Panelists from every facet of the utility industry – including developers, regulators, consumers, industrial customers, grid operators and utilities – told attendees at PJM’s Grid 20/20 symposium in Chicago Sept. 21 that coordination, interdependence and communications are the keys to maximizing the potential of distributed energy resources.
Together, they wove the narrative that there is ample opportunity to enhance reliability using distributed energy resources, benefitting everyone. Smart grids leading to smart cities, better forecasting of energy efficiency, educated consumers and integrating behind-the-meter resources will all play a part.
Dr. Michael Caramanis, Professor of Mechanical and Systems Engineering, Boston University pointed out in his keynote speech that reactive power is a
capability “we rarely talk about” as far as distributed energy resources.
He said there are many things to consider and reactive power in distributed energy resources cannot be underestimated. The industry must do a better job at getting prices right at a more granular level and then design the contracts for distribution level marginal prices.
Many of the panelists echoed the idea of the importance of distributed energy resources’ coordination at the distribution system level.
The distribution system is more complex than the transmission system, said David Owens, executive vice president of Business Operations and Regulatory Affairs for the Edison Electric Institute.
Grid modernization – a digitalized grid with smart sensors with DER via rooftop solar, electric vehicles and storage – presents a very different challenge from the traditional grid, he said.
“The system we have today is a system that was contemplated as a one-way flow of energy,” Owens said. As smaller resources come together in an area, “somebody has to see all that. Somebody has to manage it. Somebody has to have reliability standards. Somebody has to have a data exchange platform.”
John Moore, director of the Sustainable Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Project, said the goal is the “seamless customer experience. Getting to that vision requires fair market rules, transparent operating, coordination and distribution networks.”
Planning and markets go together, Moore said. He singled out PJM’s load forecasting, among other RTOs. In recent years, PJM has revamped its load forecasting process to better reflect energy efficiency and better account for behind-the-meter generation.
Between increased education about energy efficiency and household budgets, the end-use customer has been one of the biggest drivers in the growth of DER.
Shelly Lyser, ConEd Energy Markets Policy, said the utility is exploring “customer-side solutions,” to incorporate into the distribution system in Brooklyn.
Sarah Nash of Marathon Capital and Kristin Munsch of the Illinois Citizens Utility Board both talked about how investment in programs aimed at multi-occupancy building owners allow renters to take advantage of energy saving programs that previously had been limited to homeowners.
Dr. Lorenzo Kristov, from Market and Infrastructure Policy at CAISO, said. “Municipalities are on the front line of this. How do we make them full participants in this conversation?”
He said community solar, for example, helps people “who feel left behind” by other programs get clean power when they might not have otherwise afforded it.
Dr. Mohammad Shahidehpour, director of the Galvin Center Microgrid at the Illinois Institute of Technology, said local governments should be involved in the future of DERs because of their interests managing everything from smart street lights and traffic lights to waste water.
He said that the business case for DER extends worldwide. Almost one billion people are without access to electricity. While they may not be easily connected to a grid, many areas have access to resources like water, wind and solar that can be used to provide power, he said.
“Using microgrids is the way of the future,” he said. They can bring clean energy to West Africa, where water and bio-fuel are available or harness solar power in the Virgin Islands, cutting costs to businesses and residents who currently need to import fossil fuels.
“Each component has a ‘smartness’ associated with it,” Shahidehpour said. “It comes from utilization data. We see how a society functions. The data management comes under a bigger umbrella.”
Suzanne Daugherty, PJM senior vice president, CFO and treasurer, said the symposium gave attendees a place to gather ideas about the roles of and for distributed energy resources. The themes of coordination and interdependence demonstrated that no, one, entity can implement DER independently.