October 1, 2012 - From the October, 2012 issue

OC CleanTech: Bob Foster, Mark Irwin Opine on Smart Grid

This past month CleanTech OC held it’s third annual conference, drawing entrepreneurs, industry leaders, investors, and policy makers involved in clean technology from throughout the region and state. The following are excerpts from an OC2012 Smart Grid plenary that featured ISO Chair and Mayor of Long Beach Bob Foster and Southern California Edison’s Mark Irwin. They both address how technological innovations being developed in the United States seek to make the grid smarter, more secure, and more capable of incorporating renewable sources of energy so that our economy can be powered with a reduced carbon footprint and significantly greater efficiency.


Bob Foster, Mayor of Long Beach

“While all of us advocate for a smart grid, we also have to make sure the grid is managed. And one of the problems is distributive generation and rooftop solar since that’s invisible to the ISO.” -Bob Foster

Mayor Bob Foster: In addition to being the Mayor of Long Beach, I’ve also been a long-time advocate of energy efficiency. I’m the person that wrote the statute that implemented the first Title 24 standards way back in the early 70s, and I’m also an electric vehicle user. I’ve had an all-electric vehicle for almost 11 years now. It’s the most reliable vehicle I’ve ever had, and I love it. 

But I want to focus today on the smart grid. The ISO, which I chair, manages the entire grid in California for reliability. It also operates the electric market in California, the day-to-day and the real-time markets. It’s a very large job, and the truth is, that given the introduction of intermittent renewables, and given the introduction of distributive generation, the job has gotten even more complex. 

The grid today is actually less stable than it was ten years ago, and it has to be kept under sophisticated management today. While all of us advocate for a smart grid, we also have to make sure the grid is managed. And one of the problems is distributive generation and rooftop solar since that’s invisible to the ISO. We don’t know where it is, and there’s anywhere between 1000 and 12,000 megawatts of distributive solar out there. 

On the other side you have a lot of renewables coming into the system, intermittently requiring a lot of ramping capability of conventional gas-fired power plants. We need those gas-fired power plants to fill in for those times when power from renewables comes on and off the system. 

We’re living in a very complicated world; we’re going from a time when we had a very centrally stationed and transmitted system to one that is going to be much more distributed. In fact, I would argue that electricity is the last major industrial sector to go from centralization to decentralization. I can see a time 40 or 50 years in the future when the grid will simply be for backup. I think that is likely to happen in the future, but a lot has to happen before we get there. 

In the meantime, we’ve got to manage what we have very carefully; unfortunately, we do not have the tools in California today to do that effectively. In order to make the grid system work, we need proper markets, and in California we thus far have been prevented from having a market for both generation as well as demand-side management. We don’t have those; we’re not sending any price signals. On the retail side, consumers are shielded from price signals, so we don’t have any real dynamic pricing. Without those tools, electric vehicles, energy efficiency, distributed generation cannot operate well.

Those are the things that we must have in the future. The ISO is a very strong advocate of the smart grid; I’m personally a strong advocate of it. At Southern California Edison we’d like to see more and more renewables introduced, and particularly we’d like to see greater strides in energy efficiency. But we need the market tools to make that happen. 

In California we are kind of half-in, half-out. As you now know, I think markets are the most effective and efficient way of sending signals to people. 

Mark IrwinMark Irwin: I am the Director of Technology Development at Southern California Edison, within our advanced technology department. I’ve really got two major functions within the advanced technology organization: number one is the activities that we’re engaged in around energy storage and transportation. We have a number of energy storage activities, like the Irvine Project and electric transportation. We’re really looking at implementing alternative fuels into our fleet. Southern California Edison has had a long history of electric vehicles, and I know Bob spent a lot of time there and obviously is somebody who took that away with him. We have over 20 million miles in our RAV4 fleet that our meter readers use, on an all-electric fleet. And we have other vehicles that we’re currently putting into the fleet, such as line trucks and other duty vehicles. 

The other piece of my group that brings me here is the Irvine Project. But we have two large demonstration projects, and one is the Irvine Project, which is what a lot of people would call a smart grid distribution demonstration project. We do a little bit of communication with the grid, but it’s really a distributions systems, smart grid project. 

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Our other large demonstration project is a large energy storage project up in the Tehachapis, where we’re building a 32-megawatt/hour, 8-megawatt device that’s in a 6300 square-foot facility. It’s a large device, a large series of devices, and it’s the first time that we’ve built anything of this size with this level of technology. We had another battery project a number of years ago that was in a 40,000 square-foot building that was just terribly large, so it tells you a little about technology progressing.

So what is the Irvine Project? So let’s just step back and talk about the goals. The goals of the Irvine Smart Grid Project are really to demonstrate smart grid technologies across our distribution system. We have two sets of activities, at least the way I think about it. We have one group of activities where we are active with our customer, and the type of application that the utility does not generally go build. So our customers do them. In our homes here we have energy efficiency; we have zero-net-energy homes. Bob talked about Title 24, and Title 24 is the basis for the zero-energy homes. The state policy goal for that is 2020. 

We’re demonstrating that, and we’re also able to interact with data on our system. We have zero-energy homes, and we have also some other homes that were not quite the same level of energy efficiency. We’re putting home batteries in a number of the homes; we’re putting a distribution system-level battery on one of the circuits. That’s kind of where we’re doing things outside of distribution piece and in people’s homes. That’s not a normal utility activity. 

For the rest of the system, the reason we’re doing the others is to be able to see what our customer experience is and how we can gather data with all the capabilities in those homes throughout our distribution system. Jack talked about the two circuits that run in the area—we’re looping them into one circuit. And so rather than having a radial circuit, as we’ve had in the past, it’ll be a loop. When you’re on radial circuit, for those of you who have been unfortunate enough to have a power outage, sometimes you have outage, then you have a reset and the power comes back. Then your power disappears again, and then maybe it comes back maybe it doesn’t. And that’s really how a radial circuit re-sets and goes through a halting process. On this project we’ve made it into a loop, and we’re putting interrupters out on that loop. We can isolate where on that circuit that is and only take the people out that are in that isolated area. So that’s one of the things we’re demonstrating here. 

Another thing we’re doing is related to a discussion about voltage on the transmission system. Monitoring voltage on the distribution system is something that we’ve always viewed as valuable, but we didn’t have enough data close enough to our users to know what their voltage impact was. So we had to come and impact the voltage in a way that we were sure they had enough voltage. Well, the most efficient thing to do is to have the lowest voltage possible. So we have an advanced application to try to lower voltage on the system here because we’ve got more data capability out there. We think that’s going to save about one percent of energy, so yet something could be very substantial. This is our first step into doing that on a larger basis, and if it works the way we expect it to work, it’s something we’ll likely implement across our system. 

I talked about energy storage before, but the other thing we’re looking at is what we call interoperability. So interoperability is the ability of all these devices, whether in somebody’s home, on the distribution system, or if it’s a substation, to all work together and talk to each other. We have to have common time stamp data all around the system to know what actually occurred if a fault happened. It tells us what happened at the same time. We’ll have that capability with this interoperability.

The other thing that I think about (and I think today’s generation of people who have been around computers a lot understands this logically) is if you go into a utility substation, each one of our substations is really a specified set of devices. There’s not a universal, international standard that dictates how a device like this does this. It’s a customized system for each utility. We’re pushing really hard to move away from that, and there are international standards that are being implemented. But the way I put it back to the computer generation is, we’re moving from a customized solution to a plug and play, and that’s what we call our latest version of substation automation SA3. So, again, it’s a big step forward for us and will allow substantial cost reductions, more flexibility, and more standards out in the market. 

The last thing many of us in the computer world think about today is cyber security. We have all this data running around the system and all of these things talking together—is it secure? How have you secured that data? How do you stop it from being attacked? How do you stop your system from being attacked? So we’ve got our initial version of our common cyber security that we’ll be deploying in the Irvine Project. As you can see maybe from the description here, we’re doing a lot of things to try to get the whole distribution system talking together and working together, with lots of pieces going on. It’s what we think a lot of what the smart grid of the future will look like. I look forward to any questions on the panel, thanks.  

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