Enbala Blog

Distributed intelligence: You can’t really be smart without it

Posted by Malcolm Metcalfe on Dec 17, 2015 3:14:45 PM
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Screen_Shot_2015-12-17_at_1.09.38_PM.pngNot long ago, one of the largest electric utilities in California told me they have 180,000 generating sites, and they expect this to almost triple by 2025. That’s just one of many reasons I believe no grid optimization can truly occur without distributed intelligence and control in grid-edge devices.


Consider the basics. A utility is responsible for three things: voltage, frequency and reliability. I’m going to speak to the first two items from that list in this brief blog entry.

Frequency is controlled only once for the entire interconnection. So, if San Diego sees 60.2 Hz, Vancouver also sees 60.2 Hz. That means the value of power control is important, but - for the most part - location is not. What’s more, new NERC rules downplay the requirement to manage power and, in fact, most utilities will have up to 30 minutes to manage significant deviations. This can be done with dispatch.

Voltage, on the other hand, is a local issue. There can be high voltage at one end of a feeder and low voltage at the other end of the same line. Utilities today are limiting solar connections based on voltage deviations because control needs to be fast and is very location-specific. 

I believe that with the rapid increase in distributed energy resources (DERs), the only solution that is going to work is one that must veer away from the old way of doing things: centralized generation. What we need is distributed, locally smart, and relatively autonomous intelligence and control that can react locally based on local measurements. At the same time, we still need the capability to orchestrate devices from some centralized system. Ultimately, we must coordinate all of the devices and generation attached to the grid for the good of the grid.

This means we need smart and adaptive technology to monitor and control centralized generation, as well as customer-owned energy storage and on-premises generation, such as roof-top PV. Of course, such control should be for the good of the consumer, too, so any control must be easily set-up, constraint-based and hassle-free for the end-use customer of electricity. In other words, we must operate grid-optimization without disrupting business processes or building comfort levels. 

I’m glad to say this thinking underpins the Enbala approach and platform. 

Topics: distributed energy resources, Solar, DERs, distributed intelligence, grid edge, grid optimization

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