Planning for distributed renewable energy

Gridworks excerpt: California’s AB327 added a new section to the Public Utilities Code, Sec. 769, to require utilities to submit to the commission by July 1, 2015, a distribution resources plan proposal, to identify optimal locations for the deployment of distributed resources.  Further, these plans should form the basis for utility investment requests in future general rate cases. 

The bill specified five elements that should go into the utility plans: 

  • (1) Evaluate locational benefits and costs of distributed resources located on the distribution system. 
  • (2) Propose or identify standard tariffs, contracts, or other mechanisms for the deployment of cost-effective distributed resources that satisfy distribution planning objectives.
  • (3) Propose cost-effective methods of effectively coordinating existing commission-approved programs, incentives, and tariffs to maximize the locational benefits and minimize the incremental costs of distributed resources.
  • (4) Identify additional utility spending necessary to integrate cost-effective distributed resources into distribution planning consistent with the goal of yielding net benefits to ratepayers.
  • (5) Identify barriers to the deployment of distributed resources or threats to safe, reliable service.

As soon as AB 327 was signed into law by then-Governor Jerry Brown, it was clear that implementation would require new layers of technical analysis of the distribution system.  In preparation, CPUC staff envisioned a series of workshops and working groups to harness the collective expertise of utilities and stakeholders.

When the Commission launched R.14-08-013 in August 2014, it clearly differed from usual OIR documents in that it was just 15 pages and did not include the usual recitations of background or pose a long list of questions to be addressed in the proceeding.

Instead, the core content of the Commission’s order was Appendix B, the “More Than Smart” paper, and instructions to utility respondents and intervenors that the paper “provides both a basis for questions to be asked in this rulemaking and a useful framework from which this rulemaking will establish policies, procedures, and rules for the development of the IOUs’ DRPs.”

Any attempt to briefly summarize “More Than Smart” would do a grave disservice to its author and its intentions.  The paper detailed many guiding principles and potential actions needed to realize its concepts. Readers are directed to the document

The core of the paper was to outline a four-step “life-cycle” process that could help more DER through an accelerated maturation:

  1. Use distribution planning to ensure that ratepayers realize the net benefits from optimal use of DER at minimal cost of integration into the electric system.
  2. Move utilities toward “robust, open, flexible and node-friendly electric network designs” that enable innovation. 
  3. Maintain safe and reliable service across the utility system while enabling access to DER and microgrids. 
  4. Develop markets and programs that “create opportunities for qualified DERs to contribute to the optimization and operation of markets and the grid, and reduce the barriers and costs to participate.” 

In laying out a conceptual roadmap of activities over a projected three-year span (some being pursued concurrently), the “More Than Smart” concept envisioned a “graceful transformation” of the electric system.  California needs to consider a more advanced and highly integrated electric system than originally conceived in many smart grid plans. This integrated grid will evolve in complexity and scale over time as the richness of systems functionality will increase and the distributed reach will extend to millions of intelligent utility, customer and merchant devices.”