Ed Smeloff is senior director of grid integration at Vote Solar.
Back in 2014, California started investigating how customer-sited solar arrays, battery storage systems, and automated demand response technologies, like smart thermostats, could be used to avoid costly utility investments in grid infrastructure, thereby saving all ratepayers money.
That was when the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) opened up its Distribution Resource Planning proceeding that required investor-owned utilities to be more transparent about their investments in the grid and to consider using distributed energy resources (DERs) as an alternative once they are cost effective.
So far, the results from this distribution planning process have been meager. But that may change with the adoption of a new pilot tariff that incentivizes the aggregation of customer-owned DERs in targeted locations to avoid upgrading power lines and replacing expensive equipment like transformers.
The new five-year initiative adopted by the CPUC is called the Partnership Pilot and it will test whether third-parties including solar and battery storage companies and demand response businesses can get customers to reduce peak demand on local parts of the grid so that planned upgrades can be avoided or deferred.