Large Public Power Systems Are Evolving [PODCAST]

The power grid is changing across the U.S. More distributed energy resources are being added every day. That brings challenges for power utilities, but also opportunities.

John Di Stasio, president of the Large Public Power Council (LPPC), which represents 27 of the largest locally governed and operated not-for-profit electric systems in the U.S., was a guest on The POWER Podcast and discussed how the changes are affecting his organization’s members.

As large infrastructure developers and asset owners, the LPPC’s members are uniquely affected by certain policies in Washington, D.C. Di Stasio, who previously served as general manager and CEO of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) from June 2008 through April 2014, said his group has been focused on tax, infrastructure, cybersecurity, environmental regulation, electrification, and grid modernization initiatives.

Di Stasio noted that the U.S. power grid was originally designed as a central station system with one-way power flow from generators to consumers. “Now, we’re looking at much more distributed generation potentially, and also the fact that two-way power flow provides some additional opportunities and capabilities for consumers, also some additional complexity,” Di Stasio said. He suggested the benefits of digitization should be taken advantage of, which could allow a communications or digital network to be incorporated on top of the grid’s physical network to allow more interoperability. “I think a lot of that’s already underway,” he said.

However, “it’s very hard to do something like that on a top-down basis given the fact that the grid is designed and operated differently all over the United States,” Di Stasio said. “My argument would be you should start with the building block of local distribution grids and actually build from the ground up rather than the top down in order to modernize the grid in the most effective and kind of no-regrets fashion, if you will.”

Di Stasio noted that distributed generation is becoming more prominent not only in states like California and New York, where there have been strong policy pushes to develop distributed resources, but also throughout other regions of the U.S. “The economics warrant that these kind of investments get made all over the country, and I’m seeing that as a significant change than maybe just a decade ago,” he said.

Concerning cybersecurity, Di Stasio said, “We need good practices. We need good principles. We also need flexibility and we need significant coordination.” He noted that with more interoperability and more devices on the grid, more surfaces for entry exist, but he suggested advances have been made to protect industrial control systems, and a lot of “best practice sharing” is taking place across industry sectors.

Hear the entire interview on The POWER Podcast.

For more power podcasts, visit The POWER Podcast archives.

Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine).