Alan Gooding, executive director, Smarter Grid Solutions explains that while our lives may have been turned upside down as a result of the COVID crisis, one thing remains the same – the wind continues to blow, and the sun continues to shine.

Since the Coronavirus outbreak, electricity demand has reduced by 10-15 per cent across most European countries. The consequence? A jump in the percentage of electricity being supplied by renewables. This unprecedented time has given fresh insight into the implications of a grid increasingly dominated by renewables.

With a shift to renewables on the horizon and many competing demands for these renewables resources from retailers, aggregators and system operators, how can the energy system manage conflicts and inter-dependencies? This is where Distributed Energy Resource Management Systems (DERMS) can play a crucial role.

What are DERMS?
DERMS come in several different forms. First and foremost, there’s ‘Fleet DERMS’, which are used by retailers and aggregators to aggregate and control distributed energy resources (DER) and interface them to markets and ancillary services. Fleet DERMS can also be used by network operators to aggregate the aggregators and provide cyber secure connectivity to providers of flexibility.

Then there’s ‘Utility DERMS’, which are used by system and network operators to manage system events and interface to the grid to manage physical constraints.

Finally, there’s ‘Microgrid DERMS’, which are used to reduce carbon and energy costs as well as improve reliability for campuses and communities.

These systems can and must talk to one another through a hierarchy of control and a layered approach to prioritisation in order to deliver benefits across the ‘whole system’.

We have always seen the role and requirements of a DERMS diverging depending on the user. A DERMS being used to coordinate black start response in a North American microgrid requires different functionality and data points from a DERMS being used by a UK energy market participant to trade and dispatch DER assets. But there are many synergies at a technology level, which is why we have developed a flexible platform that supports a broad range of data interfaces and decision making methods from which we create customer-centric DERMS solutions specific to the use case. This cross pollination across user types and markets has allowed us to accelerate our product development in a way that would not have been possible with a narrower focus.

How can DERMS help in the renewables transition?
DERMS technologies provide the tools required to coordinate and optimise the multiple roles of flexibility within our energy system.

Retailers, aggregators, system operators and network operators are all seeing the increasing value of flexibility from DER. DERMS can help to manage price exposure, system imbalance, respond to system events, or manage electricity flows with higher penetrations of renewables.

The energy balancing act is also felt by those that operate the power grid and keep the lights on. System operators must contend with increasing levels of fluctuation within market settlement periods and must also be able to respond to system events with less system inertia.

On 9 August 2019, for example, the UK experienced one of the largest blackouts seen in Europe in recent years. The systems in place to prevent a wider black-out operated as expected, but the loss of embedded generation (small scale generation connected to distribution networks) contributed to the event. With less traditional thermal generation left to help perform black starts in these events, system and network operators have ramped up research into how smaller and renewable assets can start to perform this vital role – DERMS can help with this.

It is not just retailers and system operators that have their eye on flexibility from DERs. New ‘products’ to facilitate flexible connection arrangements to manage congestion or flexibility services to manage outages and peak loads have also come to the fore. Whether accessed on a tendered basis or through local energy markets, these services allow best use of the pipes that carry the physical electricity flows and keep voltages within the limits that allow our consumer electronics to function correctly.

The current COVID crisis provided a fascinating glimpse into a world where renewables make up more of our energy mix. As it develops along the trajectories of decarbonisation, decentralisation and digitalisation, DERMS has a crucial role to play to ensure connectivity and interaction with crucial DER.