In testimony before a U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Subcommittee, Edison International Chairman John E. Bryson today predicted a new grid management technology pioneered by the company's utility, Southern California Edison, could one day help prevent regional power blackouts such as the Northeast blackout of August 2003 that affected 50 million utility customers in eight states and Canada.
"Our company is leading the development of a sophisticated new technology called synchronous phasor measurement that measures stress on utility transmission grids," said Bryson. "As we combine this advanced monitoring system with new digital control technologies we expect to be able to identify and help halt most potential cascading blackouts."
Calling some current U.S. grid components "dinosaurs," Bryson urged legislators to support substantial new utility investments in "smarter" transmission and distribution technologies.
"A high-tech world can no longer afford a low-tech electricity grid," said Bryson. "Together we must build the smart electricity grid of the future."
Bryson told the committee that because many distribution grids - the networks that carry power to homes and businesses - are both expanding and aging, utilities like SCE are investing at record levels. He cautioned, however, against investing in the same old circuit designs and components.
"Even momentary interruptions can now cause significant economic loss for business customers due to the increasing sophistication of their equipment," said Bryson. "And residential customers are using more advanced digital home electronics resulting in higher expectations of service from their local utility. Old power delivery technologies are no longer good enough."
Bryson identified advanced metering as one of the most important examples of the need and opportunity to move the industry's distribution grid into the 21st Century. He stated Edison International, along with a number of other utilities, has been working with the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee on new tax policies that better reflect the nature of investing in the new generation of high technology equipment.
"We will invest $1.2 billion equipping every household and small business we serve with a state-of-the-art, 'smart,' all-digital electricity meter that will be a small, powerful computer and communication system," said Bryson. "Among the benefits will be time-of-use pricing options that will create incentives for customers to save money by shifting some of their use to off-peak hours when electricity costs are lower."
Bryson estimated that such options could reduce peak demand by as much as 1000 MW, the output of an entire large power plant, with the related customer cost and environmental benefits. He reported that peak consumption is a key factor in determining generating capacity requirements and customer costs, so managing peak demand is essential to controlling the need to build expensive new power plants.
Once the new metering technology is deployed, Bryson predicted it would be common to see household devices labeled "communicating" - dishwashers, electric dryers, refrigerators and pool pumps that can "talk" to the new smart meters, automatically adjusting usage, at customers' direction, when power costs rise.
Bryson informed energy committee members that a smarter grid also will improve basic services. New technologies will enable faster outage response. Because of advanced meters, dispatchers will know immediately when and where outages occur, allowing utility crews to respond more quickly. Additionally, SCE's advanced meter will include a service switch that will allow the utility to remotely activate a customer's new service, making more convenient a service requested annually by more than one million SCE customers.
Bryson connected the technology transformation he sees occurring within the electricity sector with the national effort to reduce emissions and protect the environment. He reported smart grid technologies will help reduce peak consumption and power generation, make it easier for utilities to integrate intermittent renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, and support the emergence of cleaner electric transportation fuel, reducing the nation's petroleum consumption.