PG&E's smart grid director: looking ahead to advanced technologies


Given all the media attention PG&E has received regarding smart meter deployments, it's a fair guess that the utility's senior director of smart grid and technology integration would get lots of questions when he shows up at industry gatherings. 


The most common questions he hears? Kevin Dasso says folks want to know what PG&E is seeing in the way of benefits from their smart grid initiatives, and they're interested in how the utility worked with regulators.  "My sense is that's where people are today," he says. But he adds that along with questions, he also hears plenty of thank yous from utility counterparts who tell him they have benefited from PG&E's lessons learned.


We spoke with Dasso, a 30-year PG&E veteran, in advance of Smart Energy International, which takes place Oct. 24-26 in San Francisco. Dasso is one of the featured speakers at the conference, which has attracted a who's who of utility industry players. (If you're interested in attending, SGN readers are getting a significant discount, so be sure to reference sales discount code SGN when you register. )


So where is PG&E today? Let's start with smart meters, which Dasso explains are part of the utility's overall smart grid program, but not a piece he's directly responsible for. Still, he says to date PG&E  has deployed a little over 8.5 million smart electric and gas meters and they are on the home stretch with a target finish date of July 2012.


On the grid side

Currently Dasso says PG&E is involved in some traditional T&D automation projects, which are laying the groundwork for more advanced smart grid technologies. Next up on that front, he says, is to move into production of next-generation distribution automation technology - part of the utility's three-year, $357 million, PUC-approved Cornerstone Improvement Program which aims to improve service reliability for the company's  5 million-plus electric customers in northern and central California.


PG&E is also participating in two projects funded in part through the Recovery Act. Most immediate is a regional synchrophasor project in conjunction with the Western Electric Coordinating Council, the California ISO and eight other utilities. It's currently in the proof-of-concept stage in PG&E's new test facility in San Ramon. Dasso anticipates moving into field production in early 2012, with a completion target of April 2013.

The other stimulus award is being used for a longer-term compressed air energy storage demonstration project with the Electric Power Research Institute and other partners.  Dasso says the objective is to determine the feasibility of using geologic formations in California for energy storage (as opposed to tanks, for instance). He says the five-year CAES initiative is still in the early stages at this point.


Which technologies, when?

Though required by law to create a smart grid roadmap, Dasso describes the process as "liberating." Because of it he says they have a disciplined approach to how they are deploying smart grid technologies, rather than being distracted by tangents.  They've adopted, as he explains it, a "crawl, walk, run" process - participating in standards and testing new technologies in a lab environment before they go on the grid or in front of customers.  Dasso says they've learned the importance of engaging consumers and how important it is that consumers understand the benefits of smart grid technologies.

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