Shaping California’s Smart Grid


Published In: EnergyBiz Magazine January/February 2012


THE NATION'S POWER SECTOR is facing unprecedented changes, ranging from high levels of intermittent loading from renewable portfolio standards to complex cyber-security threats. New technology options, such as bulk electricity storage and plug-in electric vehicles, further complicate matters for power companies and ratepayers. State and federal policy changes require changes to the power system, which may ultimately increase cost and decrease service reliability. Shale gas is changing the fabric of the energy business, inverting pipeline flows and investment norms. In addition, water, wind and solar resources and heat storms will affect investments and operations as our understanding of global climate change matures.

Nowhere are these challenges more evident than in California, where the state has adopted many environmental and energy policy goals, including:

  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and to 20 percent of 1990 levels by 2050
  • Requiring mandatory smart grid deployment by 2012, totaling over 16 million smart meters
  • Increasing energy efficiency programs, targeting additional reductions of 5,000 to 8,000 megawatts of peak electricity demand
  • Meeting 33 percent of electricity sales with renewables, which will require about 20,000 additional megawatts of intermittent wind and solar resources
  • Using distributed generation technologies, including the California Solar Initiative and Small Generator Incentive Program, targeting an additional 5,000 megawatts of solar photovoltaic supplies and combined heat and power plants
  • Retiring, replacing or mitigating once-through cooling power plants, which could affect more than 16,000 megawatts of thermal resources by 2020
  • Increasing the use of cost-effective digital information and control technology to improve grid reliability, security and efficiency

The California Clean Energy Plan not only provides environmental benefits and introduces new energy sources, but also presents new challenges to be addressed while meeting the requirements for low electricity rates, high grid reliability and stability.

To address these challenges, Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas and Electric filed an application with the California Public Utilities Commission this summer, to request funding for a five-year research and development agreement called the "California Energy Systems for the 21st Century (CES-21)." The three investor-owned utilties are partnering with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to provide advanced computational and analytical capabilities, and new tools and platforms for workforce training.

The proposal focuses on four areas: resource planning, operations, security and workforce preparedness, all to be approved by a governing board. The CPUC application includes use cases to illustrate the likely scope and scale of CES-21 initiatives. Given the breadth of the systems involved, even small improvements could save hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

With CES-21, new or augmented computational tools must balance reliability, costs and regulatory limitations, as well as transmission capabilities, economic use of supply, demand-side resources, distributed generation, and storage under uncertain system and market conditions.

California's Clean Energy Plan requires a more responsive and flexible grid. CES-21 proposes developing flexible metrics and standards to guide planning and operating California's electric grid in a future in which a large portion of the state's electric supply will be provided by resources with little or no operating flexibility. This effort would build on efforts by the North American Electric Reliability Corp., the Western Electricity Coordinating Council, the California ISO and others.

As the grid is becoming more interconnected and complex, the cyber-security threats are also becoming more sophisticated, well-funded and persistent than ever. CES-21 will help the IOUs, regulators and other stakeholders anticipate cyber-security risks, influence standards, and develop next-generation tools and methodologies to protect the grid from evolving and increasingly complex threats.

A key operational issue facing utilities is the ability to manage intermittent resources effectively while utilizing grid assets efficiently. The increasing number of intermittent resources make rapid, accurate stability analysis more critical than ever. System operators study and monitor the strength of the system for future events such as line maintenance, generator outages, real-time monitoring and post-event analysis. Using the tremendous amount of system data that is created, processed and analyzed, the application team aims to develop methods to increase the analytical capabilities of the investor-owned utilities to monitor and control the bulk-power system.

For a given demand scenario and configuration, today's gas system simulators calculate resulting pressures and flows throughout the system. These models are computationally intensive and require a significant amount of time and resources to run. The proposed plan is to build and enable tools to run hundreds or thousands of hydraulic scenarios within a day, improving the functionality, speed and abilities of the natural gas modeling platforms and the existing hydraulics code.

Accessing and applying high-performance computing is central to the plan, which will employ some of the fastest and most powerful computers in the world and the teams to operate them. They will run grid operations and planning models at much higher resolution and with increased complexity, faster and in greater numbers than ever before.

Although traditional desktop simulations work well for a variety of analyses and applications, the computing capabilities of Lawrence Livermore could provide a quantum leap in the IOUs' ability to analyze more data faster. The sheer volume of data the IOUs are confronting is dramatically increasing, and advanced metering infrastructure projects have already increased data volumes by several orders of magnitude, from only 12 data points of energy usage per year to 35,040 data points per customer per year for 20 million customers. The issues confronted by the industry are also growing in complexity and require more computationally complex and expensive models. High-performance computing will significantly reduce the time to run simulations and will help the IOUs better respond to today's business and regulatory demands.

This computational and modeling power will provide unprecedented insight into synergies, vulnerabilities and opportunities in the grid. Although it will enable those most vested in its operation to make smarter decisions, the main beneficiaries will be the ratepayers. Over the next 10 years, this advanced computational and analytical approach will save billions of dollars in investments, network efficiencies and crisis management.

As the United States grapples with the same issues as California, we imagine these tools in use nationwide. According to Richard O'Neill, the chief economist of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, "New software and improved models created in the CES-21 partnership could result in a return on investment of 1,000 when tools are applied nationally." The team looks forward to expanding current efforts to develop tools and approaches that utilities and agencies can use.


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