Leveraging the DER opportunity


By Frédéric Wauquiez, GE Power Senior Product Manager, DER Orchestration

Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) and associated technology are disrupting utility business models. Breaking down silos helps effectively orchestrate DERs and move utilities beyond the pilot era to business as usual.

Current climate

The rise of DERs has been driven by a combination of regulatory changes, the emergence of third-party aggregators, and significant cost and efficiency improvements in DER technology. Including both demand and supply-side resources — such as photovoltaics (PVs), smart inverters, energy storage, and electric vehicles (EVs) — DERs may prove to be the single most disruptive influence in the history of the electric grid.

Increasing DER penetration brings fresh challenges with respect to a utility’s distribution network operations, as well as its underlying business model, as they address:

  • Potential reliability, safety, and power quality concerns
  • New technology integration
  • Huge increases in the number of grid-connected devices and data volume
  • Rapidly changing cyber-security threat landscape.

This influx of DERs will further transform the traditional value chain model into a highly networked, participatory model with suppliers and prosumers (customers managing smart grids, microgrids, local generation, and storage) interfacing in a peer-to-peer fashion and with a much more decentralised distribution grid.

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Orchestration opportunities

The transformation of the electric grid brings fresh opportunities. An effective DER orchestration solution enables utilities to manage and integrate DERs in an end-to-end manner – from GIS and planning to distribution and transmission grid operators to market operators and players – via flexible deployment options, ranging from edge to cloud. With the right digital solution, utilities can address the uncertainties of DER proliferation and deploy decentralised intelligence closer to the edge to deliver resiliency and scalability.

Successful software solutions can provide operators with the requisite tools to:

  • Visualise DERs in both a geographic and temporal sense
  • Understand current and near-term forecasted states of DERs
  • Mesh consumption information from smart meters with load forecasts and status updates from the grid
  • Disaggregate distributed generation (DG) and storage from load
  • Provide constraint management for DG while maximising renewable export onto the grid and minimising violations
  • Coordinate utility and non-utility DER to enhance grid resiliency
  • Optimise grid investments and defer capital investments through non-wires alternatives
  • Reduce physical and cyber vulnerabilities using real-time information and DER flexibility.

With digital DER orchestration, the operator gains the requisite situational intelligence to recognise developing situations and act quickly and decisively, orchestrating flexibility across the grid for both utility and non-utility DERs while unlocking new revenue streams and driving towards a vision of more autonomous operations.

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The post-pilot era: DERs becoming business as usual for utilities

With DERs continuing to grow at a rapid pace, now is the time for utilities to move towards owning their approach to the DER revolution.

Maturity matters. Today, the majority of utilities may see DERs as a threat and may often feel forced to dimension even more capacity to their grids. Few, though, are at the next state of maturity, where they fully embrace DERs as an opportunity.

Mature utilities are no longer willing to simply test a technology to see how it works and what can be done with it. They are now deploying and implementing in their real operations, which requires homework in every one of their IT/OT systems, from geospatial to planning, operations, asset management and customer care. They might start with pockets of the grid that have the highest challenges, but even then, their investments are prioritised.

A great example is a project GE is currently rolling out for a large 1.4M meter utility. While the geographic and grid span are limited to some priority areas, we are implementing the project in a way that is fully repeatable. It’s not just about demonstrating what a smart solution can do, it’s about implementing things the right way so that all the processes are ready to deploy out to other parts of the grid.

Utility readiness

Long-term success rests on utility readiness for the next wave of DER evolution. Utilities must take DER management seriously. When they do, they discover that having just an isolated DERM system is not enough. The utility has to model, interconnect, manage, and orchestrate to reflect these objects in every part of their business. Just as they’d have a representation of a breaker or transformer in most of their systems, they need the same for every DER on their grid.

This means a lot of homework. There are many more parameters to model for a DER than there is for a simple breaker or transformer: who does the DER belong to? Who is the aggregator? How can the grid interact with that particular device? What technology/protocol can it be interfaced with for status, for measurements or to send out controls? What are the limitations and obligations outlined in the aggregation contract? Etc.

The role of end-to-end DER orchestration

Without the right tools in place, though, the utility can’t trust and rely on the DERs or ensure damage to the grid is avoided. Leveraging the right components, the utility can effectively model all the key aspects needed to integrate DER and be predictive and proactive rather than reactive.

Success rests on breaking down silos. For instance, taking GIS and adding expertise on DER modeling can help the utility gauge whether or not to accept load generation and storage from DER candidates for connection – and getting a grip right from the start on all the parameters that will be required in the ADMS or EMS to efficiently manage this DER once accepted. Or, combining DER forecasting with WAMS enables the utility to anticipate not only frequency and voltage but also stability, which is essential in the presence of high renewable or DER penetration.

The successful management and orchestration of DERs must support the utility’s efforts to improve efficiency, reliability, and market agility. Continue to thrive by embracing the smarter grid environment and the speeding advances of DERs with the power of digitalisation.

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