Earlier this summer, I posted about the extreme heat wave challenging the Pacific Northwest. The summer has brought a myriad of challenges around the Northern Hemisphere. From flooding in Europe to wildfires across the West, severe weather and changing climate patterns continue to strain electric power grid operators tasked with keeping lights on in homes, businesses and critical facilities. In the utility world, the term “resiliency” is offered daily as the goal. “Keep the power grid resilient.” Distributed energy resources (DERs) play a critical role in achieving these targets in two complementary ways. At the risk of sounding pedantic, we need to address reliability at the grid level and resiliency at the end customer site.
I was recently invited to meet with a class of students studying energy and the future, and as a part of the session, I was asked to prepare a challenge for the students to work through. The result was interesting and showed a glimpse of what may lie ahead. It will certainly be a challenge that will require innovation, new concepts and a lot of hard work.
I showed a small area, powered by an electric utility (20% of total energy), natural gas (25% of local energy) and petroleum products (45% of total energy). The electric utility had capability to increase its energy delivered by about 25% in the next decade, and the students were asked to show how to minimize the emissions in that timeframe. They were free to add solar thermal or solar PV capacity to the system.
At the start of the summer demand response season in North America, grid operators have already used Enbala's Concerto™ platform to dispatch about 100 events to keep the grid stable as heat waves settled upon the western half of North America. Our thoughts are with those in the extreme heat, and we know that describing rising temperatures — coupled with wildfires and severe weather — as "disruptive" is an understatement. However, high temperatures point to the need for distributed energy resource (DER) orchestration to keep the grid stable and to help keep utility customers as comfortable as possible.
It’s all about “commitments to zero” these days. The urgency of climate change and the need to reduce carbon emissions has seen many influential organizations making commitments to Net Zero by 2050, including the Biden administration, 73 electric utilities across the United States, global energy giants like Shell and Equinor and the German parliament. The International Energy Agency (IEA) identified that the number of countries which have pledged to achieve net‐zero emissions has grown rapidly over the last year and now covers around 70 %of global emissions of CO2. However, the changes required to reach net‐zero emissions globally are poorly understood. As a result, IEA published its “Achieving Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector.” They identified that, despite all the hype, if all announced national net-zero pledges are achieved in full and on time, whether or not they are currently underpinned by specific policies, goal acquisition will still fall well short of what is necessary to reach global net‐zero emissions by 2050.
I recently reviewed an EPRI document that discussed storage, and by far the largest size storage systems were pumped storage plants. I wondered why they did not include hydro (non-pumped) storage, as this form of storage is far larger than any other form of storage that is available on the grid now.
Parts of North America, but sadly not all of it, are blessed with mountainous territory that has many rivers and streams that run downhill, and many of these have been harnessed for electricity production. While not specifically intended as storage plants when built, the value of their storage may well turn out to be larger than the value of the electricity that they may produce.
Consider a hydro dam that is 35 M in height with a reservoir that is 10 km2. Discharging the top 1 M of water through a generating station (90% efficient) would release almost 840 MWh of stored energy. This is a small hydro plant, with a small reservoir behind it, yet the storage is almost 840 MWh/M of depth that is drawn from the forebay. That is in addition to the electrical energy generated for use.
So how does a utility that has no pumps manage to store and return energy? The process is both simple and efficient.
REDEFINING SUCCESS FOR A DISTRIBUTED ENERGY GRID: THE THREE TENETS
In our first “Three Tenets” blog we talked about the importance of speed when it comes to effectively leveraging distributed energy resources (DERs), and in the second one we wrote about the importance of accuracy. In this one we add a third dimension of criticality – scalability. From our perspective, these are by far the top three critical success factors today when it comes to successful DERMS and VPP projects and the determining factors for the long-term viability of these projects as increasingly larger numbers of distributed energy assets find their way onto the grid. There are, of course, other important factors, but many that topped the criteria list during the early phases of DER adoption have been far overshadowed in today’s world by the need for the triumvirate combination of speed, accuracy and scalability.
It’s been said that analogy is a powerful force when it comes to innovation. It creates an environment where it’s easier for people to apply knowledge from one domain that they already understand to another that they don’t understand quite as well – and thus make it, too, easier to grasp.
Uber is a prime example of analogy taken, perhaps, to the extreme. It would be tough to estimate the number of companies that have come into being recently aiming or claiming – to be the “Uber for ....” – you fill in the blank. There’s an “Uber for errand running,” an “Uber for pet care,” an “Uber for tool rental,” an “Uber for grocery (and alcohol) delivery,” an “Uber for finding parking spaces…” You get the picture.
I have posted several blogs in the past few weeks, focused on the potential to improve the operation of the electric power grid, reducing losses, and driving the overall efficiency up. Some of the thoughtful comments that have been posted by readers have provided food for thought. One comment was particularly important to this discussion…
“What’s best for players individually is not what’s best for the public and for the system as a whole.”
This comment reveals an issue that may soon be a problem.
For most of the 130-year history of the electric grid, utilities have charged residential customers for energy used and have NOT charged for peak power demand, as they do for commercial and industrial accounts.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
Virtual power plants or VPPs are one of the hottest topics in the energy industry today. In fact, investments in VPPs are expected to total over $68.6 billion by 2025 -- this according to Navigant Research, who has published a new white paper on the topic.
Software advancements are enabling greatly expanded capabilities in the distributed energy resources (DERs) that can be aggregated into VPPs, which are now capable of responding to the needs of the power grid at the sub-second speeds required for instantaneous grid balancing.
Titled Stacking Values with Virtual Power Plants in Today's Digital Power Grid: Moving Distributed Networked Energy Into the Mainstream, the paper was authored by Navigant's Peter Asmus and covers:
- The expansion and convergence of VPP market segments
- New distributed energy resource architectures
- Physical VPP grid and market interaction values
- ROIs on VPPs
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