Speaking recently with Randy Howard, the director of Power System Planning and Development and chief compliance officer for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), it becomes apparent what a seismic affect California’s state regulators have had in 2011 on the energy market there.

Often considered one of the foremost progressive states in sustainable energy, there have been several mandates across the state of California in 2011, from “cap and trade” provisions to reducing greenhouse gases to an aggressive target for renewables integration that will have long ranging effects on the state’s utilities.
 
For Randy and the LADWP it will mean wholesale change across their grid infrastructure, with 90% of their current resources needing to be replaced over the next 10 to 15 years.

They will need to close coal plants and replace them with renewables to meet the California Energy Commission’s mandate that all utilities must have a portfolio with 33% of renewables by 2020; close coastal plants and generation facilities’ reliance on ocean cooling in response to a State Water Board decision to eliminate coastal cooling; and introduce widespread energy efficiency and demand response programs to provide up to 8.5% of their total energy requirements over the next 15 years or so, in line with energy efficiency mandates.

Such widespread and systematic overhaul of the system will need a lot of careful planning and synchronization in order to ensure the consistent and reliable delivery of energy to the Los Angeles area as new sources of energy generation are brought online, and efficiency and DR programs get rolled out.

So while 2011 was a year spent in a holding pattern waiting to see what the outcome of these regulations would be, 2012 will be a year of intense planning for Randy and his team.

Their initial focus will be on planning for the impact of replacing the coal powered plants in the near-term.  As with all grid planning, it is a complex process that involves myriad stakeholders and outreach, to ensure a broad mandate can be built and supported by the major market players, while ensuring the simulated models are flexible enough to cope with ever changing scenarios. As Randy says “there is very little room for error in this process, as we need to keep the power on at all times.”
The initial plan will look at replacing coal – which accounts for 38% of all LADWP’s generation capacity – over the first few years. There will be a heavy emphasis on solar as a replacement, with wind and geothermal also planned into the mix. Gas fired generators will also be necessary to help mediate intermittency risks posed by renewables, though as storage evolves, this may help to replace some of the issues related to this intermittency.

To help foster the successful integration of widespread renewables, Randy and his team will need to weigh up and study many different scenarios relating to the adoption of the technology, from feed-in tariffs and subsidies or financial incentives, through to the type of solar technology that will best support their goals.

Of course, another key component for the transformation of the grid in Los Angeles is the rollout of smart meters and a smarter distribution grid. To ensure this is deployed in a successful way, they have taken an interesting approach by using their largest campus universities – UCLA and USC – to test their systems and technology before rolling it out on a mass scale. These universities are essentially micro-cities, and as such provide a perfect test bed for new distribution technology. It will be interesting to see the result of this approach as it moves from the campus to the city.

It will be even more interesting to see the results of California’s regulatory mandates as they initiative the overarching changes described by Randy to all of California’s utilities. It promises to keep everyone involved in the spotlight for another decade or more to come.