Transparent utility data key factor in grid modernization, says new SEIA paper

SEIA grid modernization

Earlier this week we noted that SEPA was looking for opinions concerning the evolving role of utilities in this increasingly distributed generation world. Right on cue, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) released the second paper in a series on grid modernization that tackles the need for improved distribution planning and operations.

In Improving Distribution System Planning to Incorporate Distributed Energy Resources, SEIA reviews the current utility distribution planning process and highlights how two leading states, California and New York, are attempting to modernize their systems to leverage the vast capabilities of distributed energy resources.

“Grid modernization is a complex topic and through this series we’re hoping to show how every American using electricity today can benefit from smart, proactive planning,” said Sean Gallagher, SEIA’s vice president of state affairs. “When done correctly, grid modernization can create new opportunities for energy sources like solar, leading to economic benefits for both utility customers and the grid.”

The white paper explores how data transparency is critical to modernizing and improving system planning. The paper also examines the progress of states that are at the forefront of this issue. Here’s a taste:

Through power flow modeling, utilities use data about the equipment on- and configuration of- their distribution system to determine where upgrades are needed for their distribution systems due to load. The same underlying distribution grid data and power flow modeling can be used to identify how much additional distributed generation (or load, such as electric vehicle fast charging) can be interconnected to the utilities’ distribution system. Transparency of these limitations both through hosting capacity maps, and the data underlying these maps, can help reduce interconnection costs and uncertainty for distributed energy resource developers.

Head here to read the full report.

— Solar Builder magazine

OpenADR Alliance tries to improve demand response standards

The success of our energy future might depend on the openness / collaboration of the stakeholders involved in this brave new distributed energy resource world. This is why the OpenADR Alliance is expanding the scope of its automated demand response standard to include advanced communications for distributed energy resources (DER).

demand response

What is OpenADR?

The OpenADR Alliance fosters the development, adoption and compliance of the Open Automated Demand Response (OpenADR) standard through collaboration, education, training, testing, and certification. The OpenADR Alliance is open to all interested stakeholders interested in accelerating the adoption and scope of the OpenADR standard for price- and reliability-based demand response and management of distributed energy resources (DER).

Energy supplier’s worldwide use the OpenADR standard to send fast, reliable and secure price and event messages to a wide variety of customer-installed equipment, such as building control systems, Zero Net Energy (ZNE) homes, smart thermostats, air conditioners, electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, water heaters, and advanced plug load controllers. By enhancing the standard with messaging support for common energy resources, OpenADR can provide a unified platform to help utilities and customers manage the constantly changing collection of DER resources, unifying a system of systems.

“Many electric utilities are struggling with the diverse and growing collection of communication standards used for coordinating and managing their DERs such as solar PV, battery storage, electric vehicles and demand side management resources,” said Barry Haaser, managing director, OpenADR Alliance. “By making some relatively simple modifications to the OpenADR standard, the industry would have a standardized message framework that can be used to send customers information on electrical rates, load management and price signals to help them better manage their growing ensemble of distributed energy assets.”

How it can help: Successes in Southern California, Japan

The traditional world of demand response (DR) is becoming more sophisticated and capable of more dynamic operations. As a result, energy suppliers continue to recognize the critical role DR plays in balancing distributed energy resources with local grid operations. Southern California Edison (SCE), for example, has used its OpenADR-based system to deliver price and event information to electric vehicle (EV) car chargers in past and upcoming pilot programs.

As more electric vehicles enter the market and more workplaces provide services for employees to charge their cars on-site, it’s essential for utilities like SCE to find a cost-effective way to manage periods of high demand on the electrical grid with demand response and dynamic pricing programs. This allows SCE to better leverage their long-term investment in OpenADR, while providing a seamless method for enabling consumer behavior changes in response to these dynamic price signals.

In Japan, a national study committee summarized 71 use cases proposed by 29 member companies for using the OpenADR standard for management of their distributed energy resources. The Japanese group, lead by METI and managed by Waseda University, has recommended a few minor modifications to the OpenADR standard to better support DER resource management.

The OpenADR Alliance recently collaborated with EPRI to organize a DER workshop at EPRI’s Palo Alto headquarters, which was attended by 80 thought leaders with strong DR or DER backgrounds. The group evaluated DER protocols, use cases and DER requirements and made a number of recommendations for modifying the OpenADR standard for use in utility DER programs.

— Solar Builder magazine

Case study: A better energy projection leads to more financing for Pacifico Energy

Pacifico energy solar monitoring

When developing a utility-scale solar PV project, accurately projecting the site’s power output is crucial. For its 33 MW Kumenan PV project in Japan, Pacifico Energy experimented with publicly available data before seeking a more precise measurement solution.

After implementing SRA Systems from Renewable NRG Systems (RNRG)—a leading designer and manufacturer of decision support tools for the global renewable energy industry—Pacifico Energy increased the accuracy of power output projections at the Kumenan PV project by up to 14%. The gain allowed the company to secure more competitive financing terms to build the PV plant.

Getting the projection right

As the utility solar industry continues to grow, the need for solar resource assessment to facilitate more accurate power output forecasting is becoming increasingly important. The most critical parameter used to estimate power output is Global Horizontal Irradiance (GHI). Because of its direct impact on energy production estimates, miscalculations of GHI can cause critical financial risk for project owners and investors. When Pacifico Energy first set out to determine power output at the Kumenan PV project, they used publicly available, long-term GHI data from New Energy and Industrial Technology Organization (NEDO). Such resources are common in Japan, but are not ideal for every project.

In Pacifico Energy’s case, the weather stations used by NEDO to collect GHI data were located too far from the Kumenan PV project to provide accurate output projections. Instead, they selected an approach that aligns with the solar industry’s GHI measurement best practices, integrating the high-quality irradiance data collected onsite with RNRG’s ground-based SRA Systems with long-term satellite data. According to Nate Franklin, who manages Pacifico Energy’s activities in Japan, ”Deploying finance-grade solar assement campaigns like this one is fairly new in Japan, but Pacifico Energy wants to lead the way towards a high-standard approach to PV project development in the country.”

RELATED: How data can shift the energy market to solar 

Pacifico Energy opted for RNRG’s solution because of its exemplary quality, reasonable cost, and its ease of installation and maintenance. The SRA Systems were installed at the Kumenan PV site in 2013 and collected real-time irradiance data for one year. The monitoring station was equipped with best-in-class meteorological sensors that integrated seamlessly with RNRG’s much-lauded SymphoniePLUS3 data logger, providing measured data directly to Pacifico Energy’s control room. The long-term satellite data were later corrected with the records collected by the SRA Systems, providing the most accurate irradiance input to energy production simulation model.

“The SRA System configuration that is used here is recommended for utility-scale resource assessment campaigns and solar monitoring applications when measurement accuracy is the top priority,” said Dave Hurwitt, VP Marketing & Product Management at RNRG. “Pairing RNRG’s solution with satellite data ensures that deviations between predicted irradiance and actual site conditions are minimized, which is extremely beneficial for PV project developers.”

Better data leads to better results

Once the solar assessement campaign reached completion, Pacifico Energy concluded that RNRG’s SRA Systems helped improve the long-term GHI estimation by up to 14% when compared with the irradiance data collected by NEDO weather stations alone. The Kumenan PV plant has been in operation since early 2016 and power output has closely mirrored RNRG’s predictions. The impressive resource assessment accuracy at the Kumenan PV project led Pacifico Energy to install RNRG’s SRA Systems at six other projects in Japan.

“This way, we can ensure that all of our projections reflect reality,” added Franklin.

Renewable NRG Systems (RNRG) measurement products and technical services are purpose-built for the global renewable energy industry. RNRG pioneered wind resource assessment more than 30 years ago, when the wind industry was just beginning. Today, the company serves multiple stages of wind and solar project development—from site assessment to commercial operation.

— Solar Builder magazine

Utilities are dramatically increasing investments in distributed energy

Investment in distributed energy companies has tripled in value in North American and Europe since 2010, and over $1 billion in investment has come in 2016 alone. GTM Research just released a study, Utility Investments in Distributed Energy: Trends Among North American and European Utilities, that illustrates the substantive capital invested in solar, energy storage, customer energy management and distributed energy resource (DER) integration companies by the investment arms of 42 utilities.

The report pulls from a proprietary database of DER investments that utility companies in North America and Europe have made since 2010. The database is a supplement to GTM Research’s database on DER technologies and services in its Grid Edge Data Hub.

utility solar market

FIGURE: Utility Investments in Distributed Energy Companies, 2010 – 2016

A key component of distributed energy integration has been tied to uncovering new economic benefits for utility customers. By building a portfolio of DER companies, utilities are further exploring the potential value of DERs and their ability to increase customer engagement. 37 distributed energy companies have been fully acquired by utility companies, and the five most active investors have developed a diverse portfolio that includes investment across DER functions. “Utility companies have a reputation of being risk-averse, but it’s clear that many utilities see distributed energy as a growth opportunity, and are taking new yet calculated risks through venture investments,” said Andrew Mulherkar, Senior Grid Edge Analyst and one of the authors of the report.

RELATED: New tool from Eaton to ease utility integration of distributed energy resources 

Even while regional differences are apparent, altogether, investments point to a trend towards decentralization. The most active utility investors are headquartered in Europe due to growing DER penetration and a challenging climate for traditional utility businesses. Even so, a larger number of North American utilities have made at least one investment.

“While some of these investments are being made by in-house investment arms of utilities, there’s a parallel trend of investments made by third-party investment firms acting on behalf of the utility,” said Shayle Kann, Senior Vice President of GTM Research. ”This flow of capital from both utilities and investment firms parallels the broader support for decentralization from the global investment community.”

— Solar Builder magazine

New tool from Eaton to ease utility integration of distributed energy resources

Power management company Eaton launched a new software tool designed to help utilities of all sizes efficiently and accurately integrate distributed energy resources without adversely impacting reliability and power quality. The Integration Capacity Analysis module is one of the latest additions to Eaton’s CYMETM software platform that provides customized electrical system studies that address customers’ unique applications to reduce costs, increase efficiency and improve performance. Eaton will showcase the new software tool at the DistribuTECH Conference and Exhibition in San Diego from January 31 through February 2, 2017.

eaton DER utility

Results of the ICA displayed on a feeder one-line circuit diagram. A Google map is shown in the background to illustrate how a utility would typically communicate CYME analysis results to customers and promoters willing to interconnect. This would ultimately be published in the utility website.

“Today’s utilities are faced with growing energy demand amid accelerated distributed energy resource deployment and process interconnection requests,” said Daniel Desrosiers, general manager of CYME solutions at Eaton. “Our new CYME Integration Capacity Analysis module delivers accurate assessment of distribution system generation and load hosting capacity to quickly provide utilities with the knowledge needed to simplify current and future infrastructure growth challenges.”

How does it work?

The CYME Integration Capacity Analysis module is designed to reduce labor and human error by allowing engineers to run simulations without the use of manual tools. A minimum number of parameters, such as the maximum capacity to consider and the peak and minimum load conditions, are required before the assessment can be performed on a complete or partial model of the distribution system.

RELATED: Utility model ‘is not only energy inefficient, it’s financially inefficient’ 

The maximum hosting capacity is then determined based on a set of user-defined thresholds referring to a list of criteria that includes thermal overloads, reverse power flow, abnormal steady-state voltages, transient voltage variations (flicker), reduction of protection reach and sympathetic tripping. The powerful reporting capabilities of the CYME software enable users to publish color-coded hosting capacity circuit maps to help customers and developers determine suitable locations for distributed energy resource (DER) interconnection projects.

Using its CYME software tools, Eaton’s engineering team is providing turnkey solutions – from basic to complex, specialized studies – that rapidly identify the parameters critical in the design of specific installations or complete networks. Turnkey solutions include network modeling, initial network performance diagnostics and a wide range of power engineering studies, ranging from transient phenomenon to strategic investment plans.


— Solar Builder magazine