California utility readies for a plug-in future

  • 16-Dec-2009 05:01 EST
SCE charging up.jpg
Using information from its Get Plug-In Ready program and evaluation of its distribution network, SCE will, where necessary, reinforce the electrical system to help maintain reliability and support a positive experience for its plug-in electric vehicle customers.

It takes planning to get ready for plug-in electric vehicles, which is why a California utility company is seeking specific information from its customers.

Edison International's utility company, Southern California Edison (SCE), is likely the first electricity provider among the nation's 3000 utilities promoting an online survey that asks customers if they plan to buy or lease a plug-in electric vehicle.

SCE's Get Plug-In Ready initiative is an active customer outreach and education effort, said Theodore Craver Jr., Chairman, President, and CEO of Edison International. The program helps customers "make educated choices in terms of what charging level—120 V vs. 240 V—they need, what potential electrical work may be required at their home, and what rate option best suits their needs," he said.

For an electric utility company, getting ready for electrified vehicles is considerably different than getting ready to power up for a new subdivision. "Unlike conventional customer loads that ramp up over time—i.e., housing developments that have months of lead time for utilities to plan and construct infrastructure upgrades—plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle and battery-electric vehicle loads may be added much more quickly to circuits," Craver said.

SCE is comprehensively evaluating its distribution infrastructure to identify potential system challenges from early geographic clusters of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs). "If we had four early battery-electric vehicle adopters in the same neighborhood, the transformer is probably not going to be able to handle that increased energy demand without circuitry updates," said Craver, pointing out that "the electrical load of a single BEV can surpass the demand of a typical Southern California home."

But homes and electrified vehicles are not SCE's only interest. Adjacent to its Pomona, CA, vehicle-maintenance facility—used to repair and monitor its fleet of 300 electric vehicles—is SCE's Garage of the Future. Edward Kjaer, Director of SCE's Electric Transportation, refers to the solar panels, residential battery storage systems, SmartConnect meter, and PEV charging systems as key components of "the most over-engineered garage in the world."

Several devices featured inside the garage are commercially available today, but "how to effectively integrate all these technologies within the home is an important test element," said Kjaer. "Additionally, new technologies that require further refinement include next-generation smart appliances and smart PEVs that communicate within the home area network, home energy-management systems, home storage, and onsite renewable generation—photovoltaics and micro-wind."

While the Garage of the Future serves as a testbed for residential solar, storage, and vehicle-fueling integration, SCE's Electric Vehicle Technical Center (EVTC)—currently part of the Pomona complex—serves as one of the U.S. Department of Energy's recognized sites for evaluating plug-in electric vehicle baseline performance, reliability, and fleet operations.

To facilitate its ongoing research efforts, SCE recently received federal stimulus monies for three projects: the Irvine Smart Grid Demonstration ($40 million), the Tehachapi Wind Energy Storage ($25 million), and the Fault Current Limiting Superconducting Transformer ($10 million).

Integration of smart grid energy technologies—encompassing transmission through the distribution network to energy consumption in the home—will be examined in the Irvine project. Primary interest areas are energy-smart customer devices, the 2020 distribution network, distributed-energy storage, secure energy communications network, and the utility workforce of the future.

The Fault Current Limiting Superconducting Transformer supports the Irvine Smart Grid Demonstration project with a 28 MVA substation-transformer that is approximately 50% of the physical size and weight of a traditional transformer. Unlike aging conventional transformers, which can account for 40% of total grid energy losses, the smart-grid-compatible transformer is expected to lower power consumption by reducing energy losses.

The Tehachapi Wind Energy Storage project will evaluate the performance of utility-scale lithium-ion battery technology as it relates to the grid and the integration of wind generation. According to Loic Gaillac, SCE's Lead Engineer for Energy Storage, the project team will design and build a 32 MW·h Li-ion battery system and smart inverter and then connect it to SCE's Monolith substation near the Tehachapi Wind Resources Area. The project intends to show how the installed system can enhance grid operations and wind power integration by measuring performance to 13 specific operational uses.

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