Next Gen Utilities as Complex Adaptive Systems
September 26, 2017

The rapid buildout of renewable energy technologies, applications and assets in the distributed generation space has created both existential threats and enormous transformative potential for utilities riding the current wave of technological advance and consumer demand. The accelerated activity in the knowledge, power, and transportation sectors requires a complex adaptive systems (cas) approach that can yield order in a chaotic decision making environment and create an emergent coherence that provides adaptive capacity acquisition via physical, cognitive and social shifts. These shifts become operational as compressed frames of coadaptation which are then coded into coevolving networks of agents and expressed through algorithm and technological advance. These agents and adaptive networks can then create a portfolio of capacity gains through intuitive and sophisticated interactions that are not achievable with centralized utility models.

Argonne National Lab has developed an Electricity Markets Complex Adaptive Systems (EMCAS) model at its Center for Energy, Environmental and Economic Systems Analysis that combines agent-based modeling and simulations. These models are built for regulatory institutions interested in market design and consumer impact issues, transmission and market operators that study system and market performance and utilities that analyze strategic development issues. The EMCAS model gives agents their own self-organized set of objectives, decision-making rules, behavioral patterns and signals. These signals are interpreted to generate improved performance and greater value. This enhanced performance is required to effectively manage ever increasing levels of complexity in utility ecosystems, markets and the overall biosphere.

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) focuses on research that will shape the future of electricity in areas such as smart and grid connected homes in net zero energy communities and an integrated energy and natural resource system. This integrated system includes digital and networked energy systems, faster development of cleaner energy technologies, opportunities for efficient electrification and new business models for energy infrastructure. The Smart Grid Energy Research Center (SMERC) at UCLA provides thought leadership via partnerships between utilities, government, policy makers, technology providers and others. SMERC also conducts research on market opportunities that can reduce losses, improve efficiencies, increase grid flexibility and reduce power outages. Additional work includes competitive electricity pricing, the integration of electric vehicles and more responsive markets that also meet consumer and societal needs.

Adaptive IOUs and electric cooperatives can design their next gen models with a cas approach that takes the utility from power provider to strategic partner in an ever more advanced and interconnected energy system. Coops in particular have the ability to design their business models in an organic, consumer oriented way that captures the knowledge and technology flows that will power future sustainable growth. Innovation Pointe in Stillwater, Oklahoma is a smart grid micro-community and research campus designed, developed and managed by Central Electric Cooperative (CEC). The campus is anchored by their LEED Gold headquarters building which is powered by a 500kW ground mounted solar array with geothermal heating and cooling, sophisticated systems monitoring and data boards, battery storage and a fleet of system monitoring drones. CEC has also launched the National Research Consortium (NRC) whose mission is to pursue corporate investment and academic research partnerships for site specific solutions to the energy needs of community, corporate and industrial clients.

National Clean Energy Week, which runs September 25-29, is an ideal moment to broaden the dialogue around next gen utility models as complex adaptive systems and the RedwoodAdaptive team looks forward to adding its voice to the conversation.

David Brent Grantham, MSc, MA