The two other areas where utilities are making smart grid investments
Market analysts forecast utility analytics as the fastest growing smart grid technology area and many utilities have DER pilot programs in place
Investments in distribution technologies are leveraging OT/IT integration, communications, and advanced applications to improve grid reliability and efficiency. But, there are two other areas where utilities are making smart grid investments – utility analytics and distributed energy resources (DERs). The first harnesses the explosion of meter and grid data that utilities now have from smart metering, communications, and sensor investments. The second includes both renewables like rooftop solar and conventional backup generators. Market analysts forecast utility analytics as the fastest growing smart grid technology area and many utilities have DER pilot programs in place.
There are two main segments to utility analytics – consumer analytics based on analyzing meter data, and grid analytics based on meter data as well as inputs from monitoring and control systems and sensors in the field. Consumer analytics can facilitate customer engagement programs and predict consumer behavior in response to demand response programs while grid analytics can provide situational awareness for storm response, as well as distribution optimization to provide insights for operational process improvements.
DERs are technologies that include demand response, distributed generation such as solar PV and back-up generators, distributed energy storage, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and microgrids, which have received a substantial amount of attention in recent years.
Microgrids can help address the variability of renewable generation, increase renewable utilization, and also provide off-grid power for critical loads during outages. They do this using fossil generation, renewable generation, fast-response energy storage (e.g., flywheel energy storage, battery energy storage), or some combination of these elements.
Managing DERs is facilitated by a “smart grid control center” to create a virtual power plant that, from the utility’s perspective, looks and acts just like a traditional power plant it can dispatch as part of its generation portfolio. DERs can provide “power” that customers use but they can also provide services to the grid to keep the system in balance. There is also an economic optimization component to DERs. The term transactive energy has been defined as extending the same process transmission grid operators use to the distribution level where individual customers and distribution system operators manage DER technologies based on economic value and grid reliability.
While electric vehicles are still in the early stages of adoption, they present an interesting opportunity as distributed energy resources (DERs) in their own right. EVs can already be configured for “smart charging” to take advantage of lower utility rates. They may soon be used to provide the same power and grid services that other DERs like rooftop solar arrays already do. As with all of the technologies we’ve discussed, the barriers have little to do with technical issues and much more to do with policy barriers or murky regulations.
I look forward to seeing you at the Energy Thought Summit (ETS) 2014 in Austin, Texas on March 24 – 25, 2014 as we explore our energy future.