Generac Grid Services Blog

Distributed Energy Resources: The Energy Efficiency Story

Posted by Ginger Juhl on Oct 5, 2016 8:30:00 AM

canstockphoto53708558Today, October 5, is the inaugural Energy Efficiency Day 2016, and the perfect time to talk about what we are doing - in conjunction with our customers - to reduce traditional energy consumption and make the world a better place for ourselves, our children and our children’s children.

Energy Efficiency Day is a collaborative effort of regional and national organizations working to promote energy efficiency, including many that we strongly support. This includes the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), Advanced Energy Economy, the Regional Energy Efficiency Organizations, Appliance Standards Awareness Project, E4TheFuture, Natural Resources Defense Council, and a very long list of cities, utilities, universities, associations and companies like ours who share a common mission with sustainability at its core. You’ll see most of us writing, tweeting and otherwise sharing our energy efficiency stories today – stories about using better technology and practices so that less energy is consumed to accomplish the same tasks, while continuing to keep homes and businesses comfortable.

Here at Enbala, the company mantra is “find your energy balance.” That’s because the thing that sets us apart in the energy world is our distributed energy resources balancing platform.  So when we talk about Enbala, energy balance is what we hone in on time and time again – because honing in on and repeating one single memorable message is the key to effective marketing. 

graphic.jpegWhile we definitely want people to remember who we are and what we do, in reality, there is more than one thing that we are passionate about. The thing that really drives us is a passion that underpins our quest for energy balance, and that is a deep commitment to environmental sustainability and energy efficiency. 

Two Sides to Every Story

A huge opportunity exists to leverage distributed resources - or DERs - to lower overall energy demand and, as a result, enhance the DERs value stream, cushion customers’ wallets and support the fight against climate change.

Half of our story here is about DERs and how they are playing a pivotal role in creating a truly modern electric grid that is secure, flexible, reliable and capable of supporting carbon pollution reduction goals and driving a clean energy economy. The other half is about what each of us at Enbala is doing personally to contribute to greater energy efficiency.  

To create this blog, we asked each of our team members to answer two questions. The first was how Enbala, DERs and our customers are contributing to a more sustainable planet, and the second was what each of us is doing on a personal level to help achieve the same goal.

Here are the results.

Every Little Bit Helps

On a personal level, every Enbala team member is taking the energy efficiency steps that any eco-minded person would take. Turning off lights not in use and dimming those that are. Switching to ENERGY STAR® appliances.  Reducing HVAC usage and participating in DR programs. Drying clothing outside. Adding solar panels. Using smart thermostats and smart home automation. 

But many are taking their energy efficiency moves to a higher level – several haven’t even owned a car in over a decade, and among those that do own a car, many drive only electric cars. There is an unusually high percentage of cyclers at Enbala, with employees riding many miles to and from work each day in all sorts of weather. Others have adopted vegetarian diets – based solely on their opinion that a vegetarian diet is more energy efficient.

One said that his personal contribution to energy efficiency was his decision to work at Enbala. “I am focused on building a system that will make our grid more efficient and will deliver more energy, use more intermittent generation and waste less.” Another went so far as to create a perpetual scholarship to fund one student each year to study power and energy systems and, hopefully, use this knowledge for the increasing improvement of grid efficiency.

On a Broader Level: The Enbala Piece of the Puzzle

Malcolm Metcalfe, our founder and chief technology officer, is also our chief passion officer. A strong and outspoken protagonist for sustainability long before it was popular, Malcolm’s thoughts about Enbala’s contribution to energy efficiency encompassed the input of everyone on the team when he said, “Enbala's goal is to increase the efficiency of the electricity grid – and of the grid participants - by leveraging distributed energy resources in two ways. One is to respond to electricity demand in a way that eliminates the need to build and spin up more carbon gas-emitting generators. Two is to orchestrate DERs to help consumers use electricity more efficiently and cost effectively.”

Malcolm believes that the whole ecosystem of DERs players – the visionaries, the builders, the users – have the capability to “do something really fantastic” and that in working together, these players are making tremendous progress in fundamentally reshaping the way the world creates and uses electricity.

“Our system can better manage the grid edge using technology that has never been used in the past,” he said. “There are three key steps we’re taking that will have a significant positive impact on a more sustainable and efficient energy future:

  1. Manage voltage to allow the connection of an unlimited amount of DERs on the grid. Currently, utilities limit penetration of solar at about 20% of the feeder peak capacity. Using new technologies and methods, we have modelled lines with up to 200% solar capacity when compared to the feeder load. It works flawlessly.
  2. Manage power on the distribution side to smooth the load – providing local firming for intermittent sources. This will reduce marginal losses and will ultimately result in a less volatile load on the grid.
  3. With A and B completed, participate in robust optimization of the grid. We can change our grid from the current form where generation follows load (i.e., turn on a big load, and somewhere a generator increases its capacity) to one where load follows generation (the wind blows a turbine at night – and EV chargers capture the energy when it is available). This model will reduce the volatility on our grid (which currently runs at an average 50% capacity factor) and will allow the current grid to deliver far more energy. If we can drive the capacity factor to 75%, we will deliver 50% MORE energy in a day – with no new transmission or distribution. The generators will also run more efficiently than they do when they are continuously flexed.”

Other members of the Enbala team echoed Malcolm’s view, with a large emphasis on two key driving factors.

The Greater the Number of DERs, the Greater the Energy Efficiency

The first driving factor revolves around the tremendous benefits to be gained through non-wire solutions to grid peak loads by maximizing the potential of existing DERs already installed on the grid, along with the ability to provide additional value streams by allowing new sustainable DERs to participate. The net result is the ability to efficiently meet peak load needs without building new carbon gas-spewing generation facilities. In those cases where load forecasting processes have started to capture demand reductions from DERs, good things are happening. Each megawatt that gets knocked off of a load forecast thanks to the ability of distributed energy resource management platforms to capture, aggregate, optimize and control solar, wind, storage and other DERs is a win-win for utilities, their customers and the world that we share. 

Distributed energy resources not only help save money through postponing or eliminating the addition of new traditional generation plants but also by maintaining grid quality through reliable ancillary services. “By orchestrating DERs like DR, rooftop solar generation, EVs, battery storage and flexible process storage, we are contributing to a more energy efficient world by enabling a higher level of renewable penetration on feeders,” one Enbala software engineer commented. “Our platform allows storage that already exists on the demand-side within energy-consuming assets of large C&I companies to be combined with storage and other DERs to allow more renewable generation in the energy mix.”

For example, in New York, Enbala is working with NYSERDA, Joule Assets and small to midsized businesses on a projectthat leverages DERs to reduce annual electricity consumption by 1,400,000 kilowatt-hours and produce 500 kW of distributed energy assets. This is one of many demonstration projects that are part of New York's Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) initiative – projects that are aimed at delivering multiple stakeholder value streams through distributed energy resources.  The initiative will clearly demonstrate how a networked ecosystem of diverse utility customers can be a critical component of the grid edge landscape, giving utilities the resource flexibility they need, while rewarding the customers with improved sustainability, cost savings and new revenue opportunities.

Another NY REV example is the Neighborhood Program (previously known as the Brooklyn Queens Demand Management project), which is combining demand reductions with distributed resource investments, to defer the need for a $1.2 billion substation upgrade.

There are many, many other examples across the United States and around the world that underscore the power of DERs to more efficiently meet our power demand needs without increasing carbon pollution.

Leveraging Untapped Process Flexibility

The other key driving factor behind the energy efficiency successes of platforms like Enbala’s is their ability to harness load flexibility already inherent in the electric power system. In fact, through the Oak Ridge National Laboratory research project funded by the Department of Energy, Enbala quantified the potential for commercial and industrial loads to provide flexibility to the electric power system, while also delivering more renewable energy and cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The study demonstrated that there is an excess of 26 GW of available process flexibility in the top 30 large commercial and industrial industries in the United States alone.

Considering that 1 GW in energy capacity can meet the needs of 725,000 homes, 26 GW is a substantial amount of capacity that’s out there as stored energy waiting to be captured from existing pumps, blowers, air compressors, chillers and other C&I equipment. This storage already exists on the demand-side within energy-consuming assets of large commercial and industrial organizations; it just needs to be connected to and intelligently managed to support the real-time needs of the transforming power system.

New Brunswick Power is one utility that leveraged DERs to help achieve an objective of generating 40 percent of its portfolio from renewables by 2020. Needing a way to address capacity firming issues presented by variable energy resources like wind and solar power, NB Power worked with Enbala to implement a renewable firming application that connects a variety of distributed energy resources from commercial electricity customers to create a real-time, dynamic response solution that firms the renewable energy resources without impacting customer operations or comfort. The network of participating loads in New Brunswick primarily consisted of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems found in small to medium sized buildings, including commercial and retail sites, as well as warehouses, schools and community facilities. The network also included several municipal water pumping stations, creating a total of 30 customer sites with nearly 2,000 connected assets.

During this project, participating customers provided some 3 MW of renewable firming capacity to NB Power, with the Enbala platform continuously adjusting power usage of available assets to follow the utility’s 15-minute energy dispatch requests. The ramping times of the network were comparable to ramp times for generators, allowing the utility to use this network of demand-side loads as a single, dispatchable resource to manage day-ahead forecast risk and intra-hour ramping due to changes in wind speed.

PJM Interconnection is another example of a grid operator that achieved its goals of increased system reliability and efficiency using DERs. Through curtailment service providers working with retail consumers and other programs, PJM lined up 12,314 megawatts of demand response and energy-efficiency resources for the 2017/2018 delivery year. The solution lowers reliance on fossil-fuel-based generators, thereby cutting greenhouse gasses.  


Today, electricity production generates the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions because some 67 percent of electricity comes from burning fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas.  It’s heartening to know that after increasing in 2013 and in 2014, energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions fell in 2015, largely because of changes in the electric power sector. It’s even more heartening to realize the large potential incremental impact that effective management of distributed energy resources can have on the further curtailment of CO2.

Success in making distributed energy resources a key component of our power grid energy mix brings with it large potential benefits: large customer savings, a more reliable and secure grid and – of particular relevance here - contributions to clean air and the fight against climate change. We’re making big strides, ladies and gentlemen, in leveraging DERs to enable a brighter energy future.  In continuing to walk this path, we’re confident that 10 years from now, we’ll be able to look back and say, “Look what we’ve accomplished together!” 


Topics: distributed energy resources, DERs, distributed energy, energy efficiency

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