A few days ago, we were contacted by an interested professional in Norway who had read our newest white paper, which I co-wrote with Guidehouse Insights to dispel the many myths surround distributed energy resource management systems (DERMS). He posited that Norway may be the world’s largest distributed energy resource (DER) system, noting that 90+ percent of the country’s electricity comes from numerous local, but interconnected, hydro stations. He pointed out that when rainfall is high, electricity is relatively inexpensive and that when it’s low, coal-fired power needs to be imported — a dynamic that’s changing with Norway’s ongoing construction of wind power. Noting that the country’s grid has operated for many years without 21st century grid management, he pondered what could be done with modern DERMS technology to minimize waste and improve the performance of the grid.
I’ve been to Norway many times and believe that its hydro and wind resources — and the way the power grid operators have adapted to make use of them — are a testament to how good engineers adapt to what they have at their disposal. (I wish the U.S. had as much renewable resource in place!)
To answer my Norwegian colleague’s question, there are three mysterious acronyms that are thrown around (too much) today…
- DER: Distributed energy resource. Generally, this is any source or flexible load connected to the distribution grid, i.e., solar PV, batteries, backup generators (islanding or parallelizing), small(er) wind, HVAC, pumps, chillers, geothermal, …
- VPP: Virtual power plant. This encompasses any collection of DERs that are grouped together to achieve a given goal, e.g., tertiary reserves, demand response, microgrid support, feeder congestion relief, oversupply (aka reverse flow/back feed) management, to name a few. A VPP can deliver market services and/or reliability/stability services.
- DERMS: A skin disease. Oops, no, a distributed energy management system. This is the most widely misused term — and the reason I focused on the associated DERMS myths in the new paper. Generally, nowadays, a DERMS is any system that can manage DERs for any purpose. This is not where it started though. The definition of DERMS is the combination of highly parallel transactional optimization algorithms, machine learning, DER “flexibility” and real-time telemetry from the grid to better manage the distribution grid. It is used to manage voltage sags and swells that occur around large loads and high penetrations of PV. It increases (solar PV]) hosting capacity of existing distribution systems, helps manage reactive power flows (VARs don’t travel well), reduces technical loss of distribution of electricity, and on and on. An ADMS is not built for this — it doesn’t scale. Because of this and the cost of thousands of feeder primary-connected sensors the DERMS doesn’t need, most distribution utilizes don’t actively manage the wires downline of the stations unless they feed other stations. DERMS takes care of the wires downline of those stations.
As the technology matures, we find ourselves optimizing and controlling larger and larger assets, including transmission-connected renewable sources. We’re selective and are use case/business case driven. Just because a DERMS could technically control it, that doesn’t mean it should. In woodworking, they say that just because you have a power tool, that doesn’t mean it’s the best tool in the shed for every job. Sometimes a nice hand plane will have more finesse and provide a better finish. The same goes here. We have managed gigawatt wind — removing the variability from the power generated (as seen from the grid station).
All that said, Enbala Concerto™ can take demand flexibility into balancing markets. It can also help reduce occurrences of thermal limit breaches on conductors and reduce reverse power flows to transmission during high PV/low load periods. As the industry looks to convert renewable energy into storable fuel, it can help determine the best times to do that vs. other use cases (part of our value stacking capability).
Fossil fuel will be around for a long while; however, innovation needs a goal. Without one, endless refinement and no execution are often the result. We at Enbala strive for a cleaner energy future and have been doing so for more than a decade.
Can Enbala help Norway? Probably. Our conversation with members of the country’s energy industry leadership continues.
If you are interested in learning more about what DERMS is and isn't and what it can and can't do, take a moment to read our newest white paper covering the six most common myths about DERMS and DERs.