BERKELEY'S NEWS • OCTOBER 02, 2022

Analysis suggests upgrade to California’s electric distribution system needed

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JOE SISON | FILE

According to a paper by UC Berkeley faculty and graduates of the Energy and Resources Group, California may need to upgrade its electric distribution infrastructure.

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JULY 18, 2022

A working paper by UC Berkeley faculty and graduates of the Energy and Resources Group, or ERG, suggested that Northern California will need to accelerate its current electric distribution infrastructure upgrades to meet the state’s clean energy goals and rising demand for heating electrification and electric vehicle, or EV, adoption.

Using data sourced from the California Energy Commission, California Public Utility Commission and PG&E, the paper outlined current local electric distribution infrastructure to understand the influences of demand for electricity and what the current distribution grid can supply, according to Salma Elmallah, a co-author, ERG doctoral candidate and a graduate student research assistant at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

“We wanted to understand how distribution systems, which are the last mile of our electricity grid, need to be upgraded in order to meet our most ambitious goals for making our residential electricity loads electrified and therefore lower carbon,” said campus associate professor of energy and resources Duncan Callaway.

According to the paper, researchers estimated an additional $1 billion increase in PG&E’s costs to properly address a growing power draw. Additionally, Callaway noted the need to address labor utility workforce and supply chain constraints is essential to successfully electrify power systems.

The paper evaluated how electricity usage fluctuates depending on location or time of day, according to Elmallah. For example, Elmallah noted that electricity usage can change depending on the need for electric heating in colder climates or differences in usage between day or night in homes.

In addition, Callaway mentions how since California’s clean energy portfolio “tilts strongly” toward solar energy, if EV owners were to charge their vehicles during the day at commercial charging sites rather at home at night, they would both source clean energy and cut costs on upgrading infrastructure.

“I hope that our research prompts these inquiries more broadly – now that we know that we will need added, accelerated investment in our electricity distribution system, what’s our next step?” Elmallah said in an email.

Meredith Fowlie, a professor in the department of agricultural and resource economics and faculty director at the Energy Institute at Haas, published a blog post for the Energy Institute referencing the paper’s findings.

She said the paper was one of the first to analyze how to reduce the state’s carbon footprint by improving the state’s electricity distribution system.

“Understanding what it’s going to cost the distribution system to accommodate increased demand induced by electrification and other forces is really important as we start to chart the course to decarbonizing the power system and decarbonizing the economy,” Fowlie said.

Contact Ayah Ali-Ahmad at 

LAST UPDATED

JULY 19, 2022


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