While recognizing that congested areas in part of California’senergy grid need a combination of potential mitigation measures,including distributed generation, the serious discussion at astatewide energy roundtable last week remained ambivalent about howfast, and whether, the decentralized approach can make a meaningfulcontribution.
All of the common questions from adequacy of gas supplies togrid interconnection barriers and even the relative cost of thetechnology were offered as reasons why distributed power may stillbe a decade or more away from having an impact. No mention was madeof the California Public Utilities Commission’s ongoinginvestigation of distributed generation, even though the CPUC wassponsoring the roundtable discussions focused on “market andreliability issues.”
The California Independent System Operator (ISO), thequasi-public agency responsible for future planning of the stateelectrical grid, thinks that constrained parts of California’spower system need to look at transmission and generation first,then consider what demand-side management and new technology, suchas distributed generation fuel cells and microturbines, cancontribute.
“It [distributed generation] offers low-emissions andflexibility, but at about 50% higher cost than conventionalcentralized plants,” said Kellan Fluckiger, ISO’s vice president ofoperations. “Older technology is cheaper, but more polluting. Oldtechnology tends to be 10 to 15 times higher in emissions. “Itwill take time for prices to come down on the new technology,analogous to what happened in telecom with wireless phones. Ibelieve in technology, and over time if the technology fordistributed power proves itself, there will be a gradual migrationtoward that technology. Over time the rules and the system designswould change.”
California needs to break down its reliability concerns andidentify which ones are related to generation, which are tied totransmission and if there are others, whether they involve thedistribution system, said Jairam Gopal, a consultant to the stateenergy commission.
“Distributed generation can provide some options,” Gopal said.”We are today making great strides in distributed generation.Demonstrations are displaying some values from it. But there arevery real barriers that need to be overcome: (1) interconnection,(2) air quality permitting issues, as well as others. It could bethat by installing distributed generation at some bottleneckpoints, we could relieve the problem. “I think first we need toidentify where the bottlenecks are, and then, second, force downthe barriers in terms of interconnection.”
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