DistribuTECH 2020: Reflecting on Grid Modernization and Where it’s all Going

DistribuTECH 2020 brought more than 12,000 people from about 600 companies (including over 50 utilities) in 81 countries to San Antonio, Texas. It was a momentous occasion where international leaders in innovation, utility experts and government decision-makers explored the latest and greatest in grid-edge technology as well as some of the trends that continue to shape the evolving utility business model and regulatory frameworks.

Over the three-day conference, hundreds – if not more – conversations were held about grid modernization and what exactly it all means. Is it purely the replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy? Is it the adoption of distributed energy resources (DERs) and electric vehicles? Is it transactive energy, where electricity markets become much more decentralized with DERs providing grid services? Is it smart cities and grid automation?

The answer to this question will vary depending on where you are and who you ask. At Opus One Solutions, we believe that grid modernization can take on more than one form, but across all of them you will find:

  • Renewable energy generation continuing to remain at the core of many nations’ decarbonization and grid modernization strategies
  • Decentralization of power systems with more DERs providing grid services
  • Democratization of energy as some DERs put more power into consumers hands
  • Digitalization (the use of digital tools) serving as the key enabler of the decarbonization, decentralization and democratization of our energy systems

 

More important, these commonalities put distribution utilities at the centre of grid modernization, something reiterated in countless conversations at DistribuTECH and in recent research. For example, Deloitte’s 2020 Power and Utilities Outlook expects utilities to play a crucial role in many American cities and states’ smart city and carbon reduction programs. Western Europe’s plans to invest over $130 billion in smart grid infrastructure by 2027 also points to the importance of utilities as much of this infrastructure consists of smart meters, distribution automation, grid-scale storage and IT systems to control these resources.

these commonalities put distribution utilities at the centre of grid modernization, something reiterated in those countless conversations at DistribuTECH

As passionate innovators striving for a digitalized, decarbonized and decentralized planet, we’re proud to work with these increasingly important utilities all over the world in deploying software solutions that maximize the benefits of distributed energy resources for cleaner, more resilient and cost-effective grids.

Some of this work was profiled in panel talks at DistribuTECH, including the following:

1) Increasing Reliability for Remote Communities and Rural Areas with Battery Energy Storage Systems

As utilities seek to improve grid reliability in what is often low-density areas of the network, the conversation around using battery energy storage (BESS) as an economically viable non-wires alternative to grid reinforcement is being re-vitalized given the recent steep decline in storage costs. Our customers at Hydro One and Elexicon Energy shared some of the challenges they face in ensuring reliability for their customers in these more isolated areas, the opportunities presented by batteries to mitigate these issues, and what’s needed to make batteries viable solutions for the broader grid.

2) Moving to a Transactive Energy Market: A North American Perspective

Adopting a platform approach to the grid-DER relationship not only strengthens the relationship between utilities and their newly empowered prosumers, it also facilitates a market where the right DER can be dispatched at the right time and for the right price to help build more efficient, reliable and resilient systems. Together with Ameren, we shed light on this concept as well as some of the lessons learned in our recent transactive energy market simulation.

Opus One Solutions' Hari Suthan Subramaniam discusses the evolution of utility business models internationally with fellow panelists from Ellevio, Commonwealth Edison and Hydro Ottawa
Panel: The Evolution of Utility Business Models. Panelists (from left to right) are Hari Suthan Subramaniam, Opus One Solutions; Kristofer Frojd, Ellevio; and Nayeem Abdullah, ComEd

3) The Evolution of Utility Distribution Operations and Business Models – An International Perspective

Transactive energy is transforming utility business models globally. Our customers at Commonwealth Edison and Hydro Ottawa as well as Swedish utility Ellevio, addressed the evolution of the utility business model from the management of distribution networks to the secure operation of an active distribution system with demand response, generation, and other flexible distributed energy resources. Despite some of the differences in the deployment of transactive or flexibility markets across regions, all panelists agreed that these programs and changes in the way utilities operate will enable competitive access to markets and the optimal use of distributed resources to support whole system optimization.

4) Utility Planning for DER Integration and Management

In this all-Canadian panel, our customers at Elexicon Energy, Hydro Ottawa, and Lakeland Power offered their insights into DER management considerations, strategies to maximize value from DER assets, and tools needed to support DER management. They acknowledged that Ontario has been on the leading edge of DER innovation, from FIT programs and microgrid systems to transactive energy markets. They also recognized that DERMS in real-time operations is necessary as a risk mitigation measure to prepare for a higher penetration of DERs, but that planning for DERs is even more important to pave the way to this future. Doing this requires utilities to turn into platform companies for DERs and data and it’s something they’re ready to take on.

Ontario utilities participate in a panel about DER integration and management at DistribuTECH
Panel: Utility Planning for DER Integration and Management. Panelists (from left to right) are Josh Wong, Opus One Solutions; Falguni Shah, Elexicon Energy; Raed Abdullah, Hydro Ottawa; and Vince Kulchycki, Lakeland Power

From talks of DERs for reliability in remote areas, to planning for more DERs and operating transactive energy markets, it’s clear that utilities are on a new path to ensure a more reliable and sustainable planet, regardless of their exact scope and definition of grid modernization. Our team of experts at Opus One Solutions can help guide utilities down this path with software that covers the planning and operations of distribution grids as well as DER program and market management. Contact us today to learn more about our solutions and how they can support your particular grid modernization objectives.

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