Users, SDG&E would save billions
October 19, 2006
UNION-TRIBUNE Craig D.
and San Diego Gas & Electric could reap billions
of dollars in benefits over the next two decades by
modernizing the regional electricity grid, a University
of San Diego study has concluded.
The study, released yesterday
from the USD Energy Policy Initiatives Center, found
that an investment of about $500 million in technology
for the grid would yield up to $3 billion in benefits
divided almost equally between the community and the
The benefits would include
reduced costs, greater security, environmental gains
and a reduction in the likelihood of blackouts.
Scott Anders, director of the energy center, said
he suspected that the public was largely unaware of
how primitive the existing grid technology is.
“"Right now, the way SDG&E knows
that the power is out is that you call them,"
"A high-tech grid would help pinpoint outages
and might anticipate problems, allowing the utility
to take action before a loss of power, along with
other benefits,"Anders said.
He said the study also
found that regulatory and business trends in the
region will create a favorable climate for upgrading
the grid. Those trends include more stringent environmental
regulations favoring greater use of renewable energy
and increased emphasis on conservation.
The study was conducted
by San Diego-based SAIC and jointly funded by SDG&E
and the Utility Consumers' Action Network, or UCAN,
a local consumer group that is often critical of
A spokesman for SDG&E said it strongly supported
the idea of a smart grid and welcomed the study's
findings. But Eddie Van Herik, the SDG&E spokesman,
said the utility found the benefit estimates from
modernizing the grid "a bit optimistic."
"But this is an early
stage study," Van Herik said.
As an example of a "smarter"
grid's benefits, the utility spokesman said it could
allow more efficient use of power generated from
rooftop photovoltaic systems, which convert sunlight
"We know we're getting
power from photovoltaics, but precisely how much
and where it's coming from is hard to quantify,"
Van Herik said. "But you want to know exactly
where you're getting it and how much, so you know
what you need to buy. Having that information lets
you shave peak power demand and is a cost saver."
He added that the dozen
or so technologies considered in the report all
depend on advanced electricity meters, which SDG&E
is proposing to install at a cost of about $1 billion
by 2011. That proposal is under consideration by
the California Public Utilities Commission.
Advanced meters will include
computer capabilities and provide information such
as when electricity is being used. Electric meters
now in use merely track the aggregate quantity of
power used over time.
The USD study assumed that
advanced meters were already deployed in the region.
Michael Shames, executive director of UCAN, agreed
that estimates of benefits from upgrading the grid
were a bit "squishy."
But Shames said a particularly
useful aspect of the study was its finding that
most of the investment in new grid technologies
would yield paybacks within seven years.
Among the visible benefits
to consumers, Shames noted, might be Internet-based
portals that would allow consumers to track their
home energy usage and control appliances to conserve
power and save money.
A modern grid might also
allow clusters of customers to generate and use
their own electricity, as a type of "microgrid,"
But the consumer advocate
said he was disappointed by SDG&E's proposal
for advanced metering, criticizing it for not being
aggressive enough technically and for requiring
too long a period to provide savings.