Utility takes on solar challenge with grid redesign

Adding more clean power to the grid will require utilities to redesign the network that transports solar electricity locally. Southern California Edison on Monday laid out its plan to make its distribution grid more responsive to the fluctuating infusion of solar electricity throughout the day.

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California Gov. Jerry Brown made it official — the state’s biggest utilities are going to get a third of their electricity from wind, solar and other renewable resources by 2020. Now all they have to do it get to their existing mandate of 20 percent by 2010. As of March, Pacific Gas & Electric had hit 17.7 percent and Southern California Edison had reached 19.4 percent in their clean energy portfolios, though both are projecting they’ll hit 20 percent by the end of the year. Huge projects by the likes of BrightSource Energy and First Solar are set to expand California’s share of solar power over the coming years, but utilities still have a long way to go to get there. Plus, the cost of building solar and wind farms, geothermal power plants and other far-off clean resources can be matched or exceeded by the cost of building new transmission lines to get the power to where it’s needed. Distributed green energy — rooftop solar panels, backyard wind farms, household batteries and other sources of power — could help reduce some of those transmission costs by putting green power close to where it’s consumed. But distributed resources are harder for utilities to manage and control, without smart grid technologies to link them up…

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Which utilities are spending the most on demand response? A really useful new report from ZPryme (PDF) lays out the top ten utilities in the U.S. in terms of spending on what it calls “demand side management” over the past five years. Little surprise that California utilities are in the lead, given the state’s need to balance its increasing load of intermittent renewable energy sources like wind and solar power under the state’s aggressive renewable mandate. Pacific Gas & Electric spent $586 million last year, and has been the top spender since 2008, when it outpaced Southern California Edison, which spent $494 million last year. California is setting up new programs that should open new markets to demand-side resources, and it’s also connecting demand response and energy efficiency programs. Florida Power & Light came in third with $200 million spent on DR last year, and San Diego Gas & Electric came in fourth at $144 million. While big demand response aggregators like EnerNOC, Comverge and Constellation Energy are growing their share of the U.S. market, most demand-side management in the country is still carried out via utility programs. Big changes are afoot in the demand response industry, with federal rules set to open energy trading markets to demand-side “negawatts” for the same prices generated energy can get — I’m curious to see how that impacts utility spending on DR programs going forward.

So Cal Edison Contracts Over 800 MW Solar

Holy solar. Southern California Edison announced this morning that it has signed contracts with solar developers SunPower and Fotowatio Renewable Ventures to buy solar electricity for a total of 831 MW of solar projects.

Tessera Sells Troubled 850MW Solar Project

Tessera Solar said Tuesday it has sold an 850-megawatt solar energy project in California that, up until a few months ago, was poised to be a showcase piece for the company.

Competition Heating Up for the OpenADR Market

Honeywell bought a lock on a key piece of technology for OpenADR deployments when it bought Akuacom this summer. But challengers are emerging with OpenADR server products of their own.

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Will a technology for automating demand response get a boost from a new industry partnership? Wednesday brings news of the OpenADR Alliance, a group promoting the adoption of the OpenADR (automated demand response) protocol developed at Berkeley Labs and now in use by Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison. Big building controls company Honeywell bought Akuacom, maker of a server for OpenADR, last year, and it rounds out the short list of current alliance members — though some 60 companies now use OpenADR and may be joining the group soon. In the meantime, software developer UISOL is working on opening up the source code for newcomers to build their own OpenADR servers and systems. With the National Institute of Standards and Technology putting OpenADR on its short list of likely smart grid standards, no doubt utilities and vendors are eager to get to work.

Report: PG&E’s Smart Meters Work, but Outreach Lacking

The official verdict is out — Pacific Gas & Electric’s smart meter technology has been working properly, but its customer service hasn’t. That’s the conclusion of a state-ordered report released Thursday from independent analysts at the Structure Group.