Grid Modernization

Ohio PUC releases roadmap for moving to a modern grid

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio on Wednesday released a sweeping grid modernization program that covers issues as disparate as electric vehicles and cybersecurity.

The policy report, PowerForward: A Roadmap to Ohio’s Electricity Future, contains no final decisions, nor is it binding on the commission of any future commission. It does, however, create a pathway for the state’s investor-owned utilities to deal with issues such as rate design, using data to enhance retail energy offerings, and formulating cybersecurity plans.

The Roadmap process does not apply to public power utilities, but representatives of public power utilities did have input in the first phase of the planning process, which began in the spring of 2017.

“We don’t anticipate [public power utilities] will make filings in the proceedings, but we hope they will take a look and take to heart the recommendations and vision the commission is laying out,” PUCO spokesman Michael Schilling said.

The Roadmap is being built on two pillars: innovation and the idea that innovation should serve to “enhance customer electricity experience.” In the report, PUCO says it “is not interested in innovation simply for the sake of exploring the wonderment of new things.”

“We are not trying to create, manufacture and distribute, for example, the iPhone,” PUCO Chairman Asim Haque wrote in the introduction to the report. “We are trying to create the regulatory environment that will allow for the electric grid’s version of the iPhone to be deployed seamlessly and cost-effectively to customers.” In a local media story, Haque emphasized, “it’s the customer’s choice what they want to adopt. They could pick from all these different apps and the ones they like or ... they can stick with a flip phone if they like.”

PUCO identified two scenarios that will require regulatory input as the modern electric grid evolves. In the first, technology installed by a customer could have the potential to disrupt grid operations if not properly integrated. In the second, technology is deployed to improve the distribution system, but it is not thought of as a traditional distribution system investment. In particular, PUCO said it will “inevitably” be required to evaluate in the near term the impact of electric vehicles and battery storage on utility operations and on the grid.

Among the possible recommendations that could come out of the Roadmap process, PUCO identifies means to facilitate the adoption of distributed energy resources, modifications to interconnection standards, such as defining the functions and settings for advanced inverters and developing criteria for implementing non-wires alternatives to traditional utility investments in resources such as distribution wires and substations.

The Roadmap says that behind the meter applications should be deployed competitively, though there could be cases where utilities could deploy behind the meter applications through a “regulated paradigm.”

In front of the meter, however, utilities “should still be the owners and caretakers of the distribution system,” the report said, though its added that utilities “are encouraged to explore [non-wires alternatives] if they would more cost-effectively displace traditional distribution system improvements” and utilities should provide “reasonable access to third parties seeking to provide a customer application.” Utilities are also encouraged to explore partnerships with third parties to utilize applications for grid optimization purposes, the report said.

The Roadmap also says that utilities should propose a time-of-use rate design for default or standard service offer customers and that utilities should be the “data stewards” for energy data associated with the modern grid.

By Jan. 1, 2019, the commission expects to have established separate dockets for the PowerForward Collaborative and its spinoff working groups, the Distribution System Planning Workgroup and the Data and Modern Grid Workgroup.

The report says that Ohio’s regulated utilities have moved from the regulatory paradigm of the past, “through the challenging waters of deregulation, and now into a very birth future where we embrace innovation and change for the betterment of Ohioans.”

The report is available here.