The new three-year strategic plan from California’s grid operator has a big takeaway.

“Things were coming at us fast,” explained California ISO Senior Public Information Officer Steven Greenlee. “We reduced the new strategic plan from five years to three years so we can better match the pace of that change.”

In 2012, “Over 670 megawatts of new solar generation were connected to the ISO grid,” according to the plan. By 2015, renewables will go from 2010’s 17 percent of the state's load to 25 percent.

Reliably delivering electricity and supporting the state’s ambitious 33 percent renewables by 2020 goal were the aims of the California Independent System Operator Corporation (ISO) four-step, five-year plan that was released just eighteen months ago, according to CEO Stephen Berberich.

But the state’s grid “is experiencing a historic transformation,” the ISO’s newly released Building A Sustainable Energy Future: 2014-2016 Strategic Plan notes. “In combination, distributed generation resources such as rooftop solar, fuel cells, electric vehicles and advances in energy storage have the potential to revolutionize the power grid. These key drivers are fundamentally changing the grid from a centralized, ‘one-way’ distribution system, to a ‘two-way’ decentralized network.”

The new strategic plan contains few “hard numbers,” Greenlee said. “This was our attempt at succinctly describing our current vision and our roadmap for getting to it.”

It is a way for the ISO to expand its consideration of new grid management opportunities like vehicle to grid (V2G) technology, demand response (DR), and energy imbalance markets that have emerged as realities in the last eighteen months, Greenlee explained.

“One example is that since the last strategic plan, we have engaged in vehicle-to-grid pilot projects with developers,” Greenlee said. Department of Defense plans call for a $20 million investment in V2G vehicles and infrastructure at Los Angeles Air Force Base and the Naval Air Weapons Station in China Lake, according to the document.  From telemetry data exchanges between the pilot projects and the ISO, Greenlee explained, “We see what they do, we see what happens on the grid, we get feedback and give them our feedback.”

Another big change in the ISO’s current planning was due to the recent shutdown of the 2,200-megawatt San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS). “We had to think beyond just replacing the output of SONGS to building new infrastructure and modifying and refurbishing existing infrastructure,” Greenlee said. “We are now building the reliability we want in the SONGS region into our larger vision of the new grid. That could include storage, V2G, demand response and more regional cooperation.”

The ISO’s so-called duck chart shows how California’s grid will evolve as renewables are added.

“The ISO has identified the need for very specific operational capabilities needed in real time to allow electric supply to keep up with demand and also reduce production during oversupply conditions,” the plan notes, but “there is no effective mechanism looking out two to three years to procure these flexible capabilities.”

“We have to decide what resources are flexible, how much flexibility we need, if we have the technology to manage flexible technologies or if we have to develop those technologies,” Greenlee said. “We are weaving those questions into our strategies.”

 A big source of increased flexibility in the new plan is establishing an Energy Imbalance Market (EIM), Greenlee said. “It leverages resources across a wider region.”

The ISO has developed new regional cooperative agreements with PacifiCorp, which operates in Oregon, Washington, California, Utah, Wyoming and Idaho, along with Nevada’s Valley Electric Association and with the Merced Irrigation District in Central California, according to the plan.

The ISO is also making internal changes, including dedicated staff, to enlarge its EIM, Greenlee said. “We are taking the time to build an EIM that would be attractive to anyone in the West,” Greenlee said. “It is pay-as-you-go and it will help them in their planning and give us new resources. It will be a robust market that everyone can benefit from.”

The new ISO plan also notes the implementation of FERC Order 764. “Moving to 15-minute scheduling increases the operational flexibility of the grid and reduces the cost of integrating.”

To meet the state’s loading order, which requires the ISO to use efficiency measures and renewables first whenever possible, the plan calls for:

  • Compliance with the state’s mandate to eliminate once-through cooling plants
  • Cooperation with the California Public Utilities Commission to develop market-based solutions to meet resource adequacy mandates
  • Attributing capacity value for reliability
  • Advocating for policies that support the loading order, such as time-of-use rates
  • Streamlining transmission and distribution interconnections
  • Doing whatever is needed to protect the grid

“This is a sign of progress at the ISO,” said Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies Executive Director V. John White. “It is noteworthy that they recognized the integration of renewables as a core function and seem eager to enable advanced new technologies. The board and management seem committed. But it will also require a significant culture change inside the organization.”