When it comes to planning for distributed energy resources (DERs), the State of California is one to watch. In 2015, major electric utilities submitted extensive plans for integration of distributed energy resources (DERs), with special focus on how such technologies will change planning for the last-mile distribution system and what process changes will be necessary.
A 2013 addition to the state’s Public Utilities Code mandated this monumental planning effort. In it, DERs are defined as “distributed renewable generation resources, energy efficiency, energy storage, electric vehicles and demand response technologies.”
Looking at the various utility filings gives you a good idea of what will be involved in accommodating DERs and keeping the power system in balance. There’s much more to it than simply knowing how much DER penetration there is now and how much you anticipate will be added over the coming years. Of course, that’s a good start. Southern California Edison looked at 30 representative circuits to evaluate how hosting capacity changes over their distribution system, which actually contains some 4,600 circuits. Pacific Gas & Electric examined more than 3,000 of its distribution feeders.
All of the big three IOUs – SoCalEdison, PG&E and San Diego Gas & Electric – identified areas for additional investment, much of which pertains to increased data acquisition tools and automation. All three also called for increased scrutiny of safety tools, policies and standards.
And then there’s the issue of capacity planning. Ahead, there will be greater consolidation and balance between the system-wide forecasts used by resources planners and the substation- and circuit-level plans used by the distribution team.
Ratemaking discussions were in the plans, as well. It wouldn’t be surprising if most utilities agreed with this statement from San Diego: “SDG&E believes that comprehensive rate reform that is fair, transparent and avoids cost shifts, is critically important to promoting universal access for all customers, across all types, of cost-effective DERs. Simply put, SDG&E believes that the continuation of policies allowing a subset of customers to avoid paying for the value they receive undermines investor confidence and therefore the financial health of the distribution system.”
A few years back, when AMI was just making its debut, one of the realities utilities had to grasp is that AMI may have been installed for meter reading, but it would change processes throughout the organizations. Naturally, it affected the customer service people, who suddenly had to deal with consumers armed with and baffled by 24-hour consumption data and time-based rates. But AMI also impacted the outage management team, operations, revenue protection and even tree trimmers who now had blink counts to tell them where to cut the next truck-load of limbs.
DER integration is going to be equally disruptive. In fact, it will probably be more so.
After all, it touches the very heart of the electric industry: the distribution system linking utilities to their customers. Besides, AMI was implemented on the utility’s timetable, while DER integration is being driven, in part, by consumers, and they’re eager to install PV panels on top of their homes. Last year, when Zogby Analytics was commissioned by SolarCity to poll consumers, 88 percent of survey respondents support renewables and, when asked if they’d like solar power for their own homes, 62 percent said yes.
It’s a good thing the DER integration planning has already begun. If you'd like a more in-depth discussion of distributed energy challenges, we invite you to read our recent white paper.