Pacific Gas and Electric Co., San Francisco, has released its third annual Smart Grid report, detailing progress the company is making in creating a 21st century electric system. The report outlines the company's use and testing of advanced technology to improve the safety, reliability and resiliency of the power grid while giving customers new options for managing their energy and saving money.
The report also describes emerging and future Smart Grid projects that will benefit customers, including "self-healing" circuits that automatically restore customers in the wake of an outage, and advanced support for customer-owned clean energy installations.
"The electric grid is the key enabler for clean energy innovation now and in the years to come. We are focused on building the 'Grid of Things' – Smart Grid technologies that will help our customers take advantage of solar generation, electric vehicles and home energy management technologies. These new technologies will not only help us continue to provide service that is safe, reliable, affordable and clean today, but also pave the road to the smart energy economy of the future," said Chris Johns, president of PG&E.
By integrating a wide range of advanced communications and control technologies throughout Northern and Central California's electric grid, PG&E is providing customers with greater insight into their energy consumption and bills, while giving its crews the ability to more quickly respond to service requests and outages.
"SmartMeters are the backbone of the Smart Grid, and they are providing our customers with real, tangible benefits now. We saw that very clearly in our response to the Napa County earthquake," said Geisha Williams, executive vice president of electric operations at PG&E. "Smart grid technology helps enhance the resiliency of the grid. With the help of these smart grid tools, crews were able to restore service to the vast majority of customers within 24 hours."
In 2013, PG&E customers experienced the fewest minutes without electricity in company history. Smart Grid technology played a key role in delivering this performance. PG&E has installed intelligent switch technology on almost 20% of its electrical distribution circuits throughout Northern and Central California. In the event of an outage, these circuits significantly reduce the duration of an outage from hours to minutes by re-routing power flows. Since the inception of the program, this self-healing technology has avoided more than 40 million customer outage minutes.
Other improvements include PG&E's outage detection program, which can check individual meters to determine if power has been restored. This has resulted in faster and more accurate service restorations. Rather than sending trucks to patrol for problems along an electric circuit during outages, this technology helps direct the crews where they are needed. By helping the utility better target where crews are needed, the program has helped avoid more than 6,500 "truck rolls" over the past year. These avoided trips have also reduced emissions by more than 61,000 pounds of CO2.
PG&E's smart grid investments are also supporting the integration of solar photovoltaic (PV) and energy storage on the grid. PG&E continues to be the national leader in supporting rooftop solar energy, with more than 130,000 customer-installed solar PV systems. To accommodate further growth, PG&E is piloting new voltage control technology as a smart grid pilot project to help manage the two-way flow of energy onto the grid. Another smart grid pilot project will assess the costs and benefits of using energy storage to reduce grid costs and facilitate the growth of renewable generation.
PG&E's smart grid plan will also support new and emerging customer needs. For example, the Demand Response Plug-In Electric Vehicle (PEV) Pilot program is evaluating the feasibility of utilizing PEV batteries — both when they are in the vehicle and when they are removed — to provide grid stabilization services.
In the coming years, PG&E will continue to roll out smart grid technologies that will enhance grid safety, improve service and reliability, lower customer costs, and incorporate more renewable and energy storage onto the grid.