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Successful DER Integration Relies on Flexibility from Connected Technology by Schneider Electric

Gary Lawrence

There’s no question that the use of distributed energy resources (DER) has hit the mainstream. For example, there’s a predicted 400% increase worldwide in renewable energy use by 2040, including DER like wind and solar. ­­­­­To handle this increase, utilities must prepare to better integrate additional DER into their networks. This will rely strongly on modernizing the grid, optimizing network planning, maximizing the use of distributed generation, and creating an overall plan for improvement, including increasing the use of smart and connected tools and adopting advanced software and analytics.

Flexibility – the extent to which a power system can modify electricity production or consumption in response to variability – will play an important role in managing the influx of DER. By harnessing demand-side flexibility, utilities deliver high value on both sides of the meter as well as allowing better monitoring and dispatch of a large quantity of DER. Greater flexibility makes renewable integration easier because it optimizes grid asset use to maintain balance between supply and loads, manage network congestion, and defer network reinforcement capex. DER’s flexibility is maximized using tools that bring more control and detect potential problems based on calculated current and forecasted load and generation. Flexibility is dependent on an automated, digitized electrical distribution system that reduces network downtime, improves operational management and cost effectiveness, and allows for more efficient electricity distribution.

DER Deployment is Growing Fast

More than 120 countries have set a goal of increasing their renewable energy use. While renewables can be centralized or distributed, several countries are already nearing 100% renewable power, using primarily hydropower, wind, geothermal, and solar. In addition, municipalities and corporations are cranking up their DER investments to meet sustainability goals.

The Best-prepared Utilities Will be Rewarded

Utilities that focus on increasing DER integration and better controlling and optimizing its use will be the biggest winners.

The rewards of better DER integration include:

  • Financial: Utilities can now introduce financial parameters into their simulation models to make the most of their existing network. In addition, by optimizing network planning, utilities can integrate DER at the lowest cost by identifying grid areas under constraint. DER integration that leverages flexibility resources, such as storage and demand-side flexibility, is a cost-effective alternative to grid expansion because it allows utilities to identify the most cost-effective scenarios and postpone capital investments.

  • Environmental: Distributed generation like wind and solar does not release harmful emissions and reduces the need for electricity generation from fossil fuel-fired plants. Technology that manages DER also improves energy efficiency across the entire distribution network. Not only does increasing DER use improves sustainability, it also helps utilities and customers meet carbon reduction targets. Many companies have set environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals to improve sustainability, such as increasing the share of renewable energy they use. For example, businesses purchased a record amount of clean energy in 2020.

  • Satisfied end users: Customers, both residential and business, want more control over their energy consumption and production. For example, customers want the ability to produce their own energy and manage their energy behavior.

Most Wanted: Automated Grid Operations that Keep the Balance No Matter What

Ensuring grid stability when using renewables of a variable nature, like solar and wind, has always been one of utilities’ biggest DER concerns. Now, though, energy variability can be balanced using flexible distribution and automated grid operations. This has taken the complexity out of balancing energy supply and demand and lets utilities optimally control and maintain balance between generation and load, even when DER is variable and coming from multiple sources.

Harnessing demand-side flexibility improves demand-side management and leverages opportunities. It requires improved flexibility management and cooperation between the different stakeholders, such as between utilities and consumers. For example, utilities need customers to change their energy-use behavior to better balance the grid. One way in which customers can do this and contribute to reducing peak load demand is by charging their electric vehicles at a time of day when demand is lowest. In return, customers can benefit financially from using electricity during off-peak hours.

But how? Connected Technology and Advanced Analytics will Unlock Flexibility

Successful integration of DER into distribution networks is only possible using DER tools that maximize the use of distributed generation resources. They can provide global monitoring, control, and forecasting abilities of different DER spread throughout the grid so utilities can observe, operate, and coordinate their use while ensuring high-quality, reliable power.

Software solutions for better DER use and management

DER management tools, like an ADMS-DERMS solution, improve areas such as automation, communication, planning, and network management.  For example, advanced distribution management systems (ADMS) are a comprehensive platform for distribution management and network optimization, which is central to better DER use and management. Distributed energy resources management systems (DERMS), which can be either a functionality of ADMS or stand-alone, are used for monitoring, awareness, control, and commands. Utilities can use this software with an enterprise asset management solution for efficiently planning, designing and operating their infrastructure. Enterprise asset management technology lets utilities create, manage, and disseminate geographic information to better manage their assets.

ADMS’ hosting capacity heat maps improve DER integration and network planning because they enable the interconnection of all utility- and customer-owned DER. This allows for fast validation for planning new DER connections. The heat map tool also qualifies DER’s impact at all locations of the grid and checks the technical feasibility of DER connections, in addition to analyzing alternative grid planning scenarios when connections are not possible.

Technology for edge control

In the engineering stage: Digital control systems based on IEC 61850 bring new system engineering capabilities. The technology allows utilities to define a model that can then be provided to electrical contractors, which accelerates DER’s connection to the grid.

In the operations stage: In the operations stage, digital control systems can increase power reliability and improve electrical processes’ maintenance routines using supported communication protocols. They bring connectivity to cloud-based applications, such as asset performance management software. The technology standardizes information models and the exchange of OT data (the state of all electrical assets).

Connected products boost efficiency and ensure stability
Utilities need real-time network visibility to manage DER and increase productivity. This insight is gathered using smart and connected equipment, such as protection relays, sensors, remote terminal units (RTU), and smart ring main units (RMU) that are used together to collect data from critical points across utilities’ infrastructure. This collected information is used to ensure stability and balance the output of DER against transmission-supplied base loads using connected products and grid technologies that support a two-way flow of data and electricity.  They also improve power availability and quality, while helping to manage costs and boost efficiency.

The Evidence is Clear

SICAE Somme & Cambraisis, a regional electricity company in north-eastern France, has deployed an advanced distribution management system (ADMS) that integrates the tools grid operators need most into a single, effective solution – such as supervisory control and data acquisition systems (SCADA), outage management systems (OMS), and geolocation. The ADMS system helps SICAE meet its goal of optimizing electricity grid management and power supply, especially improving the use of natural energy resources, like the region’s abundant supply of wind power, which can be disruptive to grid operations.

According to SICAE, this new ADMS solution “will help us manage our future grid management needs in terms of electric vehicle charging stations, as well as integrating renewable energy from wind farms and determining behavior at sensitive consumption points.”

Learn How to Maximize DER Penetration while Minimizing Curtailment
Distributed energy resources are the future of energy, but will only be successful if distribution networks learn the best ways to manage and control them. For a more in-depth look at improving DER integration, read the use case “Maximize DER Penetration – While Minimizing Curtailment.”

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