US utilities – embracing the smart grid?

US utilities embrace smart grid with vision and legislation
Self-healing grid technology is part of PG&E’s vision for the ‘Grid of Things’

Two prominent US utilities last week unveiled their visions for a smart grid incorporating advanced energy technologies, from electric vehicles to battery storage and rooftop solar.

The president of Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Chris Johns, spoke about the ‘Grid of Things’, which the utility has trademarked, during a keynote address at the Edison Foundation Institute for Electric Innovation in Washington DC.

PG&E’s vision of the Grid of Things is a ‘plug-and-play’ platform that allows emerging energy technologies to be interconnected with each other and integrated into the larger grid in ways that optimize their capabilities and benefits for customers, the company said in a statement.

As part of the Grid of Things, PG&E, one of the largest combined natural gas and electric utilities in the US, plans to adopt self-healing grid technology to minimize outages.

Voltage control technology that manages the two-way flow of electricity on the grid, given the increasing amount from distributed resources such as rooftop solar is also part of the vision as well as a network of 25,000 EV chargers to manage the increasing adoption of electric vehicles.

The San Francisco-based utility, which serves nearly 16 million people in Northern and Central California, has also implemented a new community solar program that will give customers the choice to cover either 50% or 100% of their electricity use with power from small and midsize solar projects within the utility’s service area.

Strengthening grid resiliency

Meanwhile in Chicago, the Illinois General Assembly signed off legislation last week that will expand support for renewable energy in the state.

The scope of legislation HB3328/SB1879 covers strengthening the security and resiliency of the grid, the construction of microgrids, community solar projects and the expansion of energy efficiency programs.

Commenting on the new rulings, head of Chicago-based utility Commonwealth Edison (ComEd), president and CEO Anne Pramaggiore, said: “Our legislation maximizes the critical investments that are being made in Illinois’ energy and economic future, such as the Smart Grid program [created under 2011 Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act].

“We need to take full advantage of the infrastructure enhancements we have recently made and recognize that the next evolution of the grid is necessary to meet the demands of a fast-moving digital economy that places a high priority on reliable power.”

Microgrids in Chicago

HB3328/SB1879 will enable ComEd to invest US$300 million in six microgrids that will service public facilities and infrastructure that are integral to healthcare, homeland security, transportation and water services. 

ComEd’s legislative proposal would expand access to solar power to all types of homeowners from all income levels by encouraging development of community solar projects. It would require utilities to offer Meter Aggregation, which makes use of digital smart meter technology to create a “pool” of community-based solar power that can be shared by multiple customers.

To ensure the equitable sharing of grid costs, utilities would recover residential delivery costs through a combination of charges, including a demand charge, that better reflect how the grid is used and makes sure low-income customers aren’t subsidizing those who can more easily afford solar energy and other new grid uses.