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California’s clean energy future requires reimagining the power grid

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The power grid will evolve to integrate changes in how electricity is generated, stored and used, including large-scale adoption of electric vehicles and distributed energy resources. Source: Southern California Edison.

This article is sponsored by Southern California Edison.

Fundamental changes in how the electric power grid is planned, designed, built and operated are necessary to meet future challenges that are arriving quickly. 

Those challenges are being created by changes in electricity use and in the sources of energy connected to the grid, including greatly expanded use of electric vehicles and growth in large-scale solar power and energy storage, fundamental to California’s clean energy future. 

Over the past decade, technology advancements in both software and hardware have fostered continued progress in strengthening and modernizing the grid. However, the underlying design and architecture of the grid have not evolved at the same pace as its component technologies, according to "Reimagining the Grid," a new white paper published by Southern California Edison (SCE).

"Just as Pathway 2045 is SCE’s roadmap for enabling a clean energy future for California, Reimagining the Grid is a comprehensive assessment to address how the grid must change," said Kevin Payne, president and CEO of SCE. "We are working to make sure the grid is ready to support the major shifts in how customers will use electricity to support California’s ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals."

A significant increase in electric vehicles and distributed energy resources such as customer-sited solar and battery storage — paired with the growth of large-scale renewable supply resources that are more variable in nature — will require the grid to manage a growing set of challenges, according to the analysis. The changing climate is affecting customers’ power usage patterns, as well as the availability of energy resources, including electricity imported from other states whose own power needs are changing. 

Climate-change effects also could diminish the performance, reliability and lifespan of grid equipment. "As electricity fuels a larger part of the economy, we must reimagine what the grid should look like in the future and how it will need to function in new ways to meet expanded needs," Payne added.

Grid planning, design and operations will need to evolve. "Our approach needs to shift from a focus on system-wide reliability standards to one that meets multiple objectives based on specific, localized needs," Payne said. A grid planning and design approach that is more tailored to specific challenges is necessary to avoid underused or stranded assets that end up being costly or performing poorly, he noted. Key changes for SCE include recognizing the increasing diversity of different regions' needs and moving from uniform grid architectures to more region-specific, modular grid designs.

What’s more, the grid’s technological capabilities will need to be reimagined. SCE is identifying technology gaps to be filled to address future challenges, a departure from the traditional model of equipment suppliers developing standard solutions to address uniform needs. SCE will center its innovation activities around the ability of the grid to sense, communicate, analyze and act, providing a targeted, real-time response to changes in load and equipment condition. This will call for advances in sensors, high-speed/high-volume communications, edge computing, predictive analytics and artificial intelligence.

SCE foresees integrating information/operational technologies into a common, shared operating platform deployed across the system, with advanced cybersecurity and the ability to seamlessly package and deploy future technologies and hardware for location-specific needs.

The "Reimagining the Grid" analysis outlines how SCE plans to respond to challenges and reduce uncertainty with an adaptive, agile grid planning approach to account for different scenarios. To enable this approach, SCE’s first step is to strengthen its ability to track early indicators of customer, supply and climate changes, as well as what new grid technologies are coming down the pipeline.

"We are taking ‘no regrets’ actions to begin reimagining the grid," Payne said. "This means strengthening our ability to anticipate changes, accelerating critical technologies and looking at how we can enhance our planning. We cannot do this alone — stronger alignment, broader reach and deeper collaboration with stakeholders will be key in grid designs, standards and infrastructure planning."

You can find SCE’s "Reimagining the Grid" white paper here

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