It’s a new year, folks, and time to learn from the ups and downs of the previous 12 months and set a course for a successful 2017. We spent some time at the end of 2016 working with Edison Foundation’s Institute for Electric Innovation (IEI) on a book titled “Thought Leaders Speak Out: Key Trends Driving Change in the Electric Power Industry.” Enbala’s contribution was a chapter exploring the future of distributed energy in a modern grid.
If you’re like most people who’ve gone to a conference lately – or read this blog from its inception – you’ve already heard warnings about what could happen to grid voltage and stability when stray clouds waft over neighborhood solar arrays and block PV generation. The sudden drop of renewable power is what many people point to as the key challenge of variable generation resources.
After all, that’s why utilities are looking for ways to “firm” renewable generation, which is the process of backing variable resources up with some combination of fast-ramping power or demand-side management to jump in when power production subsides. But, while loss of power gets most of the attention, over-production is an equally daunting challenge for grid operators.
Ten years ago or so, when utility workers first started talking about IT/OT convergence, conversations revolved around the wealth of data streaming into utility offices from advanced metering infrastructure and remote sensors.
With AMI, for instance, utility engineers could suddenly see consumption in 15-minute increments, allowing them to leverage that data for things like load studies and distribution-system transformer sizing. Utility managers could use the blink counts from advanced meters to direct tree-trimming crews, letting them know there was a pretty good chance wayward branches were causing momentary outages on a feeder. Or, they could use the last-gasp signals to more quickly triangulate an outage and dispatch restoration crews more efficiently.
IT/OT convergence is what happens when IT and OT drop the silo walls to unite systems such as outage management with front-end, field technology like advanced meters or distribution system assets. But, IT/OT convergence has begun to expand as generation assets begin to proliferate behind the meter, and IT systems will be needed to help accommodate and control these assets. The convergence is becoming more complex and all-encompassing, so here are a few pointers for utility mangers to keep in mind.
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.
Last year, analysts at Gartner placed IT/OT convergence on their Top-10 list of trends affecting the utilities industry. Actually, it’s been in progress for nearly a decade but, now more than ever, IT/OT integration looms as a crucial utility move. What’s more, it is factors outside utility walls that are rousing such urgency. What are they? Look around your neighborhood. If you see a lot of rooftop solar panels, some of those factors are sitting right in front of you.
What’s more, GTM Research forecasts a 94 percent increase in new PV installations in the U.S. during 2016. Worldwide, Navigant Research says, “Annual installed capacity across the global distributed energy resource (DER) market is expected to grow from 136.4 GW in 2015 to 530.7 GW in 2024, representing $1.9 trillion in cumulative investment over the next 10 years."
What does this have to do with IT/OT convergence?
Researchers at DNV-GL did a fine report for the New York Independent System Operator a few years ago. Titled A Review of Distributed Energy Resources, it offered this definition of the various distributed energy resources (DERs) examined in the report:
“… DER technologies are defined as ‘behind-the-meter’ power generation and storage resources typically located on an end-use customer’s premises and operated for the purpose of supplying all or a portion of the customer’s electric load. Such resources may also be capable of injecting power into the transmission and/or distribution system or into a non-utility local network in parallel with the utility grid. These DERs include such technologies as solar photovoltaic (PV), combined heat and power (CHP) or cogeneration systems, microgrids, wind turbines, micro turbines, back-up generators and energy storage.”
Granted, the research team did acknowledge that some sources – including the New York Public Service Commission – included customer load in its list of DERs, but load wasn’t one of the DERs covered in the report. That’s too bad because load can hold its own against other DERs for a variety of grid-supportive purposes.
This blog was co-authored by Enbala and the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI). Enbala extends its heartfelt thanks to the Institute for the insights and effort that went into creating this piece.
Demand flexibility - allowing household devices like HVAC systems and smart appliances to interact with the electric grid in response to real-time price changes - can save customers money and lower the overall cost of electricity. The Rocky Mountain Institute's recent paper, The Economics of Demand Flexibility, analyzed the economics of making common household loads controllable and responsive to electricity price signals. The Institute found that just making two devices flexible, i.e., smart thermostats that could flex an HVAC system’s output up or down by 2 degrees and smart water heaters that could change the timing of water heating, could lower system-wide peak demand by eight percent and save $10–15 billion in costs to the grid annually.
Topics: Distributed energy resource management, Solar energy, battery storage, DERs, demand management, DERMs, peak load management, demand flexibility, Symphony by Enbala, Rocky Mountain Institute, distributed energy
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.
I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating: Utilities deliver three things: voltage, frequency and reliability. The first two items impact the third. And, frequency – at least in an interconnected system with plenty of inertia like what we have in continental North America – is pretty easy to manage because it’s the same throughout the power system. Here in the Western interconnection where I live, that means the frequency is the same in Denver, Las Vegas, San Diego and Vancouver, BC.