributed energy resources. 

Yet, despite billions of dollars in “smart grid” investments, today’s grid – especially the edge – remains largely analog and inflexible, when it needs to be digital and dynamic. 

At Utilidata, we’ve developed an industry-leading grid-edge software that provides the visibility and control necessary to manage the complexity of a modern, decarbonized grid. 

Our software leverages data from every point on the distribution grid, from the substation to the smart meter, to:

  • Visualize the system for operational planning
  • Monitor for anomalies that are indicative of reliability or security issues
  • Optimize power flow to save energy, reduce peak demand and integrate clean energy
  • Operate distribution system assets

Our platform can be implemented by utilities for roughly the same amount they spend to mail paper home energy reports to their customers. And it can deliver a much broader range of benefits, including:

  • Providing real-time visibility into system conditions, reducing the reliance on outdated models that do not take climate data into account
  • Making it easier to integrate solar, electric vehicles and other distributed energy resources at scale
  • Unlocking greater value from other grid investments, like smart meters
  • Delivering system-wide energy efficiency without requiring any consumer action
  • Making grid data accessible to regulators and market participants, which provides the transparency necessary for enhanced oversight and ongoing improvements

Preparing the grid to withstand the impacts of climate change and enable a clean energy future is undoubtedly a complex problem. But digitization must be part of the solution. The digital revolution has already transformed almost every other aspect of our lives – it’s time we bring smart software solutions to our outdated energy infrastructure, too.