EDITOR'S NOTE: The Department of Energy has hosted a series of regional workshops to discuss efforts to study and shape the future of the grid through an unprecedented coordination of researchers from across the complex of national labs. I was asked to moderate an industry panel at the Stanford University session that discussed where the grid is headed. Below are summary statements of the panel’s talking points.
Supporting More Distributed Resources
Pacific Gas & Electric manager
Strategy & Planning
Smart Grid & Technology Program
Growth in DERs can be a great benefit to customers, though it also introduces unique issues in managing the grid such as two-way power flow, voltage and power quality issues, as well as supply intermittency. Increased utilization of new grid technologies allows PG&E to manage the increased complexity that DERs introduce to operating the grid, increasing the amount of information available for grid operations, allowing utilities better oversight and subsequent control of DERs. PG&E’s smart grid investments may also provide the ability to support higher rates of distributed energy resources. Other challenges such as cybersecurity and natural disasters remain a constant potential threat to safety and reliability. Customers are growing more sophisticated in wanting choices in how they use energy. PG&E must continue to anticipate these types of changes to continue delivering safe, reliable, and affordable power—while helping advance California’s clean energy policy goals.
The Merits of "Least Regrets"
California Independent System Operator
Principal, Market and Infrastructure Policy
From the California ISO perspective, it is useful to think about the growth of DER in two main categories: one, DER and DER aggregations that participate in the ISO’s wholesale market as an essential element of their business model, and two, DER that are adopted by end-use customers of all types primarily to meet their host customers’ needs. These two categories are not mutually exclusive, and in the future we expect to see more “multiple-use” DER that may provide services to customers, distribution operators, and the wholesale market. Still, they have some distinct implications for how we think about grid modernization.
Wholesale market participation by DER requires a new real-time coordination and communication framework between the ISO, the distribution company and the DER operators, to verify whether DER bids and ISO dispatches of DER are feasible on the distribution system, and to create procedures for managing both distribution impacts of DER dispatches and any constraints real-time distribution grid conditions may place on the performance of the DER.
In contrast, DER that do not participate in the ISO market will be invisible to the ISO, but their performance will have impacts on ISO operations, markets and infrastructure planning. Moreover, their performance will become harder to predict as customers adopt combinations of DER behind the same customer meter; for example, rooftop PV plus battery/thermal storage plus EV charging at the same site. For these DER, the crucial need is to develop methods to forecast their behavior and their impacts up to the transmission-distribution interface, both short-term for operational purposes, and long-term for infrastructure planning.
There are two additional needs to be derived from the above, of particular concern to state regulators as well as DOE’s grid modernization agenda. First, each state will need to ensure alignment between its long-term forecasting, resource procurement and infrastructure planning processes, particularly in ISO/RTO regions where these activities may be performed by different entities. Second, although most jurisdictions now recognize that distribution companies will need to modernize their functional capabilities and their infrastructure for a high-DER future, there is a need for a staged program of distribution-system investment that follows a “least regrets” principle; that is, to proceed with modernization so as to facilitate DER growth, but to minimize the risk of inefficient or stranded investment by committing to one stage at a time and designing later stages based on learning from the earlier stages and new technological advances.
The Distribution Resources Plan
California Public Utilities Commission
Supervisor, Grid Planning and Reliability
The California Public Utility Commission the CPUC Distribution Resources Plan (DRP) proceeding which has three primary goals:
- To modernize the electric distribution system to accommodate two-way flows of energy and energy services throughout the IOUs’ networks.
- To enable customer choice of new technologies and services that reduce emissions and improve reliability in a cost efficient manner.
- To animate opportunities for DERs to realize benefits through the provision of grid services.
Chief Executive Officer
Spirae offers DER management platforms for two primary markets: (i) electric distribution companies and utilities use Spirae's Wave platform as a Distributed Energy Resource Management System (DERMS) to meet a variety of grid operations objectives such as DER monitoring and control, grouping and aggregation, nodal valuation and dispatch, and portfolio optimization in order to maintain grid stability, enable high penetration of renewables, offer new services to customers, and develop new business and revenue models; and (ii) energy services companies serving the needs of end users, project developers building storage, microgrid and renewable energy projects, and OEMs integrating generation, storage, demand management and grid equipment into complete solutions use Spirae's Wave platform to leverage distributed resources for optimizing energy production, procurement, consumption, and market participation.
The rapid adoption of various types of DER and demand management technologies by energy consumers, the accelerating pace of DER innovation and obsolescence, and the time-variant nature of their performance, use and availability makes it impractical to individually monitor, forecast and control DER in concert with grid operations. Instead, resource planning methods, grid operations technologies, regulations and rate structures must evolve to accommodate "virtual resources" composed of dynamic portfolios of DER with well-defined performance characteristics. Just as other industries have significantly benefited from efficiency and resiliency gains through resource virtualization, it is now the electric power industry’s turn to do the same by making resource virtualization a fundamental underpinning of the reimagined electric grid.