eLab Accelerator 2019

GridMod Squad

Project Objective

The GridMod Squad will formulate a vision for effective grid modernization and distribution planning that optimizes the deployment of distributed energy resources (DERs), enables grid decarbonization, and increases resilience. The team will develop stakeholder guidance and a GridMod evaluation framework that regulatory stakeholders can use to evaluate grid modernization proposals. Drawing from their experience with recent state grid mod proposals, the team will also define and distill best practices, strategies, and tools that enable positive, efficient and impactful grid modernization across the United States.

Team Members

  • Ric O’Connell, Executive Director, GridLab

  • Sara Baldwin, Vice President, Regulatory, Interstate Renewable Energy Council

  • Joseph Pereira, Regulatory Director, Citizens Utility Board of Minnesota

  • Ed Smeloff, Managing Director, Vote Solar

  • Steven Rymsha, Director of Grid Solutions, SunRun

  • Karen Olesky, Economist, Nevada Public Utilities Commission

  • Curt Volkmann, President, New Energy Advisors

  • Chaz Teplin, Manager, Rocky Mountain Institute

Project Description

Across the United States, utilities are requesting approval for large investments in the electric distribution system in order to adopt new technologies, improve interoperability and communications, support vehicle and building electrification, incorporate more DERs, and improve grid reliability and resilience. Though some grid investments are clearly needed and support these objectives, some proposed plans may have significant drawbacks including increased costs without a justifying cost-benefit, likely stranded assets, and restricted grid access. In addition, a growing number of states are initiating grid modernization proceedings, evaluating and initiating distribution resource plans, and establishing new rules around grid investments. Given the vanguard nature of the grid modernization, few regulatory stakeholders are equipped to assess whether a proposed distribution system plan investment will effectively meet the stated objectives. Other stakeholders are often skeptical of grid modernization’s value or benefits.

The GridMod Squad will provide new tools for regulators and stakeholders so that they can design regulatory processes and make informed decisions that support their emissions, cost and reliability goals.

Guided by the carbon reduction potential of grid modernization, our e-Lab team will work to:

  • Better understand and quantify the carbon reduction potential of grid modernization investments that enable more DERs, support transportation and building electrification, and provide grid flexibility.
  • Identify the gaps in understanding of costs and benefits and develop effective ways to evaluate the benefits of distribution system improvements relative to identified objectives, including carbon reduction.
  • Describe how customers and third-party providers can support grid modernization to achieve their resilience and decarbonization goals.
  • Describe approaches that balance consumers costs and achieving effective modernization.

Our team will aim to develop a clear, concise framework to support better analysis, decision-making and evaluation of grid modernization efforts such that they support clean energy, carbon and resiliency goals.

Progress Made to Date


In December 2018, Energy Foundation, GridLab, IREC, and America’s Power Plan convened a diverse set of stakeholders well-versed in distribution system planning and national grid modernization efforts. During the meeting, these experts identified challenges and opportunities to grid modernization efforts, and explored the need to further define the nuances of what constitutes “good” distribution system planning, grid modernization, grid hardening, and resilience investments. Attendees specifically noted the value in further refining these concepts and developing a formulated framework for action. The GridMod Squad will build on these initial explorations and accelerate efforts to develop useful and applicable resources, approaches, strategies and tools to support more impactful grid modernization efforts across U.S. states and territories.


During the 2019 e-Lab Accelerator in Sundance, the GridMod Squad worked to understand the challenges facing states considering large capital investments to modernize their electricity grids. Today, many states and utilities are struggling with complex issues as new technologies and demands create both opportunities and challenges for the distribution system. To help with this challenge, the GridMod Squad created an outline for a “GridMod Toolkit” that regulators, advocates, legislators and utilities can use to plan, develop, and evaluate grid modernization plans. The toolkit will include 1) nine principles that effective grid modernization supports, 2) an idealized step-by-step process that states can use to modernize their grid, and 3) a checklist that regulators and stakeholders can use to evaluate grid modernization proposals.

Project Background Information

The following articles and reports provide useful background information on grid modernization and integrated distributed planning:

GridLab publications on Grid Modernization, Integrated Distribution Planning, and the role of DER

Clean energy technologies threaten to overwhelm the grid. Here’s how it can adapt. (Vox.com, 27 December 2018)

How Dumb Distribution Spending Crowds Out a Smart Clean Energy Future (Greentech Media, 5 September 2018)

Optimizing the Grid: A Regulator’s Guide to Hosting Capacity Analyses for Distributed Energy Resources (IREC, December 2017)

Integrated Distribution Planning Concept Paper (IREC/Sandia National Labs, October 2013)