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SEPA Report: The Transition to Integrated Distribution Planning

Anticipation of increased DER capabilities and adoption is prompting reevaluation of distribution planning practices

WASHINGTON, D.C. — With over 20 states having either established or actively investigating a regulatory shift towards integrated distribution planning (IDP), a new report from the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) proposes a phased framework for the utility transition from traditional to integrated distribution planning. Intended for utilities and regulators, as well as to help educate other participating public stakeholders, the report demystifies the often technical process of distribution planning and offers a roadmap to help inform and guide practitioners in the move towards IDP.

Produced in collaboration with a diverse group of utilities and industry experts, the report identifies key IDP implementation challenges and proposes an incremental, four phased progression from traditional planning processes to a future IDP state. Acknowledging the lack of a one-size-fits-all solution, the authors distill key elements of IDP, and describe how utilities can determine their starting point and individualized journey.

“This report helps unpack and communicate the technical complexities, nuances, and obstacles that industry stakeholders must understand in order to pave the way for IDP,” said Brenda Chew, Senior Manager, Research at SEPA. “The transition to a clean and modern grid will require innovation and integration in distribution grid planning approaches. SEPA is committed to helping utilities and stakeholders evaluate these considerations and challenges through a common framework.”

Other key findings include:

  • Utilities and regulators need a clear vision and guiding goals and objectives to help determine steps in the IDP process. Their roadmap should be grounded in an understanding of anticipated DER adoption and future threats, as well as existing grid conditions, tools and capabilities.
  • Current tools and grid capabilities are limited in the level of granularity, visibility, and control they provide to distribution planners and operators. The industry will need to bridge these existing technology gaps and make foundational grid investments.
  • Investing and building competencies in big data analytics will grow in importance as utilities advance towards more complex phases of IDP.
  • Utilities, regulators, and stakeholders should allow appropriate lead time to invest in, and implement necessary tools, staff training and grid capabilities to enable advanced planning.
  • As traditional planning processes evolve to increase transparency and include stakeholder engagement, utilities will need to further educate the broader industry on their planning processes and technical capabilities, as well as limitations.

“Despite differences in regulatory environments and legacy processes and systems, utilities can leverage the applicable elements from this high-level framework to chart an efficient and appropriately tailored path to integrate distribution and resource planning disciplines,” said Mark Oliver, Managing Director, Integrated System Planning at Duke Energy. “Participating in this study increased our confidence in the path we are on and the importance of integrating planning processes.”

“SEPA’s report provides a first-of-its-kind comprehensive framework and maturity model for Integrated Distribution Planning,” said Yujia Zhou, Manager, DTE Energy. “This effort will establish a foundation for continued collaboration among utilities, regulators and industry stakeholders on this complicated subject.”

The report, “Integrated Distribution Planning: A Framework for the Future” is available for free download here.

Media contact: Jordan Nachbar [email protected]; 202-559-2034