The California Duck Curve reveals a potential costly issue for utilities and their customers. The annual peak load appears to be continuing to grow -- because it occurs after dark when there is no solar power being generated -- yet energy sales may be declining with the growth of distributed solar generation during the day. This results in the need to continue to expand the grid, but without the sales revenue to support the added capital expense, presenting a Catch-22 that utilities are struggling to overcome.
Opening the Distributed Energy Doors is a Win-Win
In November of last year, FERC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR) around electric storage resources. The goal was to better allow these distributed energy resources (DERs) to compete in the various wholesale markets. Per their November press release, FERC’s NOPR would require that RTOs/ISOs:
- Establish a participation model consisting of market rules that, recognizing the physical and operational characteristics of electric storage resources, accommodate their participation in the organized wholesale electric markets
- Define distributed energy resource aggregators as a type of market participant that can participate in the organized wholesale electric markets under the participation model that best accommodates the physical and operational characteristics of its distributed energy resource aggregation
Ham and eggs. Abbott and Costello. Batman and Robin. Hey, there are a lot of great duos in the world, and here’s another one: building management systems and automated demand response (DR) designed specifically for small- to medium-sized companies.
What makes this a great combo?
There’s a good reason that traditional demand response (DR) programs only ask C&I customers to curtail energy usage a few times each year. Traditional DR is painful. It’s a no-holds-barred, shut down that conveyor belt, stop production, turn off the air conditioner and send people home kind of deal. It is, by definition, disruptive. And, frankly, not every organization can afford to have its business endure even a few interruptions a year.
But, DR doesn’t need to be disruptive, and to get the most out of today’s demand management technology, we really need to think of curtailment events as a day-to-day method of grid support instead of troublesome headaches that must be painfully tolerated.
That’s what one East Coast utility is doing with the Symphony by EnbalaTM distributed energy resource management platform (DERMS). By aggregating small amounts of response from many different devices in one site, a promising pilot is showing that curtailment can be both effective and invisible to customers.
The National Renewable Energy Lab has a great paper titled Flexibility in 21st Century Power Systems. The paper addresses three grid requirements to accommodate increasing numbers of variable generation resources like wind and solar energy.
- The first among those requirements is flexible generation. We need power plants that can run efficiently with a very low output level and ramp rapidly from those deep turn-down rates.
- We also need flexible transmission to carry power without bottlenecks and facilitate access to a broad range of balancing resources. That’s requirement number two.
- And, finally, the NREL authors say requirement number three is flexible demand-side resources. Those resources include storage, responsive distributed generation and loads engaged in demand response programs that can support the grid by responding to market signals or direct load control.
Amen to requirement number three.
According to FERC’s most recent "Demand Response and Advanced Metering Assessment," 74 percent of the potential peak reduction in retail demand-management programs comes from C&I customers. That means that the biggest, most valuable energy customers are also the most likely allies in a demand response initiative.
Demand side management (DSM) is the umbrella term for the various methods that power providers employ to get customers to curb consumption. It’s been around since the 1970s, notes Joseph Eto, a Lawrence Berkeley National Lab researcher who wrote a detailed history of it in 1996. He counts conservation education, energy audits, efficiency freebies, financial assistance and time-based tariffs among the forms of DSM utilities use.
Eto also covers the technological approaches designed to achieve objectives like load shifting, peak reduction and off-peak consumption increases.
Every demand response program, every virtual power plant, every distributed energy resource (DER) management system needs one thing to be successful: customers who are willing to hand over their DER controls. Given that participant recruitment is such an important factor in a DER management program’s success, it can’t hurt to bone up on the art of persuasion.
That’s easy to do with The Small Big, a business book that looks at several different studies on how to coax others to do the things you want them to do. Its authors include Robert Cialdini, who wrote Influence, a business psychology text that has been on Fortune’s list of the 75 Smartest Business Books for years. Influence boils down the art of persuasion into six key motivators.
For too many people, demand-side management (DSM) of energy resources means one thing: shedding load. That’s a limiting and outdated view of DSM.
Given the right control platform, Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) can move their power consumption up or down to support the needs of the power system. To get the benefit of that flexibility, you need to think of all DERs – even loads – as resources that can be charged up the same way you charge a battery energy storage system.
Given the proliferation of renewables — plus the dramatic growth rates predicted for solar and wind power over the next year or two — plenty of people are looking to storage as the way to save us from renewable intermittency. But, storage is pricey. And, given the potential for long stretches of inclement weather that knocks solar PV output down or fails to turn the wind turbines, the storage we have available today is unlikely to be sufficient for the power grid’s needs.