In 1998, Southern California Edison received two applications to connect solar panels atop homes to the electric system. Last year, nearly 34,000 applications were submitted and interest is on a pace this year to exceed 45,000.
Plug-in electric cars, battery storage and other devices also are proliferating. They allow consumers to have alternatives for their energy use by controlling everything from the thermostat to the lights or by adopting new energy-efficient technologies.
While convenient for many consumers, all of these changes create challenges for a power system that was cutting edge when it was designed in the19th century.
Today, SCE filed a proposal with the California Public Utilities Commission describing its vision of the power network of the future and the changes necessary to transform the current grid to more readily meet these needs.
Formally called the Distribution Resources Plan, the proposal identifies a variety of distributed energy resources, such as rooftop solar, battery storage, electric vehicle charging and customer reductions in energy usage. The plan takes into consideration how these resources can be incorporated into what has been a one-way electric system.
The power system of the future will accommodate two-way power flow, with customers who could not only consume electricity supplied by SCE, but some could produce their own as well.
Erik Takayesu, SCE director of Electric System Planning, recently sat down to talk about the Distribution Resources Plan for the 21st century power network and what it means.
Q. What is this new plan?
A. Simply put, it’s a game plan to modernize the grid and to help us better integrate new types of energy resources into our planning and operation of the electric system. Because of the need to reduce emissions, to be more environmentally conscious and sustainable, there is a proliferation of new technology such as solar generation and energy storage. We are filing a plan to enable the utility to integrate more of these resources.
Q. How am I going to benefit?
A. Our focus is providing the most reliable service at the least cost. We want to make it easy for our customers to choose renewable sustainable energy technologies for their homes and businesses by ensuring that these technologies can be integrated safely and reliably into the power network.
Q. What about customers who don’t want solar or these other technologies?
A. SCE will continue to be there, day and night, to provide power as needed for our customers, whether or not they choose solar. We believe that this modernization effort will benefit all customers by making the grid even more efficient, resilient and reliable, as well as low carbon.
Q. Will this impact my bill?
A. The impact to the bill is based on a number of things beyond the scope of the filing. The Distribution Resources Plan proposal describes our efforts to modernize and reinforce the grid. Our investments, which will be spread over a number of years and paid for by all customers, will help build an efficient grid that will manage costs in the long run by avoiding other costs. We believe that the overall bill impact will be minimal.
Q. Solar and electric cars have been around a while and everything works fine so why make these changes now?
A. The percentage of customers using these technologies is still relatively low in comparison to the total number within SCE’s territory, but it is growing at a very fast rate. We are expecting that to continue. Today, things are OK but as more and more of these technologies connect to the grid, there is a greater need to modernize and reinforce the grid to accommodate them and maintain system reliability and safety. In the past, we expanded the grid with more facilities. Now with this plan, we will be leveraging more distributed energy resources like solar and electric cars to provide some of the capacity that used to be provided by the grid.
Q. Can I just get off the grid?
A. There are customers who can choose to invest the money in their own systems to get off the grid, but with current technology, that is very expensive. We believe the grid is fundamental to providing electricity, which has been sort of the keystone of our society for over the last 125 years. We really don’t see that changing. We are going to stick to our core mission to provide that reliable service to our customers.