The advent of Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) has strained the traditional way of doing things across the electric grid. To maintain grid stability, transmission and distribution operators are looking to orchestration technology.

Every legacy power engineering paradigm is now being turned upside down. Power used to flow from bulk generation at the transmission level down to the distribution grid to serve the consumer. Now in some geographies there is more energy being fed directly at the distribution level than there is at the transmission level. Across the grid, utilities must fully incorporate the rise of renewable energy sources (solar and wind), electric vehicles, battery storage, heat pumps, as well as new types of controllable load devices, or risk being overtaken. Managing DERs can no longer be the topic of pilot projects; it needs to be tackled at scale.

Researchers at the EIA predict that the world’s total renewable-based power capacity will grow by 50 per cent between 2019 and 2024. That is an increase of 1,200 gigawatts — equivalent to the current total power capacity of the United States. Solar will see spectacular growth accounting for 60 per cent of the rise. Globally, we are also seeing a rise in energy storage, with annual deployment doubling from 2017 to 2018, reaching more than eight GWh. While on the EV front, global sales totaled just over two million in 2018, an increase of 64 per cent over 2017.

“This market shift reflects significant cost and efficiency improvements in DER technology, as well as the emergence of third-party aggregators,” Frederic Wauquiez, principal digital product manager, GE Digital says. “These fast-growing companies leverage DER technologies to develop and offer new housing, transportation and energy efficiency services. They package DERs into a wide variety of innovative commercial product and service offerings — all for the benefit of the prosumers. And these aggregators do not concern themselves with the operations of the electric grid.

“In fact, prosumers, the aggregators representing them, and distribution and transmission grid operators all have different objectives. At any given point in time, each will have different actions they would take regarding the same DERs. Transmission may want to shave load peaks at the same time that distribution wants to increase load to consume excess PV generation to avoid backfeeds and voltage issues. All while the prosumer wants the car charged as quickly as possible.”

With such a breadth of challenges ahead, no wonder Navigant estimates the Distributed Energy Resource Management (DERM) market will exceed $2 billion by 2029 with a 20 per cent CAGR over the next five years. Some specialised DERMS platforms emerged to manage and integrate DERs. Yet leading electric utilities are clearly demonstrating that creating separate and siloed DERM systems cannot tackle DERs at scale.

“Managing DERs can no longer be one department’s pet project,” Wauquiez continues. “When examining today’s situation, we can see that every single grid operator business process is impacted by DERs. Therefore, DER orchestration needs to reach throughout every corner of a utility’s organisation in a transverse, consistent manner. Utility leaders need a mission critical end-to-end software solution to co-ordinate how they plan, model, register, evaluate connections, provision, monitor, forecast, and ultimately control and dispatch these new DER objects across all internal and external systems and stakeholders.

“Utilities around the world have done some limited and isolated pilot projects to see how they could handle DERs, and these brought many learnings. Some utilities contend that they are not in a rush for the next stage of going fully operational as they are not currently experiencing serious balancing or inertia issues, or severe thermal or voltage violations. Nevertheless, front runners are warning that if utilities wait for serious issues to happen on the grid because of DERs, someday they will open their eyes and realise that they have a huge backlog of devices on their grid and are unaware of where or what they are.

“The utility will not send workers door-to-door canvassing for rooftop PV or battery storage nameplate information and details on how they’ve been connected. Not for 10s or 100s of thousands of these devices out there. The registration and discovery process needs to involve the utility as well as the myriad of aggregators and services providers involved – in a contractually co-ordinated fashion.”

Every single system in grid asset and operations management needs to be involved in the management of DERs. Geospatial Information System (GIS), Planning, Advanced Distribution Management Solution (ADMS), Advanced Energy Management System (AEMS), Advanced Market Management System (AMMS) and Analytics, all have a role to play.

“GE Digital has been working on DERs for more than ten years across countries featuring the highest penetration of renewables worldwide,” Wauquiez adds. “Our DER orchestration solutions provide the ability to manage DERs in all related business processes and systems. They add value by sewing all of these systems together: modeling, monitoring, forecasting, and scheduling across the board, in a consistent and orchestrated manner. And, scaling in an open ecosystem of transactional relationships requires the maximum use of standards: CIM for modeling, GRIB for weather forecasts, IEEE 2030.5 for DER interconnection and data models — to name a few.”

Effective management of DERs is a key challenge driving the need to embrace the digital grid transformation. It is crucial that companies partner with a provider with experience in managing throughout the chain – conventional and renewable power generators, grids and control room software. This partnership will empower utilities to navigate this transformation journey at both the transmission and distribution levels.