Harnessing the Power of Distributed Energy Resources (DERs)

Sameer Kalra, Director of Operational Technology Products

Managing the electric power grid is more complex than ever, and the complexity only increases as more DERs are connected to the network. DERs are resources owned by customers to generate, store, manage, or sell energy. These include solar panels, home or neighborhood batteries, electric vehicles (EVs), and smart energy devices (e.g. controllable air conditioners).

Today, there are more solar panels, microgrids, storage devices, and electric vehicles connecting to the edge of the grid than at any other time, and more of these distributed energy resources (DERs) are being added every day. Electric utilities see these DERs as both an opportunity, and as a threat to their ability to control and monetize a service territory.

It’s becoming a global challenge to integrate all of these resources into the grid. A big part of the solution is a distributed energy resources management system, or DERMS, which is a system of systems that enable utilities to monitor, control, schedule, and dispatch DERs.

DERMS are becoming increasingly important in the smart grid era. They allow utilities to not only manage their power generation assets more efficiently but also optimize the customer owned assets. This is an opportunity to increase capacity on the grid without building out expensive infrastructure like wires and generation facilities.

Walk before we run

There are several steps we must take as an industry before we can fully utilize DERMS as part of a modern, bidirectional electric grid. It’s a global problem to resolve: How do we integrate all of these resources into the grid? Solving this problem will bring great benefits to society by decarbonizing our environment.

Here are the steps we must take to integrate renewable energy into the grid and manage this intermittent generating capacity. We must first crawl, then walk, and finally run with a completely integrated DERMS network.

Crawl – Here’s where a DERMS application provides visibility of the DERs in a specific area. Utilities need to know what and where these resources are on their system.

Walk – At this stage, DERMS are helping sectionalize the load. This can greatly reduce the impact on a system which affects a utilities’ key performance indicators such as SAIDI and SAIFI statistics.

Run – This is more about dispatching and controlling DERs. Now the DERMS is providing real-time data about events on the grid and managing supply and demand. The reaction and decision making is much faster, and interruption of power can almost be eliminated, barring extreme disasters.

Pushing toward a DERMS solution

This is new territory for most utilities. Some parts of the country (Hawaii and Southern California) have a much higher penetration of DERs, and its forcing utilities in these regions to use a system to manage the flow of electricity. We’re even seeing utilities in these areas using digital twins as part of the system to manage the resources at the edge of their network.

We’re really at the point that we need regulatory bodies to push utilities toward the next phase of DERMS adoption. Allowing utilities to present a business case that puts these new management systems into the rate base. Change is hard for many utilities. Regulators need to make accommodations for utilities to change their business model.

Benefits of DERMS

The benefits of a DERMS enabled and managed, modernized grid are significant. Without these systems, energy management will be all but impossible in the future.

The facts are clear: DERMS have the potential to totally change the utility industry. These “systems of systems” can help reduce costs, give utilities the ability to better predict future load demands, and adjust generation accordingly. This helps utilities save money because they don’t have to build additional capacity.

DERMS can also help utilities increase reliability, safety, and security of the grid. By monitoring and controlling distributed energy resources, utilities can ensure that the system remains stable even during emergencies.

The need for DERMS is inevitable and can even be a boon for utilities. With more microgrids and millions of DERs on the edge of the grid, and behind customer meters, DERMS creates a safer, affordable, more efficient, and more reliable power grid.