A Realistic Future with Grid Hardening Technologies

In 2015, Marty McFly found hoverboards, self-tying shoelaces, and a billboard for Jaws 19. In the year 2024, we don’t have self-tying shoelaces or a massive Jaws franchise. (Honestly, it’s probably a good thing we didn’t have to sit through fifteen more Jaws movies). While the year 2024 has seen a lot of innovations–electric cars, smart grids, grid hardening technologies, hydrogen planes, refrigerators that take a picture so you know when you’re running out of Oatmilk–we are increasingly playing catch-up to the climate crisis. 

Everyone in the clean energy industry, from policymakers to innovators, feels the pinch of time. To avoid the worst consequences of climate change, we need to hit net zero by 2050. The health of the planet is in an hourglass, and every grain of sand that falls sends shockwaves. We are racing to restore our climate and slow down the effects of climate change. 35 of 38 countries from the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) have pledged to achieve net zero by the middle of the century.

However, there has been a noted lag in action to match those commitments. Making net zero a reality requires moving away from fossil fuels and towards clean energy. Many countries need help with that energy transition. So much of global economic well-being relies on manufacturing, which, in turn, depends on reliable power. It’s hard to move forward without collapsing the dominos of our economies. With that in mind, a successful energy transition hinges on transmitting more clean energy without collapsing our current system. 

The current grid is not up to the task of transmitting more clean energy, though. The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that 80 million kilometers of grid need to be added by 2040! Meeting that monumental goal requires modernizing the grid, which is essential to reaching net zero. Net zero is not the goal in itself; it is the beginning of a change that will provide a liveable planet for future generations.

The IEA lays out a roadmap to net zero: modernize the grid that can connect clean energy sources to end users. Those modernizations can occur in many forms: new metering technologies, advanced overhead conductors, superconductors,  strong utility poles, and microgrids

“Wait a minute, Doc!”

There’s a path forward and a plan! So, what’s the problem? Most of the current grid was built between the 1950s and 1970s. Grid infrastructure is aging, failing, or derated. While trying to meet net-zero goals to prevent further climate change, those changes are already wreaking havoc on a vulnerable grid! Utility poles and transmission lines, designed for a different era, are battered by increasingly frequent, increasingly extreme weather events.

Hurricanes cause high winds and heavy rain loading conditions, bringing down utility poles and transmission lines. Ice and snow storms in places like Texas or NYC also cause damaging and deadly power outages. The current infrastructure was not designed for the intensity or frequency of today’s weather events. Even brand-new infrastructure is showing strain from heat and high wind! Steel poles are bolted into concrete bases that crack under extreme heat and high winds. Utilities around the nation and the globe are scrambling to find ways to simultaneously transform the grid to carry more clean energy while juggling the ever-increasing number of current system failures.

“Great Scott!”

What do we do? There are two main categories of helpful solutions.

Grid-Enhancing Technologies

Grid-enhancing technologies (GETs) support grid operations while more permanent, large-scale projects are completed. One of the main GETs is Dynamic Line Rating (DLR). Many companies have found ways to use AI to dynamically rate the amount of power transmitted and distributed over lines lto avoid outages. Current grid-enhancing technologies also include smart meters and behind-the-meter solutions. However, these innovations are limited by the amount of power that can be transmitted through transmission wires (ampacity). Power has heat, and ACSR cables overheat and sag when increased energy is passed through them. 

Other tools used for Dynamic Line Rating are sensors, power flow control devices, and analytical tools. These grid-enhancing technologies balance electrical supply and demand. Smart meter behind-the-meter solutions are helpful, but for a problem at that scale, they are limited in their capacity to address the aging grid. Another grid-enhancing technology is replacing standard ACSR cables with composite core cables or composite-wrapped cables. These technologies, however, do require significant downtime.

The linemen who are trained to replace power lines are highly skilled. However, the transmission line replacement process is lengthy and not without risk. Overall, it is costly—costly in time and money. In the struggle to reach net zero by 2050, time is the most precious resource. It’s the one item that doesn’t show up on the budget line. As companies race against time to implement grid-enhancing technologies that will buy them time to strengthen the grid and transmit more energy, the need grows faster than grid capacity.

Grid Hardening Technologies

Another category of innovations helping utilities navigate the energy transition is grid-hardening technologies. Grid hardening technologies protect the grid against threats, whether those are cyber threats, vandalism, animals, overheating/sagging wires, damaged poles, etc. The biggest threat to the grid is extreme weather events. High wind loading combined with rain, ice, or snow easily overwhelms the load-bearing capacity of the poles and wires. 

There are multiple grid-hardening technologies that are designed to be applied to new or existing utility poles. Some prevent animals from climbing utility poles. Others are made of intumescent mesh that release a fire-resistant substance in the presence of wildfires. However, these solutions require time and money and only solve one problem at a time. For utilities to purchase multiple solutions and apply them only adds to the operational expenses.

“Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one.”

In order to meet these necessary climate goals, we need fast, affordable grid enhancing and grid hardening technologies. GridWrap is focused on meeting all of those criteria. We recognize that time is flying by, and we strive to provide technologies that enable a faster, safer energy transition. Our Composite WiRe Wrap technology is a grid enhancing technology that allows for even derated lines to transfer double the current amount. Our PoleWrap technology is a grid hardening technology that protects utility poles and significantly increases their load-bearing capacity. Both technologies are affordable, quick to install, and help utilities meet their climate goals faster. 

So no, you don’t need to sit through fifteen more Jaws movies. And yes, you might need to tie your own shoelaces for a while more. But the future just got a whole lot brighter. Beyond net zero, we are laying the foundation so future generations can go net negative. With GridWrap, we will create a resilient future by unleashing the potential of the grid. 

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