This document, while only representing a beginning of the task of creating a full U.S. electric grid reference architecture, provides a number of key insights into existing limitations of the 20th Century grid vs the needs of the 21st Century grid, many of which are not recognized as the essential structural limitations that they actually are. It also provides selected views into a possible future where the grid (especially at the distribution level) becomes a platform for energy innovation, with coordination (not centralized command and control) of many types of resources, allowing multiple control and market mechanisms and approaches to coexist on and connected to the grid simultaneously without compromising electric reliability. Finally, it illustrates how the formal discipline of system architecture in the specialized form of grid architecture makes it possible to devise rigorous architectures, to understand the impact of various architectural choices on resulting system qualities, and to evaluate architectural options and competing architectures quantitatively.
Throughout the paper architectural insights and policy implications are identified in colored text boxes; key questions are identified and answered in text boxes as well, all in order to highlight takeaways.
It is not the contention of this document that there is exactly and only one “best” architecture but rather that the use of these methods makes it possible to find good architectures for the grid, to understand cost-constrained tradeoffs, and to shape the essential guidelines and “rules of engagement” by which the grid should evolve in the 21st Century.