Cloud-Based Platform Helps Utilities Grow and Manage Distributed Generation Resources

West Monroe Partners has launched ConnecttheGrid, a software platform designed and implemented to help utilities and municipalities manage the growing number of distributed generation (DG) technologies within their jurisdictions. The cloud-based ConnecttheGrid platform serves as an online resource for applicants to learn about requirements and then submit and track the status of their application. The tool also allows utilities to efficiently process applications as well as monitor and accurately forecast DG resource performance to deliver stable and reliable grid operations.

“The recent growth of distributed generation resources brings a new set of challenges for electric distribution utilities and new opportunities for the end-users,” said Tom Hulsebosch, managing director of West Monroe Partners’ Energy & Utilities practice. “With existing state renewable portfolio goals and the Climate Action Plan recently announced by President Obama, we expect to see accelerated DG growth, which could put a strain on utilities unprepared to handle the influx of businesses and consumers requesting to add DG to the grid. Utilities need a solution that seamlessly integrates these new resources into their networks and operational systems. When this is accomplished – utilities will be able to safely and reliably handle the increase in DG without impacting grid stability.”

“We see many utilities looking for a more efficient approach to not only integrate DG into their networks, but also improve their ability to forecast DG impact on their hourly distribution system load. ConnecttheGrid enables more efficient DG enrollment as well as short and long term DG forecasting that aids overall system operations and planning,” Hulsebosch added.

ConnecttheGrid helps utilities address three major areas that are required to effectively integrate and manage the increased number distributed (including renewable generation like solar and wind) generation resources over the next decade:

  1. Grid access: nearly 90 percent of states in the United States currently have standard interconnection policies in place for small-scale generation systems. In Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC)’s “2013 Model Interconnection Procedures” report, it recommends that utilities offer online application submissions.1
  2. Grid parity: The US Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, through its Rooftop Solar Challenge funding rounds, has emphasized streamlining enrollment processes to drive down "soft costs," estimating that current processes such as permitting and interconnection can comprise up to 40 percent of the total installed cost of a rooftop Photovoltaic system.2
  3. Grid stability: Increasing penetration rates of utility-scale renewables have caused utilities and regulators to develop strategies to balance intermittent energy resources (e.g., Bonneville Power Authority’s management of 6.5 GW of renewables3). Real-time impact on load forecasting requirements of “behind the meter” DG resources is already a challenge for many utilities.

Key features of the cloud-based ConnecttheGrid platform include:

  • Electronic submission with error-checking features to increase accuracy
  • Workflow management features to allow the utility to process two to four times as many applications with existing staff resources
  • Automatic notifications to the utility when applications approach approval time requirements
  • Status dashboard that provides applicants and the utility with real-time updates to track approval milestones
  • Distributed generation asset tracking and reporting that provides the utility with accurate information of the capacity, type of DG, location of DG (GPS and feeder), and current DG performance
  • Real-time distributed generation forecasting that provides the utility with accurate information to improve DG generation forecasting, enabling the utility to increase revenue of spare energy and demand or reduce the amount of energy and demand it needs to purchase on the spot market
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