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A Collaborative DER Registry: Solving a Big Problem the Right Way

Feb. 17, 2023
While the impact of DERs can be positive, especially for the individual consumer, their impacts to the grid at large, unfortunately, are not always positive.

It is undisputable that distributed energy resources (DERs) are having a significant impact on our industry. While the impact of DERs can be positive, especially for the individual consumer, their impacts to the grid at large are not always positive. Over the past several years, our team has had the privilege to work around the world in places like Australia, Ireland, Germany and many others. We have had the opportunity to see firsthand the challenges of transitioning a grid to higher penetrations of DERs, examining what has and has not worked. We then went one step further and asked what would make a difference for our entire industry.

The answer is a collaborative CIM-based DER Registry. Why? Because a common set of data can be shared among the consumer, distribution utility, transmission utility/ISO, market, regulators, and competitive suppliers to allow DERs to help solve grid problems instead of creating them. The data must be secure, allow seamless integration to existing utility and market systems by using CIM data structures, and allow each regulatory authority to determine who has access to the different data elements. Most importantly, it must be cost-effective so all stakeholders in the energy value chain can participate effectively. But how?

About 30 years ago, EPRI started an initiative that became the Common Information Model (CIM) for the electric industry for large-scale generators, a common way to take the operational and market data necessary for any generator to connect to the grid. CIM saved billions of dollars by setting this ‘lingua franca’ or ‘translator’ to ensure every machine, regardless of origin, could speak the language of the grid without having to create a custom interface. Today, we stand at a similar doorway, but this time it’s not about a few thousand machines; it’s about millions. The cost and coordination implications are immense, and entire countries/markets are struggling because they did not address this issue before reaching significant penetrations of DERs. The lessons have already been learned, and we must act to recognize this new resource and work collaboratively to effectively incorporate DERs.

Creating such a system could be a lucrative venture for the IT industry. Or it could be built as an enabling tool for the utility industry to help DERs become a useful part of our grid and markets at the lowest cost possible. We chose the latter and have created a non-profit company, Collaborative Utility Solutions (CUS), that will serve the industry in a collaborative manner at the lowest possible cost and give the proverbial “reins” to our industry membership to guide and direct all future advancement. We have taken the first steps, and today we are excited to make this system available to the industry:

Starting today, every U.S. utility immediately has free access to the electronic data collection and management of DER information. We understand many utilities are still using paper systems or excel spreadsheets to collect DER interconnection information, and we want to provide them an electronic alternative immediately. Over time, if they choose to become a  member, they gain access to the mapping, analytics, API/date exchanges, and historical information upload included in the DER registry and become a governing/voting member for all changes going forward. ISOs and regulatory agencies will have access at no cost.

The first question we often get is, “What’s the catch?” As we are a non-profit, the finances are open-book, and the by-laws and operating agreement are given to members. The members are the stakeholders for DERs: regulators, ISOs, utilities, consumers, equipment suppliers and aggregators. The members, with the board, are the sole authority to guide the future of the registry. This ensures the necessary transparency and fair access to the data with the proper regulatory oversight and security. The non-profit structure also delivers this necessary tool for the industry at a small fraction of the cost of competitive solutions and an ever-decreasing cost for each member as more participate. Perhaps most importantly, members are in control of the future of the DER Registry.

The next question is, “Seems a bit self-evident, why don’t you just move forward?” Unfortunately, the electricity industry has spent the last several decades fragmenting and creating unique silos — Disco/EDC, Transco/RTO/ISO, GenCo/IPP, Vertically Integrated or Competitive choice. The continuous fragmentation has created a mammoth opportunity for some to take advantage of our industry through this fragmentation, and individual industry participants have a limited focus on the holistic energy picture. We know that the electric industry flourished when we collaborated on best practices of design, operation, and education. We know that standards drive efficiency and market effectiveness. We know data sharing drives lower cost and overall effectiveness. However, our fragmentation and silo thinking make it a challenge for us individually in our day-to-day role to support broader decisions. The mission of CUS is to enable collaboration among the various silos necessary to make DERs benefit the grid and markets holistically.

Does this make us and our effort analogous to Don Quixote? Well, the simplest answer is, it doesn’t matter. The right question is how we all can work together to make DERs work? It is an exciting time to be in the electric industry. We are thankful to have had the opportunity to work with such a broad cross-section of our industry in the past few years to create the non-profit DER Registry.

We present it now to help our industry effectively implement DERs and support grids around the world to effectively enable DERs. We want to thank everyone who has supported this initiative, with a special recognition to Esri for its support. We look forward to working with our industry for a cleaner, more reliable, and efficient future with DERs making a positive contribution to grid reliability.

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