Last week’s article on the California Energy Commission’s 2013 Integrated Energy Policy Report (IEPR) identified how climate changes impact energy needs and create new challenges for the state of California’s electricity, natural gas, and transportation fuel sectors. Heat and precipitation are two of the major climate changes that have outsized impacts on the state’s energy sector. That should influence the ongoing design and deployment of Smart Grid technologies and policies. For one thing, harkening back to my ten Smart Grid and Smart City predictions for 2020, infrastructure like a grid or a community can’t be called smart if it lacks resiliency. Climate changes will require that we create more resilient critical infrastructures – whether it is in the design and management of energy and water, or the policies that determine the quality of responsiveness by governmental agencies to meet their citizens’ needs in times of disruption.
How can the Smart Grid address these challenges and threats? Here are five suggestions.
1) A Smart Grid delivers grid resiliency by putting more reliance on distributed generation (DG). A comprehensive DG strategy locates generation assets close to demand. This strategy also reduces reliance on vulnerable transmission lines that might fry in the next wild fire conflagration. California already has a good start on DG with the rapid growth of rooftop solar. Technology and financial innovations are in place to enable continued growth. Policy innovations should look at defining clear benefits for utilities to encourage investments in generation sited at the distribution grid level and the technologies to manage diverse assets; and encourage partnerships with third parties that can assist in accelerating DG deployments.
2) Deploy applicable monitoring and telemetry technologies for leak detection to the aging water infrastructure, which is in dismaying disrepair and suspected to be leaking like a sieve. The emphasis is on the word suspected – lacking reliable data or visibility into pipeline health means that everyone is offering educated guesses about the overall infrastructural integrity of our water systems. This activity won’t create more water, but it will help the state and communities manage existing water supplies with intelligence that is lacking today. Smart water management can deliver situational awareness about operations and create proactive rather than reactive policies and plans – similar to the benefits the Smart Grid delivers to the electricity infrastructure. And let’s acknowledge that energy/water nexus. When we save water, we save electricity.
3) Deploy water meters across the state, which contains a surprising number of communities that don’t have water meters. Just like we’ve demonstrated with smart meters for electricity, simple awareness of water consumption can reduce usage.
4) Study the possibilities of instituting Time of Use rates for water that are tied to energy use. Using water during times of peak electricity demand simply increases overall electricity needs. Timing water consumption to off-peak times saves electricity. 5) Rationalize the varying municipal and county codes about water consumption, conservation, and gray water use. A Sierra Club volunteer effort highlighted great disparities in permit fees for rooftop solar across Silicon Valley communities, resulting in state legislation that set limits on those fees, and created standards for fee computations. State officials need to similarly understand the difficulties that our extremely fragmented water utility sector has in putting together programs that must accommodate multiple jurisdictions. There’s plenty of process friction that could be reduced or eliminated through such rationalizations.
We can’t stop human-caused climate change, but we can mitigate its worst effects by continuing Smart Grid solution deployments in the electrical grid and applying these solutions in the water grid. We have no choice but to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Smart Grid technologies and policies can certainly help accelerate economic and societal adaptations as well as support creative mitigation strategies.