SCE Replaces Nukes and Gas with Renewables + Storage

By John Addison

John Addison is the author of two books - Save Gas, Save the Planet that details the future of transportation and Revenue Rocket about technology partner strategy. CNET, Clean Fleet Report, and Meeting of the Minds have published over 300 of his articles. Prior to being a writer and speaker, he was in partner and sales management for technology companies such as Sun Microsystems. Follow John on Twitter @soaringcities.

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Southern California Edison (SCE) serves 15 million people in Southern California. SCE’s power generators and over 12,000 employees keep on the lights and charge 100,000 electric vehicles. SCE delivers reliable electricity in the face of enormous challenges.

Two large nuclear plants that supplied 1,300 MW were shut down at San Onofre after years of repairs; the $4.7 billion plant closure costs is greater than the original estimates of building and running the nukes. Then a large natural gas storage facility at Aliso Canyon massively leaked. The California Energy Commission declared that the methane leak was so damaging that it undid the greenhouse gas emissions reductions of 10 years of energy efficiency for the entire state.

Due to the lack of methane fuel, SCE will shutdown about 30 peaking gas plants. By 2020, it will also shutdown a number of larger once-through-water-cooled methane plants because drought crippled California does not have enough water.

During a Navigant webinar, I listened to SCE President Ron Nichols discuss their transition to renewables, storage and an energy cloud that could be a model for utilities across the nation. SCE is transitioning from large water-thirsty polluting plants to being a distributed systems operator (DSO) of distributed generation resources (DER) such as solar, energy storage, efficiency, and demand response. In the past, the grid was a one-way flow of electricity from large power plants; in the future, it will be more like the internet cloud, facilitating a two-way flow from wind, solar, and storage. SCE is investing billions in the transformation.

Solar + Wind + Storage

SCE uses no coal and no nuclear; power generation is primarily from natural gas (methane); 24 percent is from solar, wind and geothermal renewables. By 2030, SCE will achieve its goal of 50 percent non-hydro renewables for generation, with solar and wind being major sources.

Wind and most solar is generated by large projects, often built by operators like NRG and sold to SCE with 20-year power purchase agreements. Solar is typically ground-mounted with an axis that keeps solar panels tilted toward the sun from sunrise to sunset. In addition, solar is generated at thousands of homes, commercial roofs and parking structures. With storage, renewable electricity can be delivered during peak hours as reliably electricity from a traditional power plant.

In the last 12 months, SCE has contracted for 400 MW of different types of battery and thermal storage at various locations. Impressive is 100 MW of lithium batteries in 40-foot trailers, installed by AES at Alamitos, where several of its methane plants will be retired.

Large-scale storage is not new to SCE; it has used pumped hydro for decades – water is pumped uphill at night when demand for electricity is low, and released to fall at peak hours when electricity is most valued. Gravity works. SCE has over 1,000 MW of pumped hydro in the High Sierras, but some of the operations are over 100 years old and others impacted by record drops in water levels from the drought. Future storage growth will be large-scale batteries. With technology breakthrough, compressed air and large thermal storage could also be implemented.

Energy Cloud

In our daily world of using smartphones and browsers, we refer to the remote collection of information, software, and servers as the cloud. In a similar fashion, a diversity of energy generation and energy use is being enabled with a smart two-way grid, referred to as the energy cloud. By 2030, the energy cloud will be a $3 trillion opportunity for utilities, their partners, and their competitors according to Navigant (Free energy cloud report).

SCE is building a smart, reliable, two-way grid so that it can be a plug-and-play platform for energy generators and consumers. Using their DERiM Web Map built on ArcGIS, detailed planning by location is done by SCE, regulators, and DER partners.

Intelligent Lithium Battery and Thermal Storage

Beyond the massive lithium batteries being installed at places like Alamitos, SCE is working with a number of competitive bid winners that aggregate behind-the-meter storage at SCE customer locations. For example, SCE awarded Stem, and intelligent energy storage aggregator, a contract where 85 MW of behind-meter storage will be deployed over 4 years. Over 2 MW is now deployed. Park Place has 1.3 MW in Irvine. Other customers, typically using 54 kW and 72 MW systems include J.C. Penney, Southern California University, John Hancock Offices, and Panasonic. These Stem customers agree to participate in an SCE DR program for 4 hours daily, delivering energy from batteries or in using batteries to moderate demand.

Advanced Microgrid Solutions (AMS) was awarded five power purchase agreements (PPA) to aggregate 40 MW of fast-response storage at customer locations. AMS is currently implementing behind-the-meter storage at 24 Irvine Company buildings, 18 water treatment facilities, and California State University campuses. Both AMS and Stem use big data, machine learning, and on-site smart power electronics to optimize use of lithium batteries.

Lithium batteries generate excitement as they power electric cars and enable grid solutions that range from hours of load shifting to minutes of frequency response. Yet, thermal storage is often much less expensive and more practical. SCE customers increasingly use smart water heaters that heat off-peak and keep water warm for days. Ice Energy Holdings will install 25.6 MW of thermal storage, making ice off peak for use in cooling during peak.

At the GTM Storage Conference, Colin Cushniew, SCE V.P. Energy Procurement and Management, discussed the utility’s need to move quickly and encourage innovative solutions. SCE must replace 9 GW of conventional generation by 2020 and spend billions upgrading their grid. SCE plans to defer millions of substation upgrade costs at 4 locations. SCE anticipates that solution providers are likely to bid a variety of solutions near these substations including energy efficiency, demand response, aggregated behind the meter storage, and large storage located at the 4 substations.

Southern California is one of the world’s biggest markets for electric vehicles. SCE has created a pilot platform to award EV drivers for slowing their charge rates at peak hours. Auto Grid software is used in a pilot with 35 different types of EV chargers. Over 10 million-kilowatt hours are potentially available in Southern California EVs.

Edison is a Model of Future Energy

In many ways, Edison is a model of the future electric utility. Thanks to the energy efficiency of its customers and 30 percent of generation from renewables, it is already free of using coal and nuclear. By 2030, all new buildings in California by law will be zero-net energy, leading to a phase out of methane for heating, hot water, and cooking. In addition, SCE is making major reduction in the use of methane generation, starting with inefficient peakers then moving on to water-demanding larger plants. This reduction helps our future since methane is a destructive greenhouse gas that leaks from fracking to storage to distribution to use.

By 2030, most of SCE’s energy will be from solar and wind, not methane. SCE will continue its transformation to a distributed systems operator using a smart grid and time of use pricing to match supply and demand of distributed energy resources. A key enabler of the transformation will be advanced batteries, thermal storage, big data and software that make this storage intelligent.

Featured Image: “Electricity-generating wind turbines churn in SCE’s service territory.” Credit: Southern California Edison

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