By Jonathan Marshall
Two years ago, PG&E’s Smart Grid lead, Kevin Dasso, told NEXT100, “the Smart Grid will evolve over time so we don’t yet know exactly what the picture looks like or even the shape of the individual pieces. But if we do it right, we’ll have a chance to significantly improve the lives of our customers and lead our industry into the 21st century.”
A year later, in 2011, Dasso and his team filed the company’s first major Smart Grid plan with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), setting forth the utility’s vision of using advanced communications and control technology “to provide customers safe, reliable, secure, cost-effective, sustainable and flexible energy services.”
Now, in a new report produced today (Oct. 1), PG&E offers the clearest picture yet of its evolving Smart Grid and describes many of the key pieces in detail. What emerges from its 2012 Smart Grid Annual report to the CPUC is the fact that the PG&E’s Smart Grid is no longer just an aspiration or a vision. It is fast becoming a reality, with measurable and tangible customer benefits.
Customers get unprecedented information
As the report notes, the foundation of the utility’s Smart Grid is the mass deployment of millions of electric SmartMeters™ throughout its service area in Northern and Central California. These advanced digital meters already give customers unprecedented information on their hourly electricity use, allowing them to better manage their energy and lower their monthly bills.
Tens of thousands of customers already are saving money by enrolling in pricing plans that take advantage of these meters, such as SmartRate. And new tools like Green Button Connect, announced today, let customers tap the convenience and power of third-party applications to analyze and present their SmartMeter energy data in ways that further empower their consumption choices.
And that’s only the start. Behind the scenes, PG&E also is applying technology to make its electric grid much more reliable and efficient. For example, the utility is installing “synchrophasor” technology to monitor its high-voltage transmission lines in real time, helping to prevent regional blackouts and lowering transmission costs.
Smarter switching, faster repairs
On lower-voltage distribution lines closer to customers, PG&E is installing intelligent switches that quickly reroute power in case of outages, significantly reducing the frequency and length of service interruptions. PG&E is also tapping the capabilities of SmartMeters to better detect the existence and areas impacted by outages so crews can repair them more quickly.
Looking to the future, PG&E reports on a number of technology trials, from electric vehicle charging to battery backups for solar generation, which will help it make prudent decisions about future Smart Grid investments, always with an eye on real customer benefits.
Finally, addressing one of the unfortunate realities of our age, PG&E has made cybersecurity one of the core missions of its grid modernization strategy. The report notes that the utility recently completed implementing a project to “anticipate, prevent, and respond to a new and emerging class of cyber and physical threats known as Advanced Persistent Threats.” More generally, it notes, PG&E continues to adapt to ever-changing cybersecurity risks through a “defense-in-depth” strategy in keeping with the latest CPUC findings.
Email Jonathan Marshall at email@example.com.