Ask a teenager how a rotary phone works, and you’ll just get a quizzical look. It is incredible to see how fast innovation has changed our daily lives. We are at the forefront of a similar revolution in how energy is produced and managed. From new ways to generate electricity – like wind and solar power – to new ways we manage electricity – like storage and smart meters – a huge change is overtaking the industry.

MISO’s role is the "air traffic controller" of the electric grid. Our mission is to ensure the continued reliability of the electric grid at the lowest possible cost to consumers.  Part of how we do this is through a planning process that comprehensively considers what the grid of the future is expected to look like. As part of this Planning process, MISO ensures that resources utilizing newer technologies are provided access to the transmission grid in a reliable and cost-effective manner.
 
The Midwest region has traditionally enjoyed an abundance of available power capacity primarily from coal-fired power plants. However, a range of factors, including environmental regulations and lower natural gas prices, is resulting in the closure of older and inefficient coal plants – which means a smaller cushion would be available to meet power demand on the hottest days of the year.  As power supplies get tighter, new technology is stepping in to fill that void.  Across the MISO region, new natural gas power plants, wind farms and other ways to manage energy are taking center stage.  

MISO faced numerous challenges as more states in our footprint looked to add renewable energy to their portfolios.  Some of these had to do with the fact that wind farms are typically located in more rural areas and far from population centers that need that energy – thereby necessitating the development of massive transmission facilities to carry the wind power from where it is generated to where it is needed.  Designing these transmission facilities such that they reliably deliver the wind energy, while ensuring that they continue to justify the underlying business case for the coming decades, was especially challenging. From a system operations perspective, wind being an intermittent resource makes managing a consistent flow of electricity, while ensuring system reliability, rather difficult.  

MISO worked in collaboration with regulators and member companies to look at the growth of wind across our entire region and plan transmission lines to maximize that wind potential for the benefit of all states in our footprint.  We were successful in developing a series of large transmission projects that seek to better connect our states and allow renewable development to flourish in MISO while continuing to ensure an efficient and reliable system.  

Additionally, we developed a new operating mechanism to allow wind resources to be dispatched in a more predictable and consistent manner. Our work resulted in a new way for wind farms to communicate the forecast for their expected output and help MISO dispatch wind power into the system alongside other energy sources while maintaining the highest levels of reliability. MISO now has nearly 15,000 megawatts (MW) of wind power across the region. That’s enough electricity to serve about 15 million households.  

The wind integration example accentuates MISO’s commitment to collaborate with member utilities to create reliable, cost-effective and innovative solutions for our changing industry.  

Another example of that commitment is MISO’s work with Indianapolis Power and Light (IPL) as they developed new energy storage technology. MISO is working with IPL to evaluate how storage best fits into the energy system to meet peak demand and maintain a consistent balance between supply and demand on the system.  Part of that study includes asking similar questions we asked around integrating new wind energy into the system – What is its impact on grid reliability and efficiency? Who would benefit from this technology? What infrastructure expansion might be necessary? Who should pay for this expansion? How does it fit into the existing energy mix?  How would we handle it from a system operations perspective? What new market products might be needed?

Ultimately, as the grid operator, these are the questions we have to ask ourselves and the utilities in our region as innovation changes the energy landscape.  With our focus on ensuring reliability at the lowest possible cost, we are well positioned to evaluate new technology changes and ensure that we are delivering on our mission.  

Clair Moeller is Executive Vice President of Transmission and Technology for the Carmel-based Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO).

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