The United States electricity infrastructure is facing three particularly severe challenges now and in the years to come:
Over the next ten years, demand for electric power is expected to increase by about 25% while current plans provides for an increase of electric transmission capacity of only 4%. This shortage of transfer capability can lead to serious congestion of the transmission grids. (One well-known example is 'Path 15' from Southern California to Northern California. Limited transmission capability over this path leads to blackouts in Northern California when import from the Pacific Northwest is not available.)
Open access to transmission systems helped create competitive electricity markets, but also led to a huge increase in the number of energy transactions over the grids. Today, power companies are relying on the wholesale markets over a wide area to meet their demand. These new, heavy, and long-distance power flow transfers are challenging the operation and control of the power infrastructure.
The power infrastructure is vulnerable to physical and cyber disruption. Sources of vulnerability include natural disasters, equipment failures, human errors, and deliberate sabotage. As power grids become loaded with long distance transfers, already complex system dynamics become even more vulnerable. And in a vulnerable system, a simple incident such as an equipment failure can lead to a cascading sequence of events, leading to widespread blackouts.
What new technologies are needed to meet these challenges?
Flexible AC Transmission Systems (FACTS) technologies can be expected to give relief to California's power system even within a one-year time frame.