Behind the Meter: Implementing Distributed Energy Technologies to Balance Energy Load in Virginia; An Actor-Network Analysis of the 2011 Texas Power Grid Failure

Fauvel, Chloe, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Clarens, Andres, EN-Eng Sys and Environment, University of Virginia
Small, Arthur, University of Virginia
Laugelli, Benjamin, University of Virginia

My technical work and STS research both address the electric power grid, looking
specifically at how energy eventually reaches consumers from the original point of generation.
However, the two projects differ in their time perspective and location. My STS research looked
to the past by analyzing how the Texas power grid failed during an unusual, severe winter storm
in 2011, while my technical work looked to the future by investigating the implementation of
distributed energy technologies on balancing load on Virginia’s power grid.

My technical project investigated implementing distributed energy technologies,
specifically heat recovery chillers and thermal energy storage tanks, to balance load on the grid
at both an institutional and statewide scale. These load-shifting technologies are critical to
reducing peak energy consumption which is important for ensuring the reliability of the electric
grid, accounting for the variability of renewable energy generation, reducing annual institutional
electricity pricing (which is based on the previous year’s peak energy demand), and managing
the effects that climate change might have on our power grid. Using the University of Virginia’s
Fontaine Research Park as an institutional case study, my capstone team designed a predictive
model to forecast when peak energy demand will occur to inform Facilities and Management of
the potential installing a thermal energy storage tank might have on reducing peak load. We then
extended the scope of our research to the entire Commonwealth of Virginia to simulate the ways
in which these types of interventions might play out for the whole state.

My STS research focused on how the power grid failed to provide reliable energy to its
customers. Actor-network theory analysis brought my STS research to conclude that the Electric
Reliability Commission of Texas (ERCOT), the independent system operator for the electric grid
in Texas, was responsible for the power grid failure by failing to adjust actor roles in the
network. While ERCOT was ultimately responsible for the network failure, my research also
found many other adversary actors, mainly weather and failing generators.

The knowledge gained from working on these two research projects simultaneously
added value to each. The winter storm that hit Texas in 2011 was unusual at the time.
Unfortunately, more unusual weather events will occur as climate change worsens. My STS
research on the Texas power grid failure highlighted how important working on the future of
load-shifting technologies is to ensuring electricity reliability. The failure of the past created
urgency in my technical work. Similarly, my technical work identified other actors, the heat
recovery chillers and thermal energy storage tanks, that ERCOT could have recruited in the
network to better ensure the integrity of the Texas power grid. In summary, working on my
technical project and STS research together allowed me to use experiences from the past to
motivate work for the future.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Load Balancing, TEMOA, Distributed Energy Technology (DET), Thermal Energy Storage (TES), Heat Recovery Chillers (HRC), Virginia, Actor-Network Theory, Texas, ERCOT

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Systems Engineering
Technical Advisor: Andres Clarens, Arthur Small
STS Advisor: Benjamin Laugelli
Technical Team Members: Thomas Anderson, Daniel Collins, Harrison Hurst, Nina Mellin, Bailey Thran

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