PG&E Smart Grid Plan

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(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

On June 30, PG&E posted a notice on its website that it posted a plan for “modernizing its electric infrastructure to deliver a host of energy and cost savings to PG&E customers across Northern and Central California.”

For those interested in reading the plan, you can access it via the news release or open the PDF directly here.

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Assorted Links

GM and PG&E reassure us that electric cars won’t bring down the grid (assuming we get smart grid communications).

CNN Money on what the election means for renewable energy.

National Geographic looks at why solar energy is so expensive.

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Is the Grid Ready for Electric Cars?

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photo: the Nissan Leaf

There has been a lot of excitement surrounding electric vehicles as the first “mainstream” fully electric vehicles (EV) are hitting the road with the promise of many new models coming down the pipeline in the coming years. But are electric cars a truly “green” solution, or will we be simply replacing one problem (fossil fuel dependence) for another one (increased electricity demand, not necessarily met by “clean” energy technologies)? And, importantly, can the American energy grid sustain a powerful new surge in demand?

Casting around for answers, I have assembled a few of the arguments from both the “worry” and “don’t worry” camps.

Worry

Grid stress could be felt on the local level if, for example, a single neighborhood has a high proportion of electric vehicles on one transformer and regular charging times are not sufficiently staggered or at off-peak hours.

– The only way to adequately manage supply-demand optimization is with smart grid technology that can communicate directly with vehicles and manage charging times. That widespread technology is still several to many years off.

– A 2007 Department of Energy Pacific Northwest National Lab (PNL) report found that even if smart grid technology were in place and charging regularly took place at off-peak hours, the nations energy infrastructure as it exists now could only accommodate a maximum 15% of vehicles being EVs.

Don’t Worry

The average age of cars on the road is nine years and going up.  Thus, it is unlikely that electric cars will hit the road en masse, but rather slowly integrate into the car stock, giving utilities time to prepare for increased demand.

-Incentives provided by utility companies can be enough encouragement to persuade most drivers to charge at off-peak hours in the years before smart grid technologies are widespread. Time-of-use plans can have substantially lower rates at off-peak hours.

– Experiments with “Vehicle to Grid” (V2G) technologies (in which Eletric Vehicles actually can store excess energy when demand is low and feed it back to the grid at peak hours) are already underway around the world, and could play a key role  in the grid of the future. See Journalist Dave Levithan’s article on the subject here.

– The U.S. Government has pledged $2 billion in grants for the manufacture of EV car batteries as well as a $400 million “downpayment” to jumpstart EV infrastructure.

Read more articles on electric cars and grid capacity here:

PHEVs: Will the Grid be Ready?, Matter Network

Can US Power Grid Handle Surge of Electric Cars?, Aol News

8 Myths About the Electric Car, Alt Transport

Is the Power Grid Ready for Electric Cars?, MSNBC Answer Desk

Ford Studying Ways to Charge Electric Vehicles, New York Times

Assorted Links

U.S. Representatives Gene Green and Mike Thompson introduced a new bill for e-waste legislation: Responsible Electronics Recycling Act of 2010. The bill is geared toward stopping companies from being able to export electronic waste to developing countries — an action that is causing environmental damage and harm to human health in places like Ghana and China.

Siemens has bought SureGrid, a building management firm from Texas, the latest in a string of acquisitions in efficiency and automation. The deal highlights two major trends in green. First, building efficiency, particularly commercial building efficiency, has emerged as one of the strongest growth markets. The second trend is the creeping conglomeritis of smart grid and green technology in general.

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Assorted Links

Window reflections can melt vinyl siding.

PACE program participants must pay off the loans before they can refinance their mortgages.

Transit-oriented development may be threatened by air quality rules in California.

EPA & DOT propose colorful fuel economy labels to make it easier to compare vehicle mileage.

And there’s an interesting article about Smart Grids and privacy.

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The Difference Between the CEC and CPUC

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I know what you’re thinking – a really exciting topic. But this question has actually come up in conversation a remarkable number of times in the last couple of weeks. This is not intended to be a definitive guide, but just to start the delineation between the organizations.

In a future post, I will discuss some of the practical ways that these organizations influence energy efficiency policy in California.

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Basics

The CEC is California’s primary energy policy and planning agency.

The CPUC regulates privately owned electric, natural gas, telecommunications, water, railroad, rail transit, and passenger transportation companies.

This post will focus only on the energy aspects of the CPUC’s role.

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The California Energy Commission (CEC)

The five CEC commissioners are appointed by the California governor and must be approved by the Senate. Terms are five years. Commissioners must represent the following specific areas of expertise: law, environment, economics, science/engineering, and the public at large.

The CEC’s responsibilities include:

  • Forecasting future energy needs and keeping historical energy data.
  • Licensing thermal power plants 50 megawatts or larger.
  • Promoting energy efficiency by setting the state’s appliance and building efficiency standards and working with local government to enforce those standards.
  • Supporting public interest energy research that advances energy science and technology through research, development, and demonstration programs.
  • Supporting renewable energy by providing market support to existing, new, and emerging renewable technologies; providing incentives for small wind and fuel cell electricity systems; and providing incentives for solar electricity systems in new home construction.
  • Developing and implementing the state Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program to reduce the state’s petroleum dependency and help attain the state climate change policies.
  • Administering more than $300 million in American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funding through the state energy program, the energy efficiency conservation and block grant program; the energy efficiency appliance rebate program and the energy assurance and emergency program.
  • Planning for and directing state response to energy emergencies.

The CEC is located in Sacramento, CA.

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The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC)

The five CPUC commissioners are also appointed by the California governor and must be approved by the Senate. Terms are six years.

The CPUC regulates investor owned utilities (IOUs) that distribute electricity and natural gas, including Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E) and Southern California Gas Company.

The CPUC does not regulate municipal utilities, such as the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD).

The CPUC’s mission is the following:

  • The California Public Utilities Commission serves the public interest by protecting consumers and ensuring the provision of safe, reliable utility service and infrastructure at reasonable rates, with a commitment to environmental enhancement and a healthy California economy.  We regulate utility services, stimulate innovation, and promote competitive markets, where possible, in the communications, energy, transportation, and water industries.

The CPUC has a number of different divisions; the Energy Division assists Commission activities in the electricity, natural gas, steam, and petroleum pipeline industries. Energy Division handles the regulation and Commission approval of official rates and terms of service for energy IOUs.

Because the regulated California utilities are so large, and their programs reach so many customers, CPUC energy policy decisions and goals have wide influence in California. The CPUC touches programs in energy efficiency, demand response, low-income assistance, distributed generation, and self-generation, among others. It has a role in California climate policy. It is overseeing the CA utilities’ switch to Smart Grid technologies. The CPUC regulated electric generation and procurement, electric rates and markets, gas policy and rates, and electric transmission and distribution.

CPUC headquarters are in San Francisco, CA.

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Patch-working the Grid

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This Friday’s links highlight a few examples of global progress toward integrating cleaner energy into conventional energy grids.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

The New York Times reports on the impressive bump from 17% to nearly 45% renewable-source energy in Portugal’s grid over the past five years. However, the gain in cleaner energy has come at a hefty premium for consumers- take a look at how the Portuguese are balancing it all.

Visit Australia’s Clean Energy Council website and have a look at the interactive map of all clean energy plants over 100kW in operation.

Denmark’s official website cites 12 large scale solar operations in the country that add up to 20% of annual energy demand and offer flexibility within the national grid.

Lastly, read a discussion of progress toward integration of wind energy into European energy grids on the European Wind Energy Association’s website.

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