grid modernisation, Washington DC, Recipient of the LEED for cities Platinum award
Washington, DC at the Tidal Basin and Jefferson Memorial during the spring cherry blossom season. Recipient of the LEED for Cities Platinum award

By: Jared Leader and Robert Tucker

After an important 1942 victory that helped turn the tide during World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said, “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

The end of the beginning: That’s what you could call a recently published report that chronicles industry input collected by the District of Columbia Public Service Commission (DCPSC).

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In this report are ideas and expertise gathered as part of an initiative labelled Modernising the Energy Delivery System for Increased Sustainability, or MEDSIS. This undertaking involved a number of stakeholder meetings, hands-on exercises and surveys during the past year through which industry players provided input on six topics related to grid modernisation (Sidebar 1).  A foundation-building ‘to-do’ list with which the DCPSC will begin the transition to a smart, modern, clean and customer-centric energy system was a key result of the MEDSIS process.

Leveraging industry insight 

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The MEDSIS initiative dates to 2015 when the DCPSC first began investigating grid impacts of distributed energy resources (DERs) and determining how the DCPSC wanted the local grid to evolve. By 2017, the DCPSC had formalised its vision for grid modernisation, and in that vision, clean, sustainable resources were a priority, as were DERs. The DCPSC also wanted to preserve the financial health of local distribution utilities and sustain safe, reliable electric and gas systems. Customer focus comes into play, too. The DCPSC’s vision specified an interactive and non-discriminatory grid (Sidebar 2).

To achieve these goals, the DCPSC established a MEDSIS stakeholder venue allowing industry players to participate in one or more of six working groups. In 2018, the DCPSC hired the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) to engage and support the industry participants contributing their expertise through formal working group meetings.

“Rather than move forward with a traditional regulatory process, the Commission used working groups to leverage a wide variety of viewpoints,” said Willie L. Phillips, Chairman of the DCPSC.

“Grid modernisation is a complex undertaking, and we wanted to ensure that the recommendations stemming from MEDSIS participants reflect input from diverse stakeholders.”

Through the working group process, stakeholders participated in over 50 meetings and reviewed over 200 documents which SEPA chronicled and shared through an online workspace. The process yielded 32 recommendations DCPSC consideration as outlined in a 500+ page report. These recommendations were developed based on results from exercises conducted during meetings, participant surveys, stakeholder proposals and working group meeting discussions.

A common language – technology and data

Some recommendations call for simple definitions of terminology to support common understanding with regard to policy. Examples include a definition of non-wires alternative (NWA) and advanced inverter.

What technologies did these working groups discuss?

It’s a long list that includes, but not limited to,  microgrids, energy storage, solar photovoltaic (PV), energy efficiency, demand response, electric vehicles (EV), combined heat and power (CHP), conservation voltage reduction, integrated volt-var optimisation, grid software and controls, and thermal energy. The group summarized the various benefits of each technology, such as addressing system constraints, delivering reliable peak shaving and deferring construction.

An area of keen interest was the collection and availability of data associated with the electricity system, especially understanding the data needs of third parties and what data was currently available. One working group created a list of data needs and web locations of available information to address the need.  They identified gaps in available data and made recommendations to fill these gaps. 

The group recommended the “DCPSC Develop Publicly Available System-Level Data Webpage” which would make finding and accessing system level data easier.  While there was general agreement on this recommendation, the document also captured any nuanced stakeholder positions for the DCPSC’s consideration.

Making progress

Approximately 132 stakeholders participated in working group meetings each month, and general agreement was reached on many recommendations through careful group facilitation by the SEPA team with the DCPSC staff as an engaged observer.

“People who participate in initiatives like the MEDSIS working groups have tremendous knowledge and great ideas,” said Sharon Allan, chief innovation officer for SEPA and the MEDSIS engagement executive. 

“The challenge is to analyze and synthesize all the input, then keep feeding it back to the group in a way to help group participants hone in on the most important recommendations to make.” This was the role of the SEPA team.

The process began by defining the focus of each group through a group charter, key questions to address and a list of desired outcomes. For example, the group looking at non-wires alternatives to grid investments was directed to begin by defining the purpose and goals of NWAs in the District. One recommendation in the report is for the “DCPSC to direct Pepco to update hosting capacity maps on a monthly basis.” 

Grid2.0, DC Consumer Utility Board, Sierra Club, Edison Electric Institute, D.C. Climate Action, Pepco, WGL Energy, General MicroGrids, New Columbia Solar, Sunrun, and DC Sustainable Energy Utility supported the recommendation while the DC Department of Energy and Environment, Solar United Neighbors of DC, and GridAlternatives conditionally supported with their positions clearly stated in the document.

Another example where the recommendation required three iterations before the final version was generally agreed upon, was the Non-Wires Alternative Working Group recommendation that the “DCPSC Should Order Stakeholder-Informed Distribution System Planning (DSP) and NWA Consideration Process.”  While most stakeholders supported this recommendation, a number had caveats that were stated in the document. The participants also recognized this recommendation as a first step in an evolving process.

The 32 recommendations are actionable by the DCPSC and positions of the stakeholders are clearly articulated within Chapter 5 of the report.  For each recommendation, stakeholders submitted positions of support, conditional support, opposition or abstention.

Next steps  . . . Pilot projects

The Pilots working group focused on creating the governance process, selection criteria, and scoring criteria for pilots and submitted these recommendations for the DCPSC’s consideration.  In phase 4 of MEDSIS, approximately $21M will be available for pilot projects in the District. 

The pilot project implementation phase indicates that this latest report is not the end of grid modernisation in the District.  The document outlines a number of next steps and indeed signals the end of the beginning; however, there are many more beginnings right around the corner.

About the authors

Jared Leader

Jared Leader is the Manager of the Advisory Services group at SEPA. In his role he researches and develops strategic plans for programs, products, and services that will drive integration of distributed energy resources, non-wires alternatives and microgrids into utility resource portfolios and business operations.  Jared co-led SEPA’s consulting engagement with the D.C. Public Service Commission facilitating the grid modernisation (MEDSIS) initiative in the District.

Robert Tucker 

Robert Tucker is a Principal Consultant in the Advisory Services group at SEPA. Robert has provided consulting and technology solutions to both utility and energy industry clients on a broad range of topic. Robert Tucker is an energy industry professional with 25 years of experience helping utilities and energy companies solve complex problems. Robert has extensive experience in energy industry technology sales and marketing as well as business consulting and technology implementation.  Robert co-led SEPA’s consulting engagement with the D.C. Public Service Commission facilitating the grid modernisation (MEDSIS) initiative in the District.