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Control Center improvement & modernization are well underway

By John Phipps, Executive Director, Grid Operations
May 4, 2023


As the complexity of the electrical grid continues to increase with a rapidly changing resource mix, it is essential for the California Independent System Operator (ISO) to make sure it is constantly upgrading the operational and technological capabilities needed to keep pace and maintain maximum efficiency and reliability.

The ISO’s 2022-2026 Strategic Plan underscores that necessity by identifying as its first strategic objective the need to “reliably and efficiently integrate new resources by proactively upgrading operational capabilities.”

I am happy to report that our work on that goal – the ISO’s Control Center Foundational Improvement & Modernization program – is well underway with tangible progress since we launched this multi-year program in late 2022.

The intricacy of the grid has been changing rapidly over the past decade as we have increased the number, size and locations of renewable and storage resources, along with new and reconfigured transmission facilities. At the same time, climate-related events such as drought, wildfires and extreme heat have introduced a tricky overlay to the challenges grid operators face as we integrate new resources central to California’s clean-energy policy objectives.

The flow of power and response of the grid continues to change as renewable and storage resources have different operating characteristics than traditional thermal resources and are being built in places which didn’t have generation in the past. That’s true both within the distribution system, also known as distributed energy resources which are behind the meter, outside of the California ISO’s normal transmission jurisdiction, and in distant, remote locations. 

Against this backdrop of transformation, the contribution made by inverter-based resources has also been significant for reliable operation of the grid and the ISO has enhanced its forecasting, markets, tools and processes to integrate these resources into the fleet.

In many cases, because the changes have been occurring so rapidly, we have designed basic tools to meet our needs just in time as the resource transition occurs. And as the California ISO’s 2022-2026 Strategic Plan notes, grid operations must undertake additional and systematic efforts to proactively adapt operational capabilities to enable and accommodate all of this change, especially as it relates to our resource mix. 

This very significant foundational improvement and modernization effort is designed to ensure that the California ISO remains highly skilled at managing this continuing grid evolution. I have every confidence that we will be successful.

Our modernization program includes evaluating processes and tools top to bottom to ensure we can continue to efficiently and reliably manage the grid in a cost-effective manner. The scope of this work focuses on performance, usability and automation within the Grid Operator core applications and processes used for monitoring, assessing and managing the bulk power system, including the Market, Energy Management System, Interchange Management and Network Analysis technology platforms.

The processes and tools that are inputs to the control room processes and applications are also being evaluated to improve quality of data and information, mature testing capabilities for applications, network model and grid resources and to improve foundational and hands-on training and simulation capabilities. 

Key deliverables of the program include ensuring the tools our operators use are intuitive, automated and help support decision-making now and in the future. As the ISO’s Strategic Plan states, “We must identify and adapt processes and tools that help us evolve and operate at our top capabilities,” and that is what the CCFI&M initiative is all about. It is also critical to continue to increase situational awareness while at the same time being mindful to reduce information overload. 

As an example of some of the work that is currently underway, new monitoring capabilities are critical to provide both the current status and capabilities of battery energy storage resources. Grid Operations has determined that we must take steps to improve the way our automatic generation control logic manages resources that have very high ramp rates. We have initiated efforts to enhance our AGC logic to manage these new resources. (AGC, or Automatic Generation Control, is a function that provides near instantaneous signals to a subset of resources to help keep the ISO energy and load balanced as well as help maintain the Interconnection frequency). It is also critical to enhance operational functionality to manage storage resources over the course of a day.

To the greatest extent possible, automation must ensure the storage resources are charged so they are available when needed to replace the solar power that ramps down during the evening hours, as well as throughout the day to help manage real-time fluctuations of customer demand and generator availability. 

In parallel, the ISO market initiatives team is working on market enhancements to model battery energy storage resources’ state of charge more effectively, whether this storage is a stand-alone resource or integrated as part of a hybrid with solar, wind or some other energy source. It is imperative that the market initiatives work hand-in-hand with modernizing the operational capabilities to ensure accurate assessments of the charging and discharge capability of the growing storage fleet, with automated alarms to detect issues and manage the dispatch of these resources. Emerging technologies combined with reliable operation of the overall grid will depend on effective coordinated planning, communications, visibility and monitoring tools.

Another critical deliverable of our control center modernization program is developing metrics to ensure that we can measure progress over time and that we can sustain the performance improvements. This includes planning for the future by developing modernization roadmaps for critical processes and applications. 

All of this work represents a big step forward for the California ISO’s culture of continuous improvement to focus on core capabilities and performance that can help ensure flexibility, scalability and resilience as Grid Operations continues to adapt to future changes. A reliable electrical grid is at the core of everything we do and a state-of-the-art control center is a foundational component of that reliability.

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