Customer Service, DER-Grid Edge, Executive Insight

Using technology to promote an optimized grid and an engaged customer

By Michael Goldman, Eversource Energy

This series of articles explores both grid scale and behind-the-meter grid optimization strategies and the implications for utility customers. The first two articles in the series dealt with the regulatory framework that enabled grid-scale and behind-the-meter demand assets in Massachusetts and the game changing technology of battery storage. This third article describes the foundational technology and communication protocols necessary to ensure a successful grid optimization strategy that is inclusive of customer-sited assets. Future articles in this series will explore aspects of grid optimization program design, incentive structure, processes, and how these various aspects come together to form the grid of the future.

Investments in foundational technology, like software platforms that allow for visibility, aggregation, and dispatch of a diverse set of grid edge assets, are becoming increasingly important as the grid sees a proliferation of distributed energy resources (DER). This type of functionality is typically found in a distributed energy resource management system (DERMS) or embedded directly into an advanced distribution management system (ADMS). At the core of this functionality in a DERMS or ADMS is the ability to view in near real time the operating status of different DER and to be able to send a set of instructions to those assets to undertake a certain task, like temporarily reducing load.

“A sustainable energy future is a distributed energy future and one that can leverage any asset, anywhere, at any time to keep the grid in a permanent state of reliable balance,” notes Enbala President and CEO Arthur “Bud” Vos. 

“Today’s DERMs technology enables utilities to optimize and control hundreds of thousands — or even millions — of distributed assets to respond to the real-time energy balancing needs of the grid. The capability of a DERMs solution to create order from chaos is a valuable asset every utility should consider as part of its distributed energy roadmap,” he adds.

How a DERMS or ADMS is configured is critical to successfully incorporating customer assets into a grid optimization program. Eversource decided to deploy a software system that could serve as a single point of control and integrate different customer devices, utility assets, and secondary platforms into that system. The goal was to future-proof the system configuration so that new types of internet connected devices could be integrated into the system as those connected devices increase in popularity.

Figure 1. Eversource Dispatch Platform System Architecture

Key to this approach is communication protocols and specifically open communication protocols. Communication protocols are the “language” that allow the DERMS or ADMS to “talk” to end devices and send executable dispatch instructions to those devices. The DERMS solution becomes flexible and future proof when it can communicate with a wide range of device types.

When the main dependency for inclusion in a utility optimization program is the ability to communicate with devices, not ownership of the devices, it is possible to integrate utility-owned, utility-sponsored, or third-party owned assets into a grid optimization program. Open communication protocols standardize the message format used for demand response programs, essentially ensuring that the DERMS/ADMS, and the underlying assets are speaking a common language. As a result, this increases customer engagement and participation because the number of device types that can be included in a grid optimization program increases, and it also helps keep device integration costs down.  

Using a DERMS allows for a cloud-to-cloud integration approach for the dispatch of DER. Figure 2 shows how in a cloud-to-cloud integration, the utility is able to issue dispatch instructions that are sent to the clouds of all the various device original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). The device OEMs relay those dispatch instructions from their cloud to each individual device for execution. Cloud-to-cloud integration is important because if a device can communicate and is able to receive dispatch instructions, it can potentially be incorporated into an optimization program. This helps bring third-party assets into the fold and expands the number and types of assets that can be controlled. From an optics and customer satisfaction perspective, it is likely more desirable to have the device OEM execute on the dispatch instructions than the utility directly controlling customer’s devices which helps with customer recruitment and retention.

Figure 2. Cloud to Cloud Integration

With an eye towards optimizing the electric grid, utilities are exploring which technologies best enable the aggregation and coordinated dispatch of DER.  Technology alone though is not enough. To enable utility owned, utility sponsored or third party DER, there is a need for standardized communication protocols. With these in place, utilities will be able to unleash the potential of customer sited demand reductions.


About the Author: Michael Goldman is a Manager on the Energy Efficiency team at Eversource Energy, the largest energy delivery company in New England. He is a frequent contributor to conferences and articles on distributed energy resources and their impact on the evolving grid.