IEEE-USA in Action

San Diego Gets Smart

By Chris McManes

Twice this year, San Diego Gas & Electric has been recognized for its Smart Grid network. So, it was fitting that it served as host utility for the 2012 IEEE Power & Energy Society General Meeting.

SDG&E President and Chief Operating Officer Michael Niggli, who holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in electrical engineering, was the first speaker during the opening plenary session. He addressed New Technology and Renewable Energy to Create a Utility of the Future.

To quote former NFL Coach George Allen, for SDG&E: “The future is now.”

“Each and every one of us needs to be a better engineer tomorrow than we are today,” Niggli said, “and this is what PES is all about: gaining that knowledge and gaining connections.”

The event, held at the Manchester Grand Hyatt on San Diego Bay, set the following PES General Meeting records: 3,129 attendees; 1,289 peer-reviewed papers, 170 technical sessions, 68 panel sessions and 446 papers with Smart Grid, renewable energy or electric vehicles in the title.

Attendees hailed from 54 countries and represented 550 organizations. The welcome reception was held aboard the retired aircraft carrier USS Midway.


IEEE-USA, which works closely with PES on congressional briefings and workforce initiatives, had its exhibit on hand. At least four members of the IEEE-USA Energy Policy Committee attended the 22-26 July conference: Dr. Saifur Rahman, Stan Klein, Dick Wakefield and Dr. Massoud Amin, who coined the term “Smart Grid” in 1998.

A video and slides of the opening plenary are available. (It starts at the 52:49 mark.) Niggli was joined by:

  • IEEE Fellow Mark Lauby, vice president and director of reliability assessment and performance analysis, North American Electric Reliability Corporation
  • Dr. Arshad Mansoor, senior vice president for R&D, Electric Power Research Institute
  • Dr. Kanwalinder Singh, senior vice president of business development, Qualcomm

SDG&E Honors

In its April/March issue, Intelligent Utility Magazine, and IDC Energy Insights named SDG&E the Most Intelligent Utility in the United States for the third year in a row. It rated higher than 77 other utilities in areas such as smart-energy initiatives, IT investments and renewable energy integration. On 1 August, POWER magazine gave the Southern California utility its 2012 POWER Smart Grid Award.

Among the reasons for SDG&E accolades are its detailed, Smart Grid Deployment Plan, 2011-2020; network integration of more than 17,200 rooftop solar panels and 1,500 electric vehicles; nearly complete deployment of smart meters; Borrego Springs Microgrid; and its “Green Button.”

Rahman, an IEEE Fellow and founding director of Virginia Tech’s Advanced Research Institute in Arlington, Va., thinks SDG&E’s Smart Grid work could serve as a model for other power companies.

“As a U.S. utility, they probably have the best penetration of solar photovoltaics (PV) and electric vehicles, which makes Smart Grid more meaningful for them,” Rahman said. “In other words, they have more use for Smart Grid technology because of solar PV and electric vehicle penetration.”


“They are facing the challenges we anticipate happening in this part of the country, and responding to it by being more proactive and technologically advanced.”

The “Green Button,” which launched in January and is possible because of smart meters, is an online tool that allows SDG&E customers to download up to 13 months of their energy use data. Armed with this awareness, consumers can get an idea how they can become more energy efficient and save money.

“The expectation,” according to an SDG&E Green Button news release, “is that access to this information will inspire innovative consumer applications and devices from entrepreneurs, businesses, and students.”

The Myriad Benefits of Smart Meters

The Smart Grid is basically a more intelligent management of electricity through modern computer, sensor and communications technology. For most people, the smart meter is the principal way in which they will interact with Smart Grid. Unlike traditional meters, smart meters record energy consumption in more detail and allow two-way communication between consumer and utility.

With full deployment, for example, you will know when you are using the most electricity and when it is most expensive. Thus, you could choose to operate energy-consuming appliances when rates are lower.

“Smart meters are really the Trojan horse of Smart Grid in so many areas,” Niggli said in his remarks. “We recently completed our mass deployment of 2.3 million electric and natural gas meters, and we’re finding benefits in every position along the value chain for us in working toward the utility of the future. We see energy efficiency and demand response benefits happening right now.”

Other smart meter advantages include the ability of the utility to turn service on or off electronically and power interruption recognition. When the electricity goes out in your house or your neighborhood, the utility will know about it almost immediately.

“We’re seeing so many benefits in the outage management area, knowing where the outages are, where to send crews and what types of crews to send, and [to] be exact about our resource management in this area,” Niggli said.

Managing EV Load

While only about 1,500 electric vehicles (EVs) are in SDG&E’s service area now, it is predicted to grow to around 200,000 by the end of the decade.

“If we could take them all off-peak and solve the transformer issues, I think we can serve most of them without having to put a lot of new power plants in place,” Niggli said.

SDG&E has an incentive pricing program that allows plug-in electric vehicles owners to charge their car batteries when the price is lower. Peak rates are between noon and 6 p.m.; off peak between 6 p.m. and midnight and 5 a.m. and noon; and super off-peak between midnight and 5 a.m. Niggli said 94 percent of people are charging during off-peak (10 percent) and super off-peak (84 percent) hours.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity for us to accept this additional charging and some of the integration issues into the area,” Niggli said.

Smart Grid Expenditures and Return

From 2006 through 2020, SDG&E anticipates investing about $3.5 billion in Smart Grid innovation, infrastructure and deployment.

“The benefits that we see will probably be as much as twice that number and they will be distributed among customer benefits, system benefits, operating benefits and environmental benefits,” Niggli said. “So we see a tremendous opportunity for this kind of advancement.”

Niggli views Smart Grid as a win for San Diego:

“Every [power] system around the U.S. and around the world sort of has their own economic reasons for Smart Grid; they have their own environmental reasons; they have their own political reasons. We have a lot of that that comes together here.”

San Diego Gas & Electric defines Smart Grid as “an end-to-end transformation of our electric system that applies advances in technology to deliver a range of new benefits to all stakeholders. Our Smart Grid empowers customers, increases renewable generation, integrates plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. We expect to do this while maintaining or improving system reliability and operational efficiency, and ensuring security while protecting customer privacy. We anticipate that investments in a smarter grid will yield substantive and as yet unidentified benefits as the transformation progresses and our customers, employees, policy makers and the industry are able to leverage lessons learned and achieve the Smart Grid’s full potential.”

— From SDG&E’s “Smart Grid Deployment Plan, 2011-2020,” June 6, 2011

Chris McManes is IEEE-USA’s public relations manager.

Guest Contributor

IEEE-USA is an organizational unit of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), created in 1973 to support the career and public policy interests of IEEE’s U.S. members. IEEE-USA is primarily supported by an annual assessment paid by U.S. IEEE Members.

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