Tdworld 20675 Der Dec

DERs Arising: Who You Going to Call?

Dec. 4, 2019
If we are headed toward a more transactive energy market, the hosting maps, policies, and DERMS platforms utilities can bring to the table will ensure that DERs are adding value.

Love them or hate them, distributed energy resources (DERs) are a fact of life for utilities today. Anecdotally, we know DERs are hot based on DER development activity, customer inquiries and the real acid test: multiple industry conferences per year devoted to the topic! In fact, a report issued mid-year by Navigant Consulting Inc. shows revenue from DER capacity is expected to grow globally from US$173 billion in 2019 to US$650 billion by 2028. So what is your utility’s strategy: ignore them; deal with them on an isolated basis as they appear; or develop an organized system to locate, integrate, and operate DERs for the benefit of all stakeholders?

Some utilities have the luxury of dealing with DERs on a custom basis as they arise. But, more common today is the necessity of an organized response. Because of either optimal geographic conditions like solar insolation or regulatory policy, or both, utilities have to contend with hundreds, if not thousands of DER projects. As an example, APS went from hosting 200 solar projects in 2008 to well above 42,000 today. Some years back, APS installed an advanced distribution management system (ADMS) which has helped control their distribution system in a number of ways, including management of power quality with the increased incidence of two-way power flows because of DERs on numerous feeders. Today, there is a pure play approach to handling the coming wave of DERs with distributed energy resource management systems (DERMS) offered by a growing number of well-regarded suppliers.

A DERMS is a system-wide application that provides central control of all the DERs connected to a distribution network by forecasting, monitoring, and managing the operation of each device safely and reliably for the benefit of the host and the system. Companies with ADMS may be able to use them to achieve some of the system control functions of a DERMS, but a number of experts recommend separate systems for easier modification as the DER arena develops. Utilities active with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) are likely aware that the organization has been researching DER integration issues for many years and now offers a test script for validating a new DERMS platform’s compliance with the broadly accepted common information model (CIM) communications protocol for DERs. The EPRI also sponsors a DERMS interest group on LinkedIn for utility peer-to-peer dialogue and sharing.

The Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) recently published a 52-page revised edition of its proposed requirements for DERMS, including sections on user interfaces, reporting, configuration, controls, dynamic topology changes, contract management, constraint management, forecasting, testing, cybersecurity, scalability and maintainability. For entities seeking assistance with the wealth of information becoming available on the relatively expensive DERMS platforms out there, Kenneth Research announced the availability of a detailed report regarding the DERMS market, which it expects to grow by over 15% per year through 2025. ABB, Siemens, GE, Schneider Electric, OATI, and Smarter Grid Solutions are among the suppliers that provide DERMS management platforms.

Some utilities have conducted studies and run pilot programs to evaluate the impact of DERs on their system. For example, the August issue of T&D World magazine shared ComEd’s detailed methodology for evaluating the value of DERs connected to their distribution system. One of the conclusions was that the methodology must be geographically and temporally granular to identify real benefits such as the deferral of capacity upgrades.

In February 2018, National Grid (NG) shared its blueprint for distributed generation interconnections. The company focused on technical standards, policies, and processes to streamline interactions with customers interested in installing DERs. The NG identified a number of cost-saving opportunities whereby customers could avoid expensive upgrade requirements such as direct transfer trip (DTT) or share in the cost of needed upgrades such as substation transmission ground fault protection instead of footing the entire bill.

Cautious utilities may believe that conducting DER pilots or developing streamlined procedures for dealing with customers pursuing distributed resources is akin to tiptoeing down a slippery slope. Likewise, they may believe that investing in a DERMS platform is like putting out a welcome sign for the competition. Such concerns mask the benefits of taking these proactive measures. Pilots and system mapping identify where distributed resources can benefit all customers. Policies and procedures for working with DER stakeholders ensure that utility resources are not wasted. Finally, installing a DERMS can help a utility maintain system reliability, lower costs, maintain power quality, ensure safe operation of the grid and potentially create new sources of value for itself and its stakeholders.

Even the highly DER-fobic contingent may at least admit that significantly higher DER penetration is inevitable. If we are headed toward a more transactive energy market, the hosting maps, policies, and DERMS platforms utilities can bring to the table will ensure that DERs are adding value, not just shifting costs from one user group to another. The result being that utilities will have a strategic role in creating the market structure of the future.

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