Southern California Edison’s Journey Towards the Smart Grid

The smart grid is getting more and more attention these days.  With all this talk, a few questions lingers in the mind.  What exactly is the smart grid?  When will we actually get the smart grid in place?  How smart can the grid really be?

Recently, Southern California Edison (SCE) held a smart grid roundtable event at the company’s Energy Education Center in Irwindale, CA.  The center itself is like the Universal Studios of energy efficiency, displaying and demonstrating many of the energy innovations in place now or yet to come.

The company demoed the efficiency of various types of lighting, including CFL and LED.  They showcased tube lighting and “light shelves,” which use the power of the sunlight to light rooms instead of electricity. We even got a sneak peak at a smart meter connected to a smart home.  (By the way, for the energy efficiency nerd in you, the Energy Education Center is open to the public for your enjoyment and education.)

What is the Smart Grid?

According to SCE, the smart grid is “an increasingly intelligent and highly automated electric power system that utilizes technology advancements in telecommunications, information, computing, sensing, controls, materials, in addition to other grid technologies.”  The following video touches on what the smart grid is all about:

In essence, the smart grid is “aware.”  Let’s say there is a power spike during peak usage.  Instead of taking out an entire neighborhood, the smart grid can isolate and reroute energy.  Or in the case of an outage, instead of SCE crews going pole to pole to find the culprit, the smart grid will be able to narrow down the trouble location.

The grid is not the only thing that makes the smart grid smart.  Smart meters connect to our homes.  No longer will we have to wait for our monthly bill to know how much power we are using.  Our usage will be available almost instantaneously.  You will be able to use an SCE website to track your day to day, if not moment to moment, energy usage.

When will we get the Smart Grid?

I have some good news and some bad news.  The good news is that the smart grid is coming.  The bad news is that the smartifcation of the grid is going to take some time.  As Doug Kim, Director of Smart Grid Technology at SCE suggests, “We have a twenty year journey.”  There are countless legacy systems needing upgrades and millions of customers using needing retrofits.

Figure 1 below shows an example of the, California Smart Grid Policy Timeline.

Figure 1: California Smart Grid Policy Timeline

Also, like any new technology, the smart grid also needs to be tested to ensure that it actually works as desired.  One such pilot project is SCE $80 million, Irvine Smart Grid Demonstration. “We are currently gathering baseline data for the Irvine Smart Grid Demonstration (ISGD) project, as well as acquiring and designing the systems to be installed in the future. We anticipate that our project-wide go live date will be in 2013,” says Kim.  Some of the goals and objectives of this project include:

•    Verification of the viability of various Smart Grid technology deployed in an integrated manner
•    Quantification of Smart Grid costs and benefits
•    Test and validate the scalability of several Smart Grid elements
•    Demonstrate Zero Net Energy home functionality.

The Smart Customer
At the end of the day, even with the smart grid and the smart meter, it all comes down to the smart customer.  SCE can connect the customer to electricity.  It can even track and record your energy usage.  But it is up to us to use that data in making smarter decisions in using electricity.  The smarter the customer, the smarter the grid.

Jonathan Mariano is an MBA candidate with the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, CA. His interests include the convergence between lean & green and pursuing free-market based sustainable solutions.

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