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Free Radicals

The Revelry was in Full Swing When I Showed up. I found myself immersed in a pod of youthful innovators from Southern California Edison (SCE) who had congregated at the Marriott bar for a few refreshments the evening before our T&D World University kicked off in Dallas.

Chris Clark was sitting to my right. He had been designing distribution jobs, but was recently pulled out of the day-to-day activities to join a group of engineers who had been charged with seeing how they might leverage technology and develop tools to help speed up work processes. By having the time to focus on building engineering design tools, Chris could have a bigger impact. I asked if he would consider existing line-design software tools and offered to provide Chris some leads to speed him on his way.

As typically happens in a bar, we found ourselves chatting about leisure activities. But Chris didn't seem wired for leisure activities. Instead, his eyes lit up when he talked about running in marathons. I was impressed that he would find pleasure in pain. Give me golf any day.

Sitting next to him, senior engineer Juan Castaneda was also into running. What is it with young guys having so much extra energy to burn? Juan focuses on power-system innovations, but because he is so high energy and such a good listener, he could clue me in on what was going on in SCE in just about any area.

I learned that 16% of SCE's energy comes from renewables and that SCE consumes 10% of the nation's wind energy and 90% of the nation's electric solar energy. Juan shared that SCE is working with Quanta Technologies and Oak Creek Energy to identify storage technologies to enhance integration of wind on the transmission system. In particular, they are looking for storage solutions that will help them address frequency, voltage and stability problems, as well as path-congestion issues. Bulk-storage technologies being evaluated include pumped storage and compressed air energy storage. SCE is also addressing regional storage opportunities using battery technologies, flywheels and capacitors.

Stephanie Hamilton was at the far end of the table, but somehow we got on a topic that had the whole table engaged. After shouting a few sentences across the melee, Stephanie came over and introduced herself. She is the manager of distributed energy resources, but if I were to give her a title, it would read "connector par excellence." We quickly found we had a mutual friend in Hawk Asgeirsson, a distributed generation guru with DTE Energy.

Stephanie also could second as a cheerleader, as she truly believes the incubator folk she brought to Dallas are the best in the business. She introduced me to David Martinez, who is deep into technology integration and the Smart Grid. Talk about a hot issue. We had an interesting chat on what constitutes the Smart Grid. Right now, especially with the California Public Utilities Commission promoting two-way metering, the Smart Grid in California is focusing on promoting customer choice. So, once utilities install this two-way metering, what options are open to customers to take advantage of this technology? Well, SCE is working on several obvious uses that its staff presented at T&D World University.


Jordan Smith, who works in the electric transportation group, was telling me that SCE has an electric vehicle (EV) test program that survived when most of the other utilities shut down their programs. SCE has been testing EVs for the Department of Energy since the late 1990s. By subjecting vehicles to three to six months of accelerated mileage, they can uncover early-failure modes. Jordan said that the Toyota RAV 4 EV tested the best. They have had 200 to 300 of these vehicles being used on the SCE system over the past seven to eight years. Jordan allayed my fears that EVs might not be ready for primetime, stating that their tests show EVs can go 100,000 miles on original batteries. He also said he drives a pure EV with extra batteries, giving the vehicle a range of 100 miles (161 km). He has never been stranded, because the vehicle has the equivalent of a gas gauge, and when necessary, Jordan can plug into the various charging stations located around town.


Advanced metering is also required to connect solar to the grid. SCE has announced an initiative to connect 250 MW of solar to the grid, with a focus on placing 33,700 thin-film panels on large commercial warehouse roofs. Deanne Nelsen is the project manager for a 1.2-MW SCE solar farm. She projects the cost of electric energy from the solar facility will come in at US$4.25/W. I was quite impressed with the sophistication and pricing of the power-conversion systems being used to connect photovoltaics to the SCE grid.

I was also quite impressed with this generation of free-thinking, opportunity-seeking engineers and scientists who will reinvent our utilities and our future.

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