The Scalable Grid

How Utilities Can Tap Into the DER Frontier

The democratization of energy can seem like a daunting future for utilities used to a monopoly on centralized power. How will the utility model evolve in an energy democracy? The integration of software into energy opens the door for utilities to contribute to this momentum and become the broker of an energy marketplace moving forward. Yet challenges with safety, compliance and reliability prevent asset owners and grid operators from maximizing the financial and operational value of these potential transactions. With the industry’s emerging advanced energy management technologies, utilities can leverage integrated controls of distributed energy resources (DER) to mitigate risk and increase visibility for a scalable, equitable grid.

Opportunities of Scale

New investments by end customers, businesses and energy vendors in distributed energy assets are adding capacity and value to the grid and are often bringing energy supply closer to the point of use-the “last mile” from transformers to end user meters. In many areas, the hardware that enables bidirectional energy flow for a more distributed, agile grid exists, but the value of each generation asset cannot be fully realized without software that can integrate energy at all scales into the larger electricity delivery system and prioritize the highest value, most reliable power.

This is not news to utilities, some of which are already piloting applications to tap into multi-metered DER in industrial settings and beyond. Canadian utility ENMAX deployed advanced controls for DERs at the District Energy Centre in downtown Calgary, Alberta. ENMAX wanted to solve the challenges of aligning building heat and electrical loads with multiple onsite generation sources, including combined heat and power, solar, diesel generators and grid power. These advanced controls help ENMAX facilities securely aggregate and connect disparate generation resources.

New investments by end customers, businesses and energy vendors in distributed energy assets are adding capacity and value to the grid.

As part of the site optimization, ENMAX tested exporting power to generate revenue from available energy markets. This strategy of aligning generation and load while also exporting power to generate revenue is a replicable business model that ENMAX now offers its behind-the-meter customer base with onsite generation. SCADA-enabled software allows for seamless communication between the different utility and customer protocols while alleviating security concerns through North American Electric Reliability Corp. Critical Infrastructure Protection (NERC CIP) compliant configurations. With software to act as the brains behind the energy, the utility can remotely orchestrate these sources to create a dispatchable power plant that safely feeds the grid when needed.

Hawaiian Electric Co. (HECO), a utility under Hawaiian Electric Industries, is an early adopter of these types of technologies through its Department of Energy (DOE)-funded SEAMS for SHINES program. The program, which stands for System to Edge-of-Network Architecture and Management for Sustainable and Holistic Integration of Energy Storage and Solar PV, aims to address the distribution-level challenges faced by the state from its high penetration of intermittent renewable energy, which represented 26 percent of customer energy demand in 2016. The utility, however, has limited visibility into these distributed assets on end-customer sites and, therefore, treats each of them as load reduction. In addition to departed load, grid stability is a challenge for the state as more and more intermittent behind-the-meter generation is installed. As a result, HECO is looking for technologies that can be used to deploy renewable energy sources in a low-cost, stable and secure manner.

HECO is enhancing its utility-controlled grid services and is partnering with DERs developer EnSync Energy Systems to leverage its Matrix Energy Management and DER Flex technologies as a DER aggregator in SEAMS for SHINES. EnSync Energy has developed more than 20 behind-the-meter commercial projects in Hawaii, which HECO views as a fleet of energy it could potentially tap for grid services.

Grid assets are no longer exclusive to large infrastructure projects brought into city centers but are increasingly the domain of businesses and homeowners pursuing solar. The residential solar and energy storage programs approved in Hawaii in late 2017 highlight this momentum, aiming to bring intermittent resources online with export or non-export options for distributed generation. Software solutions that can flexibly respond to all levels of scale are the key tool for creating an integrated grid that fully uses all the expanded energy assets. The resulting infrastructure will reduce outage risk, increase grid stability and streamline safe remote power deployment, which ultimately benefits electricity consumers everywhere.

The Financial Factor

Bidirectional energy management technologies offer revenue opportunities for both utilities and end users. Software and advanced controls provide equitable economic solutions, fostering applications like time-of-use shifting, demand charge mitigation and added resiliency. Utilities and customers can easily set parameters depending on their needs or the distributed generation ancillary services offered in their area. Defined specifications minimize the required human interface and streamline repetitive tasks, increasing both efficiency and safety. This built-in automation triggers responses to incoming variables and creates a ledger of activity so the utility can report out on actions as needed-an important criterion for customer accountability.

Disparate and varying generation sources create complex operational challenges, but energy management technologies can use granular data to monitor, analyze and control behind-the-meter assets and fully capitalize on DERs. A smart software-hardware solution enables stakeholders on both sides of the meter to realize the highest value and most reliable electricity from all available energy sources. DERs become additional revenue sources for asset owners and controllable inputs for grid operators.

Historically, utility energy management policy programs, like demand response for example, have been voluntary. Although numerous applications provide the ability to save or generate money with DERs, each project is complicated by the variables that must be modeled to determine viability and prioritization of the applications. Software-enabled DERs create a more transparent, secure transfer of value to consumers for their grid contributions. With more robust systems to incentivize and provide advanced modeling for these programs, increased adoption at all levels of the energy supply chain from residential to utility-scale will occur. The technologies exist today that allow for all stakeholders to deliver and use the highest value, least expensive and most reliable electricity from all available energy sources. The next step is to fully integrate them into the electricity infrastructure.

The new wave of energy management software brings to light the full potential of distributed assets. These grid evolution tools encourage third-party energy generation while allowing utilities to maintain and extend their roles as the vital service provider. With more local controls over distributed assets, software enables utilities to manage DERs on the grid and connect them into the patchwork of their larger energy profile for the most optimal dispatch. | PGI

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