The Evolution of Direct Current Distribution Networks

In an article for T&D World, Navigant Research explains how direct current technologies can support the growth of distributed energy resources

In 2018, distribution level resources on power grids are expected to surpass centralized generation annual capacity additions. Over time, the gap between distributed and centralized generation — historically dominated by coal and nuclear plants — is expected to grow wider, creating a case for increased use of direct current (DC) technologies.

In an article for T&D World, Peter Asmus, research director at Navigant Research, said while a growing number of companies are interested in leveraging DC, there are obstacles to implementation.

"The core challenge facing DC distribution networks lies with the need for standards and open grid architectures that can help integrate the increasing diversity of resources being plugged into distribution grids,” Asmus said.

Despite these challenges, Asmus highlighted a variety of technology trends that are creating promising markets for DC distribution networks:

  • The declining costs and increased efficiency of solar PV and wind turbines are both natively DC generation sources.
  • A surge in grid penetration of energy storage devices, also natively DC, is occurring due to steeply declining costs.
  • Rapid increases in DC loads in buildings, ranging from electronic devices to lighting, are occurring.
  • Functionality attached to cell phone, tablet, and related personal communication devices, all of which are natively DC, is increasing.
  • A cadre of major industry participants are investing in new distribution network hardware and software controls. 
  • A growing army of smaller technology innovators is bringing fresh approaches and technology solutions online.

“The fundamental architecture of today’s electricity grid technologies, which is based on the idea of a top-down radial transmission system predicated on unidirectional energy flows from large centralized power plants, is becoming obsolete,” Asmus said, adding that this evolution, and the proliferation of DER, will continue to create room for new DC architectures.

Read the T&D World Article

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