Pioneers of the Grid Revolution

SCE faces a ‘staggering but achievable’ task building the infrastructure needed to support a clean energy future.

If you think 2045 — when California by law must have a net-zero greenhouse gas-emitting economy — is a long way off, think about this: In 2003, 21 years ago, Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor, the United States invaded Iraq and “Finding Nemo” was a box office blockbuster. Twenty-one years pass quickly, so the job of building the bones of a clean energy future cannot wait.

“In California, we will need to build transmission at four times and distribution capacity at 10 times their respective historical rates to achieve the 2045 economywide net-zero greenhouse gas goal. This is staggering but achievable,” said Pedro Pizarro, president and CEO of Edison International. “Integrating
new and emerging technologies into the existing infrastructure will make the grid more reliable, resilient and ready for the electrification journey ahead.”

Simply expanding the existing network of transmission and distribution equipment that carries power throughout Southern California Edison’s 50,000-square-mile service area won’t be enough.

“We don’t have much time left. Even with all the money and resources in the world, we just won’t be able to get all the necessary work done in time,” said Shinjini Menon, SCE vice president of Asset Strategy and Wildfire Mitigation. “So, we need to design the entire grid differently.”

Advanced conductors will help increase the capacity of transmission lines. Pictured is the Eldorado-Lugo 500 kV transmission lines bring power from the Hoover Dam to Victorville.
Advanced conductors will help increase the capacity of transmission lines. Pictured are the Eldorado-Lugo 500 kV transmission lines that bring power from the Hoover Dam to Victorville. PHOTO CREDIT: Casey Wian

By necessity, that work is already underway. Two of the biggest drivers of demand for electric power are well known: electric vehicles and electrified heating, cooling and cooking in buildings. There is also an urgent and growing demand for power for data centers, artificial intelligence, warehouses and repatriated manufacturing facilities. Transportation corridors need high-voltage EV charging stations, and home builders need connections for new developments to ease California’s housing crunch.

Solutions being actively evaluated for near and midterm implementation include:

  • Advanced conductors that can help significantly increase the capacity of existing and new transmission lines.
  • Higher voltages on distribution lines and substations to dramatically reduce the number of new infrastructure needed.
  • Packing more substation capacity into a smaller footprint that will reduce the need for new land and make space for additional equipment in existing substations.
  • Strategic placement of energy storage to mitigate equipment loading, reducing or delaying grid buildout needs and providing backup power during outages.
  • Increased use of sensors and analytics to monitor the grid’s health, minimizing the need for physical inspections.
  • Next-generation metering infrastructure incorporating technology to provide customers additional information to reduce bills and help manage electricity demand on the grid during peak times of the day.

“We are working to change the architecture of the grid and the technologies we use, which then makes it feasible for us to meet the capacity and resilience needs in the time we have left while spending less money,” Menon said.

These dramatic changes must happen simultaneously with improvements in system reliability, minimizing customer outages.

“If we are not able to reduce outages, that would be a significant deterrent to electrification,” Menon said.

Also, a deterrent: California’s cumbersome siting and permitting processes, which can stretch the time it takes to build a new transmission line to a decade or more.

“We must speed up the siting and permitting process to ensure the grid is ready for the new demand we are already witnessing. We can promote efficiency by avoiding duplicative reviews, placing a ‘shot clock’ on decisions and providing agencies with sufficient resources,” Pizarro said.

A grid expansion project at SCE's Devers substation in Whitewater, Calif.
A grid expansion project at SCE's Devers substation in Whitewater, Calif. PHOTO CREDIT: Casey Wian

Despite the seemingly daunting technological, political and logistical challenges, Menon is optimistic that SCE will accomplish its clean energy goals because of what she calls next-level creativity being exhibited by colleagues working on these issues.

“Because we have resource and funding challenges, it’s like we’re throwing down the gauntlet and saying, ‘be even more creative,’” Menon said. “That’s what makes me very optimistic and confident that we will be able to do this.”

The clean energy future — and every benefit for SCE customers from the clean energy economy — depends on it.

For more information about SCE’s clean energy efforts, visit