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Pivoting to a Distributed Energy World

Electricity's transformative change

EDITOR’S NOTE: J. Andrew Murphy, of Edison International, helped launch The California Renewables Rush conference recently in San Francisco. This article is the second  of a three-part series extracted from his presentation. Next: Building the Plug and Play Grid.

Looking forward, we see the amount of distributed energy resources — rooftop solar, storage, EVs, fuel cells, other forms of onsite generation and load management — continuing to increase. 

So we are going to have to invest in the distribution system, essentially echoing the transformations of the transmission system, and take it from a passive one-way system to a system that accommodates a significant two-way flow of renewables at the distribution level.

But, the changes triggered by the regulatory environment are only part of the story.  The power industry is, in fact, undergoing a transformative change driven by changing customer needs and emerging technologies that are enabling customer choice.  

Customers who install distributed energy resources like solar and energy storage and charge electric cars at home change the traditional one-way relationship with their utilities. They are becoming “prosumers” – both providers and consumers of electricity -- and they expect to seamlessly connect to the grid to maximize the value of their DERs.

One of the curiosities of California politics is that a whole other class of renewable energy, rooftop solar, is not part of the RPS. Customers are installing rooftop PV at an exponential growth rate—in case of SCE customers, more than 5,000 installations per month.

But even though rooftop solar won’t count towards the RPS goal, it is still going to be an important part of the California clean energy story, and so we are looking to make sure that we have the grid that can handle it.

We also have other commercial parties who are now engaging directly with customers, such as rooftop solar providers, home and building efficiency control contractors, and demand-side management services.   Consequently, the role of the utility is changing. The utility is no longer a central planner for everything.  Customers want the utility to enable their choice of technology, products and services while managing cost, and to enable new market mechanisms to provide and benefit from grid services. And, they want the grid to be plug and play, so that they can seamlessly and immediately integrate their devices onto the grid.

So, as much work as we have done to date, there is still a lot more to be done. And getting there will be complex because we have a diverse set of stakeholders; different types of customers, policymakers and commercial third parties, each with a variety of needs and desires.   

Drew Murphy is Edison International senior vice president, Strategic Planning.


California Leads the Way


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