The rise of indigenous gas, the fall of coal and the growth of utility-scale renewables are all important trends in the transformation of the US electricity system – as is the growing role of smaller-scale decentralized generation and, most recently, electricity storage. A new report from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) points to rooftop solar, battery storage and advanced metering infrastructure as key drivers of the transformation of ‘antiquated distribution systems’.

Yet most US utilities have some way to go before they truly manage to integrate distributed generation and, on the demand side of the meter, energy efficiency measures as methods for optimising the operation of their systems.

The ACEE report: The Role of Energy Efficiency in a Distributed Energy Future, found that most utilities are not currently using energy efficiency in distribution system planning, although several states are pursuing new approaches to using efficiency to displace traditional distribution infrastructure upgrades.

The report quotes successful initiatives in some states, notably California and New York, which are way ahead of most others, to meet demand reduction targets that allow utilities to defer or avoid expenditure on grid reinforcement.

Meanwhile, US based consultancy ICF has written on the merits of CHP in this area, saying that while most CHP installations were and are designed primarily to cut energy costs for the host organisation, its benefits can extend beyond that to offering reliability and resilience to grid operators. ICF’s Supporting Grid Modernization with Flexible CHP Systems report says that CHP can indeed be used by utilities to support their modernization strategies.

The IFC report quotes a recent US Department of Energy study of the California electricity grid that identifies a series of potential benefits of using CHP. These include reducing both grid operating costs and stress on the grid. And these benefits could be realized beyond California, adds the DOE.

As these organizations agree, it’s not happening in a big way yet, but CHP and other decentralized generation technologies, together with electricity storage and demand-reduction measures, can add up to a very powerful transformation tool for the US grid.