EPRI suggests technological cures to power ills

Palo Alto, Calif.

In a recently released paper, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has presented a number of “concrete and actionable” technical recommendations to help solve the power crisis that began in California and now involves the 11-state Western power grid. According to the report’s authors, the scope of the recommendations made in the report is regional, the focus is on integration of technology and policy solutions, and the goal is to ensure that society continues to be well served by the electricity infrastructure.

The EPRI report stated that, “The California power crisis is only the most visible part of a larger and growing energy problem in the U.S., resulting from more than a decade of inadequate investment in power generation, transmission and distribution, and customer demand-response programs.”

The paper, titled “The Western States Power Crisis: Imperatives and Opportunities,” contained a number of specific actions to help resolve the current Western power crisis, as well as to establish a transition pathway to a sustainable electricity infrastructure. In addition to regulatory and market reforms, all the recommendations require introduction of new enabling technology to meet the objectives in a cost-effective and timely manner.

“The Western region needs a comprehensive strategy to weather the current crisis and create a power system that meets the region’s economic and social needs well into the future,” the paper stated. “Such a system would ensure that the public is free from the threats of rolling blackouts, able to count on stable and competitive electricity pries and enjoy the benefits of new electricity-based services.

“The technology opportunities (described in the paper) also serve to establish the necessary power system infrastructure needed to serve the digital society.”

The EPRI report made recommendations related to the generation, transmission and distribution of electric power, as well as recommendations related to electricity markets, pricing and environmental concerns.

Specific short-, mid- and long-term recommendations made in the report included:

  • Undertake comprehensive emergency planning for repetitive rolling blackouts, as well as for potential major outages.
  • Expand ongoing load management and energy efficiency programs to rapidly curtail demand during emergencies.
  • Introduce time-sensitive pricing signals and demand-response-enabling technology to all consumers of electricity, beginning with customers whose demands exceed 200 kW.
  • Accelerate the automation of distribution systems to improve service and reduce severity of rolling blackouts.
  • Upgrade existing power plants to increase their capacity by 5 percent through advanced maintenance procedures, diagnostics and cost-effective retrofits.
  • Expand the use and effectiveness of smaller, modular forms of distributed generation by accelerating their electrical interconnection to the grid, resolving environmental constraints and streamlining the siting process for new units.
  • Improve existing transmission capability to achieve more throughput.
  • Pursue a balanced portfolio of generation sources to avert an over-reliance on natural gas.
  • Undertake regulatory reform of the distribution system to provide incentives for technology innovation, automation and accountability for research and development.

The recommendations were discussed among a group of more than three dozen stakeholders from the Western region at EPRI’s Western Power Solutions Workshop, which took place June 7 and 8, 2001.

EPRI plans to present its recommendations to state, regional, and national regulatory and administrative institutions for their consideration and to seek collaborative funding and joint action for critical assessments and development activities. Critical assessments include benchmarking the full costs of power outages and power quality problems as a point of reference for public and private investments in infrastructure.

The entire 60-plus-page EPRI report is available at www.epri.com/WesternStates PowerCrisisSynthesis.pdf.

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