Making Vision a Reality

Preparing the electrical grid for the customer of the future.

Within ten years, about 1.5 million Southern California Edison customers will likely be connected to clean energy technologies such as rooftop solar, onsite energy storage, electric vehicles and energy management systems.

These advances require electric power companies to ramp up planning, design and grid reinforcement, said SCE President Ron Nichols, emphasizing that work must begin now to support the expected pace and penetration of these clean energy technologies — also known as distributed energy resources.

Nichols shared his thoughts on Tuesday at Solar Power International, the annual conference of Solar Energy Industries Association and Smart Energy Power Association, where he released a white paper on the Emerging Clean Energy Economy that articulates the steps needed to build a plug-and-play grid which will define the power grid of the future.

Nichols was part of a panel moderated by Julia Hamm, president and CEO of Smart Electric Power Alliance. The panelists also included Ben Bixby, general manager of energy for NEST, Lynn Jurich, CEO of SunRun, and Kenneth Munson, president and co–founder of Sunverge Energy. 

Hamm asked panelists to describe the new energy world that “Jane Average,” an average American consumer living in 2025 would experience.

“We can easily see that a million and a half customers could have DERs,” said Nichols. “Put that in context, that is like saying that every single customer of Los Angeles has distributed energy resources at their homes or businesses.

“Jane Average might not be aware of the huge preparation work that is required, but she, and society will benefit from reduced greenhouse gas emissions and cleaner energy,” he added. “To make this happen in a way that is reliable and cost-effective, we have got to get started right now.”

The white paper discusses how to make this plug-and-play grid vision a reality by stressing that decisions made now will have profound implications for how the energy grid adapts to meet consumer needs and reduce carbon emissions for the rest of the century. More distributed energy resources on the system will have a positive impact on greenhouse gas emissions, reduce reliance on large scale power generation, provide customers more choice and control over their use and supply of energy and deploy emerging technology that also creates new businesses and jobs.

This will require modernizing and reinforcing the grid, connecting distributed energy resources to new markets and revenue opportunities and transitioning to smarter rates for energy customers.

The grid of the future will provide grid operators with real-time information on distributed energy resources  operations, the ability to control the local distribution grid and systems to create market platforms to transact with distributed energy resources providers. With greater automation and the installation of advanced sensors and communication devices, this smarter energy infrastructure will also enhance safety, minimize disruptions and increase reliability.

The paper proposes that utilities are uniquely positioned to function as distribution system operators. In this role, distribution system operators can coordinate between control rooms and field crews in real time to manage grid operations and new markets simultaneously. Distribution system operators also will identify specific needs of the grid, contract for portfolios of distributed energy resources that result in the greatest net benefit for customers, and create competitive markets that compensate distributed energy resources for the services they provide.

The bottom line — to realize all of their potential benefits, distributed energy resources will need to rely heavily on the local distribution grid. In the very near future, a modernized grid will place the customer at the center, transforming electric power companies into facilitators of customer choice. 

The white paper is available at