By David Kligman
SAN FRANCISCO — Years ago, PG&E began developing new technologies to enhance the delivery of safe, reliable and affordable electricity to its customers.
In the utility industry, that work eventually became known as the smart grid — a way to integrate modern technologies into the grid with a goal of finding more efficient ways to deliver power, to match demand with supply, to help customers save energy and to boost reliability.
In just the past five years, PG&E’s work has resulted in numerous successes, including:
- New devices that can automatically restore outages
- SmartMeters that give customers access to information that can help them save money
- Automated reads that track distribution loads on the company’s 1 million transformers
“We’ve been working on smart grid before it was cool,” said Kevin Dasso, PG&E’s senior director of technology and information strategy. On Wednesday (Nov. 6), Dasso was named among the 50 Smart Grid Pioneers of 2013 by the news publication Smart Grid Today.
Currents spoke with Dasso about PG&E’s key role in the development of the smart grid and how it benefits customers, as well as a sneak peek at some of the utility’s upcoming technological breakthroughs. He said the honor is really a testament to PG&E’s commitment to technology that will benefit customers.
Currents: For anyone who may not know, how would you explain the smart grid?
Dasso: My simplest explanation is this: It’s adding intelligence through sensing, through communications, through computing and control to the existing grid to basically enable it to do different and new things. It’s really adding an intelligence layer to the existing grid, meaning everything from the generator to the customer’s appliance. One of my favorite examples is our intelligent switch or FLISR technology. In many cases, we’re taking existing equipment and we’re automating it by adding remote control capabilities and adding a computer system that senses problems on the grid and then reconfigures automatically. So the net result is substantial improvements in reliability.
What is one smart grid accomplishment that PG&E should be most proud of?
I really think SmartMeters are a game changer in terms of the types of services we’re able to provide our customers. The information is improving our operations and our costs. It’s really tremendous. The other thing that’s important is that it’s really a way for us to engage consumers on how to more actively manage their energy usage and their bill.
Will these smart grid innovations be visible to the average PG&E customer or will these improvements be more behind the scenes?
I think some of our customers are seeing benefits now. They’re taking advantage of energy management systems that help them manage their energy. Smart grid technologies include things like turning your lights on or off remotely, setting your thermostat remotely, appliances that can be set to help customers manage their lifestyle. That’s really what the smart grid is about. If the smart grid is about saving money, our customers can do that. If it’s about being more environmentally conscious, the smart grid supports that as well. The average customer may not notice much yet other than that their reliability is better.
Can you tell us about a new technology that PG&E is working on?
We’ll be starting pilots on several projects at our technology lab in San Ramon. One is installing communicating sensors that help us detect outages on our grid more precisely and also can give us more real-time information at a much lower cost about current power flows.
How do you see smart grid technology evolving over the next few years?
The technology is going to allow us to do more and more automation of manual work processes to improve the customer experience. The other big focus is going to be data analytics — using the information that we’re collecting not only from SmartMeters but also from our distribution automation equipment and other sensors. But we’ll also see more ways that customers can use data to use their energy better or decide whether they should take advantage of a particular energy-saving program.
With the PG&E’s work on the smart grid, one might wonder what the monetary value to customers may be. Recently, the national Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative issued a major report documenting benefits on the order of $100 per customer per year from real-world Smart Grid implementations. That’s real savings for PG&E customers.
Email David Kligman at David.Kligman@pge.com.