The energy grid of the future: The evolution and opportunities of Distributed Energy Software

From individual residences and communities to commercial and industrial facilities—we all rely on energy. In order to ensure that it’s readily available for a changing world including electric vehicles and connected devices, energy grids have to get smarter. Advanced analytics, digital dashboards and operational algorithms make it possible for utilities to respond to customer demand and energy usage in much more sophisticated ways. From the other end, customers are exercising their options to make energy supply more resilient via systems at the edge—with things such as thermostats in their homes, solar panels, electric storage, generators and batteries.

Utilities face the challenge of managing a landscape of increasingly Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) while sustaining grid reliability, safety and performance. Fortunately, evolving Distributed Energy Platforms, which include operational systems such as Demand Response Management Systems (DRMS), Distributed Energy Resource Management Systems (DERMS), as well as a Transactive Energy and flexibility market systems (TE), offer more effective ways to manage DERs on the grid. Plus, they offer utilities and their customers new ways to participate in the market and maximize the value out of their resources.

How have these individual systems evolved in response to this changing landscape? What’s driving this evolution? Let’s take a look:

Responding to the lack of two-way visibility in Load Management Systems (LMS)

Many utilities still operate with a focus on managing load. This involves taking actions to manipulate or control the load on the customer side and attempting to match this to the available energy supply produced on the power grid. These systems lack visibility into customer demand and surplus energy, leaving utilities in a challenging position. Utilities have to find a balance of supplying reliable power and offering attractive packages to customers, while managing load and related factors, such as frequency and voltage.

Risks related to lack of visibility
  • Risk of outages: High peak demand requires expensive operational output from the utilities and, in a worst-case scenario, can cause outages by exhausting the available energy supply on the grid.
  • Pollutants: Sometimes, utilities will have to increase their electricity output to meet demand. This can involve turning on extra power plants that are very polluting, such as small coal or gas generators.
Enabling two-way visibility

DRMS have evolved to improve on the performance of energy systems and the management of peak demand issues. One important advancement of DRMS has been the introduction of two-way communications and verification. Two-way communications are a critical component of the smart grid, enabling greater availability, reliability and efficiency in the delivery of energy. With DRMS, customers are given a greater role in managing their energy consumption and are offered financial incentives and rebates for reducing their energy use.

Need for visibility into behind-the-meter energy resources

As customers increasingly use DERs, whether to bring resiliency to their energy supply, to charge electric vehicles or other technologies, utilities require visibility into their behind-the-meter sources. That way, they can better manage how these sources operate together with front-of-the-meter supply.

Risks related to behind-the-meter visibility
  • Data security: As more data is transferred from customer devices to utilities, there are greater concerns about data security. Utilities need to consider the robustness of software and solutions to protect customers’ data and ensure grid services can be maintained.
Enabling end-to-end visibility behind and in front of the meter

A major advance for distributed power generation and delivery has been the development of DERMS. The increase in DERs, both renewable energy generation and demand-side resources, offset some of the demands of energy from front-of-the-meter to behind-the-meter. When deployed effectively, DERMS manage these resources, benefitting both the utilities and the customers.

By using real-time communication, DERMS enable highly sophisticated monitoring and control of DER. By being aware of the location of every energy source in the system, DERMS can adapt to changing grid conditions quickly, augmenting utilities’ traditional infrastructure.

Enabling sophisticated DER management

DERMS technology is an evolution of what was possible with DRMS, enabling utilities to interact with DERs in more sophisticated ways. This software can determine when power to a service point should be coming from a DER or from the grid—taking advantage of opportunities such as when grid supply is high and costs are low. Now, customers can take advantage of the cost savings of their own power supplies and from using grid energy at opportune times, or allow their utility to take advantage of their DERs to other uses.

As decarbonization becomes a greater priority, DERMS and related tools help plan for the future in determining where to place DER, such as electric vehicle chargers. The emergence of transactive energy management systems are also helping utilities meet their challenges. This system provides a market-based software approach to run simulated or live programs that generate location and time-specific dispatch schedules and price signals for DER, based on the evaluated system conditions and the total value those DER provide to the grid relative to their costs.

Increasing market participation with wholesale energy opportunities

Recent changes in regulation put forward by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), such as Order 2222, create new opportunities for emerging technology. By enabling DER aggregators to participate in wholesale electric markets, new technologies can come online that will also drive down costs for customers. This is a significant step towards smarter, more dynamic integration of DER with the energy grid, as DER can be aggregated and used to meet needs that they could not have before.

Need to deal with multiple internet-controlled devices and providers

Today there are so many different available devices that can be controlled through internet protocols and APIs. That means, however, that there are equally many providers who manage these different devices. Utilities face the challenge of coordinating with a long list of vendors and programs—a different one each for water heaters, for thermostats, for electric vehicles and so on. This poses the risk that utilities are not able to comprehensively track all these programs or device data in an efficient, streamlined fashion.

Using a Distributed Resource Management Platform, and integrating DRMS, DERMS and TE applications with a Distribution Management System (DMS), utilities can aggregate all these different providers in a centralized location to manage their services and ensure their interoperability. This platform enables utilities to manage and coordinate the entire end-to-end distribution network, from both in front of and behind the meter.

The future energy grid: smarter and symbiotic

Applications such as DERMS and TE are changing the way energy is managed like never before—combining behind-the-meter and front-of-the-meter resources with greater complexity. Together with a DRMS, these applications form a power Distributed Energy Management Platform that can enhance the performance, availability and resiliency of energy. The future energy grid will rely on intelligent software that breaks down silos and integrates energy resources in sophisticated ways. As these capabilities are advanced, these systems will play a crucial role in maintaining the grid and unlocking value for utilities and their customers, in North America and across the globe.

Opus One Solutions reached an important milestone recently and has acquired the SEEsuite software business division, including SEEload from TRC Companies to further expand Opus One’s GridOS® Distributed Energy Management Platform. This acquisition gives Opus One the ability to cover the end-to-end energy value chain from generation to end consumer.

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