Guiding distribution grid planning processes

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, New York’s leaders came to realize the inadequacy of the state’s power system to meet 21st century challenges. Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, threatening more severe and prolonged power outages. Further, to meet the needs of its growing population, New York must add new generating capacity, which will continue to contribute to climate change if using fossil fuels. Finally, electricity bills in New York continue to rise ever higher – caused mainly by rising wholesale electricity costs.

In response to these challenges, the state launched an initiative known as Reforming the Energy Vision (“REV”). New York’s Public Service Commission (“PSC”) is leading REV with the goal of overhauling the state’s power system and regulatory landscape to promote greater deployment of distributed energy resources, like local renewables, energy storage, and demand response.

3D Electric powerlines over sunrise

This fall, the Clean Coalition submitted comments on a PSC proposal to develop the REV market in New York. The comments focused on how to best guide the distribution grid planning process in New York, which will be performed through the creation of Distributed System Implementation Plans (“DSIPs”). New York must proactively prepare for increased deployment of distributed energy resources to streamline their smooth integration into the grid.

In our comments, the Clean Coalition leveraged its experience leading implementation of California’s Distribution Resources Plans. The Distribution Resources Plans are similar to the DSIPs that REV will employ, and lessons learned in California are directly relevant to New York. Most importantly, the Clean Coalition stressed the need to begin modeling the distribution grid to determine the optimal locations for deploying distributed energy resources that will provide the highest value to ratepayers.

To prove the efficacy of our distribution grid planning process, the Clean Coalition recommends that utilities promptly design and implement pilot projects that model one substation area, identify optimal locations for distributed energy resources, and subsequently deploy the resources accordingly. These pilots stem from our groundbreaking work, which is being conducted in collaboration with Pacific Gas and Electric (“PG&E”), in the Bayview and Hunters Point areas of San Francisco. Known as the Hunters Point Community Microgrid Project, this effort will prove that local renewables can fulfill at least 25% of total electric energy need for the 20,000 customers served by the Hunters Point substation while maintaining or improving power quality, reliability, and resilience.

While the Hunters Point Community Microgrid Project is our flagship effort, we are working with a number of other utilities to stage additional Community Microgrid Projects. In particular, the Clean Coalition is working with PSEG Long Island to strengthen a vulnerable portion of the region’s grid by deploying significant amounts of local renewables coupled with grid solutions like energy storage. These pilot projects are informing states’ distribution grid planning processes and will have a significant impact on the future utilization of distributed energy resources.

In the coming months, we will continue our involvement in the New York REV process –sharing our expertise in distributed grid planning with the PSC and others. The Clean Coalition recently joined the Clean Energy Organizations Collaborative, which serves as a forum for aligned stakeholders in REV and other proceedings and includes national and state-based environmental groups, clean energy companies, renewable energy industry trade associations, energy efficiency providers, academic centers, and groups focused on consumer issues. Through our engagement, the Clean Coalition aims to guide New York towards a cleaner, more affordable, and more resilient power system.

Building pathways for local renewable energy


Over the past three months, the Clean Coalition team has made significant strides accelerating the transition towards renewable energy and a modern grid. Our groundbreaking Hunters Point Community Microgrid Project, being conducted in collaboration with Pacific Gas & Electric, is proving the technical and economic viability of local renewable energy. Through this project, we have established a methodology that enables any utility to plan their grid for an optimized portfolio of distributed energy resources — using existing grid modeling tools. We are leveraging this knowledge to strengthen implementation of the Distribution Resource Plans mandated by California’s Assembly Bill 327.

The Clean Coalition is engaged in a number of exciting developments outside of California. In New York, we are staging to bring a Community Microgrid to PSEG Long Island’s territory as part of their “Utility 2.0″ effort. And in sunny Arizona, we are supporting Tucson Electric Power’s recently proposed pilot program to spur deployment of wholesale-interconnected local solar. Additional details on these activities — and many others — are available here.

As always, thank you for your support of the Clean Coalition and our work making clean local energy accessible now.

Craig Lewis
Founder and Executive Director

WInds of Change: Hurricane Sandy Is Ushering in a Smarter Power System

shutterstock_117648394Written with Dan Kammen, a Clean Coalition Board member and Distinguished Professor of Energy at the University of California, Berkeley where he directs the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory.

It’s ironic that a storm whose widespread blackouts left millions of Americans in the dark is finally helping us see the light.

Hurricane Sandy brought devastation and loss to the Eastern seaboard. The storm exposed the severe vulnerability of our electricity infrastructure and made global headlines as a harbinger of nature’s impacts in a climate changed world.

Beyond the shock, New Yorkers found a silver lining in the destruction. The storm made crystal clear that the existing electricity system is not suited to address the challenges of the 21stcentury. In response, New York State recently released a powerful report illuminating how it plans to create a more affordable, efficient and more reliable grid.

Titled Reforming the Energy Vision, this game-changing document calls for a new approach to generating, managing, and delivering electricity throughout New York. The state proposes to replace aging infrastructure by investing nearly $30 billion over the next decade to develop a smarter electricity system. State officials, seeing the performance and cost benefits, are moving quickly to put this vision into action.

Central to the new strategy is replacing two obsolete paradigms: that the model of centralized generation combined with long-distance transmission is the most cost-effective option, and that utility customers should only consume – not produce – grid services.

When it comes to the electricity system, Sandy helped to make clear that bigger isn’t always better. To expand grid services, we have historically incentivized utilities to build large power plants and big transmission infrastructure. This has led to an inefficient and overly expensive electricity system.

States across the country have built significantly bigger systems than necessary. For example, New York’s electricity system uses just 60 percent of the electricity it is capable of generating, on average, because many power plants operate only a small number of hours each year when demand for electricity is highest. Additionally, roughly 10 percent of transmission-dependent power is lost because of inefficiencies associated with power traveling long distances. New Yorkers, as a result, pay more for electricity than they should.

Now, smart information systems, energy efficiency, and local renewables are challenging this centralized paradigm in terms of performance and costs. These distributed energy resources can provide resilient, affordable electricity services driven by private investment and innovation. Universities are often ideal demonstration sites for these new power systems:  The 38 megawatt Cornell University microgrid and the 12 megawatt facility for New York University  are both examples that are performing well and changing perceptions of the historical divide between producer and consumer of energy.

To unleash distributed energy resources in New York, officials are redefining the relationship between utilities, their customers, and the power grid. Rather than simply providing energy as a commodity, New York now sees its utilities as businesses that can be incentivized to provide electricity as a service. Moving forward utilities will manage the grid as a platform where innovative businesses compete to provide grid services. The result can be drastically improved performance of the electricity system and reduced costs for everyone.

New York is on the right track and leading the nation towards a clean, efficient and reliable electricity system. Yet, even more should be done. Smart, ‘two-way’ meters in every home allow effective demand management, while competitive rates of payment to all licensed grid service providers can drive competition and innovation, which benefits consumers.

Greater support for distributed generation will power economic growth – producing more jobs per dollar invested than traditional power plants. And deployment of local renewables can be accomplished at remarkable speed enabling a transition to a zero-carbon electricity system in as little as two decades, according to our studies.

Nationally, our electricity system is outdated – and so are the policies that continue to determine its development. Although it’s not easy to change century-old paradigms and infrastructure, New York is embracing this challenge head on. Hurricane Sandy was a devastating storm, but it is spurring a shift towards a cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable power. Hopefully, these winds of change reach well beyond New York’s borders.

This article also ran on Greentech Media and National Geographic.