Leading up to a September 17 webinar with Alectra, Navigant and Enbala, Navigant's Peter Asmus provides insights on some of the topics to be covered in the webinar.
Alectra, the second largest municipal utility in North America, was the first utility to develop a microgrid offering for its customers. It developed a small, commercial-scale microgrid and then a utility-scale microgrid, the latter at its own headquarters at Cityview in Vaughan, Ontario. This utility-scale microgrid integrates a variety of distributed energy resources (DERs) while also featuring the ability to island, if necessary, to maintain reliability at a site that includes Alectra’s center of operations.
This utility-scale microgrid was focused on the internal optimization of these assets to create a reliable optimization network. As Alectra looks out into the future, however, it realizes that it had to build the business case to provincial regulators about why ratepayer investments in control of BTM assets provided value to all distribution network ecosystem stakeholders, including those with DERs and those without.
Rather than engage in theoretical models and lengthy discussions, Alectra elected to take steps toward first making its microgrid a virtual power plant (VPP) by demonstrating the use case of automated demand response (DR.) (As noted in the recent Enbala survey, this is the No. 1 use case utilities are experimenting with today.)
Types of DER Programs Utility Respondents Are Deploying
“We wanted to get our hands dirty with DERMS,” said Vikram Singh, Alectra’s director of advanced planning. “We believe this is a real market,” said Singh, “but it is also fraught with uncertainty. We want to learn about the capability of vendors in a practical way, so we’re are doing an incremental walk-up to the end goal of DERMS.” The utility is moving forward with three different use cases exploring the intersection of VPP and DERMS frameworks with an existing microgrid as a starting point, then branching out to other DERs outside of the confines of the utility-scale microgrid.
The first use case to be demonstrated with the Enbala Engine software upgrades is a sophisticated orchestration of different DERs ranging from load banks, batteries, building loads and even EV chargers to perform grid services such as automated DR. This new software layer validates that the assets—generation, load, stationary and mobile storage devices—could provide value beyond the confines of the microgrid. The main objective of the DERMS application in this project, however, is to optimally coordinate the DERs to meet a specified real and reactive power setpoint at the microgrid’s point of common coupling, despite the intermittency in generation and passive loads.
This accomplishment with the DERMS sets the stage for the utility to explore additional DERMS applications, such as stabilizing fluctuations in voltage often concentrated in localized sections of distribution feeders. “We don’t want to deal with individual customer behind-the-meter assets; we’d rather use advanced software algorithms and concepts such as AI to optimize an entire DER fleet,” said Singh. The microgrid in this pilot project can be considered a microcosm of what Alectra sees happening to its entire distribution system with increased proliferation of DERs.
The next phase of the VPP-DERMS pilot will reach outside the microgrid. It will integrate offsite EVs, building automation systems, solar carports and Li-ion batteries into the VPP to mitigate potential demand charge costs increases for the host site—Alectra’s head office at Derry Road in Burlington, Ontario—while paving the way for the provision of grid services to Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO.) Along with automated DR, this VPP can tap the diverse pool of assets (in two different locations) in the microgrid and the offsite EV charging station to provide regulation services.
To learn more about the migration from microgrid to VPP and then DERMS, tune into the Navigant Research webinar featuring Enbala and Alectra on September 17th.