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3 Ways DERs affect your distribution planning

In recent years, there has been a big push for greener, more renewable energy as consumers and industries take note of their carbon footprint. Along with this push, there has also been a huge jump in technological advancements that have allowed for new and innovative energy solutions.

These new energy solutions have created more opportunity and innovation for green energy solutions. These include solar panels, electric vehicles (EVs), EV charging stations, smart technologies and more. These are referred to as distributed energy resources (DERs).

Because these DERs give consumers the ability to become active partners in the local energy system, it means that utility companies are no longer operating on their own. What does this mean for utility companies?

More and more DERs on the grid can lead to uncertainty and inefficient forecasting, when not planned and accounted for accordingly. In this blog, we will break down three ways that DERs impact energy distribution planning so that utility companies can better plan their grids and take advantage of DERs.


1. DERs on the grid impact the push for green energy 

With the onset of global warming and increased knowledge around energy consumption and its impact on the environment, it’s no surprise that DERs have continued to rise on the grid.

The first push for DERs came from regulation, and the second push came from consumers and manufacturers who wanted solar power and electric vehicles to be a viable alternative to traditional energy options and gasoline vehicles. Programs from the Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA) created a huge push for green energy options, allowing both local and international solar panel manufacturers to enter the market and drive the cost of solar panels down over the past 20 years.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) reported that the number of solar panel capacity installed in the U.S. at the end of 2018 was 62.4 gigawatts, a staggering 75 times  the number of solar panels that were installed at the end of 2008. The same goes for energy storage and the purchase of electric vehicles (EVs).

The International Energy Agency (IEA) projects the number of EVs globally will grow from 5 million in 2019 to 125 million by 2030. BNEF projects that the global market for EV sales will increase from 450,000 in 2015 to 8.5 million in 2025 (and jump even further to 26 million in 2030!)

All of this rapid growth and progression towards green energy has resulted in more and more DERs coming on to the grid – which directly impacts utility companies.


2. DERs on the grid impact reliable energy planning

First and foremost, utility companies need to plan properly for DERs on their grid to be better prepared for the future. There is a real possibility that the rapid consumer adoption of solar panels and electric vehicles could happen before utilities have had a chance to prepare their grids properly.

Utilities need to make sure that there is enough energy in all of their feeders across communities, for consumer and industrial usage across homes, condos, hospitals, and more. Utility companies usually use a power flow analysis to understand if the transformers and feeders on their system have enough energy to power consumers. They may then upgrade a transformer to accommodate all feeders and consumers.

For example, utility companies would know years in advance of a hospital being built in a community. But imagine if a couple of years before the hospital is complete, a considerable number of consumers in the area purchase solar panels and EVs. Older, legacy planning systems cannot detect these new DERs on the grid. Utility companies need to know about and properly plan for new DERs on their grids in order to ensure the supply of reliable and efficient energy.

Utility companies have been and are still reacting to changes on their grids – and now is the time to learn, understand and plan for more DERs on the grid in the future.


3. DERs on the grid impact utility cost balance

Added DERs on the grid can impact utility companies’ ability to balance costs. Being able to accurately add DERs into load forecasts allows utility companies to better understand their costs, as well as the potential benefits of DERs.

Knowing how many DERs are on the grid at a certain time would allow utility companies to make better utility investments, including non-wire alternatives to update aging infrastructure. From an economic and technical perspective, utility planners need to show regulators that they have done their due diligence and make a financial case for the impact that DERs will have on their systems.

Thankfully, there are modern planning and forecasting tools available that help utility companies better plan for DERs on their grids, as well as evaluate investment opportunities and risks.


DERs on the grid – today and beyond 

Based on the numbers shared in this blog and recent trend forecasts, it’s undoubted that the number of DERs on the grid will continue to increase as will the consumer push for green energy options. Using the insights mentioned above, utility companies can better understand the impact that added DERs will have on their grids, and be able to plan better for a future with reliable and sustainable energy.