GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan’s leading utility companies are committed to moving away from coal and toward renewable resources. Those changes will require some major changes to the state’s energy infrastructure and it’s up to the state’s Public Service Commission to guide them.

The MPSC submitted its Grid Integration Study Report on June 30, detailing the expected evolution over the next several years and how the grid will need to adapt to new resources and consumer needs.

Dan Scripps, the chairperson of the MPSC, told News 8 that traditional energy sources are centrally located and green resource gathering will be more crowdsourced.

“The grid as it was originally designed was serving traditional loads and moving power from central station power generators, coal plants, nuclear plants and the like in one direction that went from the plant to the user,” Scripps said. “We are seeing two major changes today. One is that the power flows are bidirectional now. The person that has solar (panels) on their roof is able to export some of the electricity that they are generating but not using on site. You’re starting to see electricity flowing in two directions.”

Both Consumers Energy and DTE Energy have plans in place to go coal-free — Consumers by 2025 and DTE Energy by 2032 — and shifting power generation to renewable sources like solar and wind. Solar and wind, specifically, can be gathered by customers and excess energy could be sent back to the utility companies.

The other key difference is the extra pressure placed on the power grid.

“Just the nature of what we are using electricity for. We have new end uses like vehicles, which have traditionally run on gasoline and are now increasingly running on electricity. Those additional demands add challenges to the system. The goal of this study was to really understand the changes taking place,” Scripps said.

That could be easier said than done. Technological advances aren’t always consistent; there can be years of little growth and sudden breakthroughs. Scripps pointed to a key evolution in the electric vehicle market that is making a direct impact on the power grid.

“When Ford rolled out the F-150 Lightning and, all of a sudden, your vehicle parked in the driveway can help power your home when the grid goes down. That is a landmark moment for the grid, and all of a sudden, people, regulators and others are saying, ‘Are we ready for this?’” he said. “The future is here and that is exciting, but we also have some work to do, for sure.”

The study was mandated by the Michigan Legislature after a pair of resolutions passed in 2020 and serves as part of the Commission’s MI Power Grid Initiative that launched in 2019. The MPSC is working with several “stakeholders” to put together the best pan, including utilities, energy technology companies, state agencies and consumer advocates.

Crews work to restore power on Feb. 23, 2023.
The MPSC says one key priority for the future Michigan’s power grid is to make it more reliable and cut down the duration of our worst power outages. (WOOD TV8 file)

The report lays out a series of recommendations to upgrade the grid in ways that will best serve Michiganders in the years to come. It starts with addressing outages.

“There is a lot that needs to happen,” Scripps said. “One of the challenges is that we’ve just got too many outages and they last too long. That has been a core focus of the commission over the last several years … to make the grid more reliable.”

Scripps says it is also important to make the entire process easier to understand.

“One of the key things is data — just the understanding of where the grid is ready and where it is not,” he explained. “That can influence what might be the best places to add additional localized generation or energy storage. Having greater transparency in the data around the grid, the hosting capacity of the grid, I think can help utility planners, project developers and even residents.”

The MPSC isn’t working alone. It is collaborating with the Department of Energy on some best practices and looking at changes that other states have made.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, passed in late 2021, launched the Building a Better Grid Initiative and allocated $2.5 billion in funding for nationally significant transmission lines. It also allocated more than $10 billion for various programs working to help states modernize their power grids.

The DOE believes the infrastructure improvements are “critical to reaching President (Joe) Biden’s goal of 100% clean electricity by 2035 and a zero-emissions economy by 2050.” Scripps looks at the changes with a similar mindset.

“These are generational investments, generational planning that is taking place today,” he said. “We can’t afford to ignore the long-term while dealing with some of the more immediate challenges.”