California Dreamin’ of Distributed Energy Resources, as Utilities File Plans
In many ways, California is a special case. With an economy about the same size of Canada’s ($2.3 trillion in 2014) and a population of more than 38 million (roughly one in eight Americans is a Californian), California’s energy policies affect huge numbers of people and a large portion of the American economy. And now, under new rules set by regulators, California’s investor-owned utilities are getting set to pull rooftop solar, energy efficiency, energy storage, and other distributed resources into their system planning. In California, the electric power system is not just about power plants and wires any more.
On July 1, Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric, Pacific Gas & Electric filed their Distribution Resources Plan Proposals, or DRPs, with the California Public Utilities Commission (PowerSuite users can click through for the full plans). The proposals detail how California’s investor-owned utilities plan to comprehensively integrate distributed energy resources (DERs). The plans are intended to begin the process of moving the utilities toward a more open and flexible grid and to include integration of distributed renewable generation, energy efficiency, energy storage, electric vehicles, and demand response into their distribution system planning, operations, and investment decisions. This order is the first step in a process started by AB 327, a law passed by the California legislature last year.
Although California has long been a leader in incorporating advanced energy technologies into the energy mix, comprehensive planning for the use of DER is a brand new exercise for many utilities.
“From a distribution planning perspective, it most definitely allowed for thinking with tools we haven’t normally used,” Mark Esguerra, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) Principal Engineer, said in an interview with Utility Dive. “Instead of looking strictly at wires solutions, we started looking at DERs as non-wires solutions and at what the most cost-effective way of using them is to meet our reliability, safety, and affordability standards.”