Maximizing resilience and benefits of distributed energy resources


Meeting decarbonization goals set by the U.S. government will require integrating an increased number of distributed energy resources (DERs) on the energy grid. Successfully integrating an increasing number of DERs, such as solar and wind, requires thorough planning and coordination. 

For example, energy storage is projected to add 59.2 more gigawatts by 2026. Similarly, others are estimating that the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) will result in 13 percent of U.S. homes installing solar by 2030. Efficiently and rapidly integrating and operating DERs present many challenges and opportunities. Whether it’s integrated control systems that allow DERs to support grid reliability or providing needed cyber and physical security, the energy industry has much to tackle to fully leverage the decarbonization and grid resilience benefits of grid-edge resources. 

The critical role of independent, data-driven research 

Those topics and more were discussed at the recent Distributech International conference, which brought together thousands of leaders from utilities, equipment manufacturers, regulators, and other stakeholders involved in the clean energy transition. 

During the keynote session of the conference, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Jennifer Granholm announced a competition that challenged applicants to produce the most effective probabilistic net-load forecasts for substations with high solar penetration. Probabilistic net-load forecasts have the potential to be an effective tool to integrate large amounts of renewable generation. Submissions to the competition will be evaluated using EPRI’s Solar Forecast Arbiter software tool and top-ranked entrants will receive monetary awards from the DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office.   

In many ways, the Solar Forecast Arbiter tool reflects how Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) approaches its role in facilitating efficient and effective integration and operation of DERs throughout the power system. The open-source software provides a transparent, standardized, research-supported tool to develop repeatable, impartial, and auditable evaluations of DER forecasts that stakeholders can rely on to guide investment and operational decisions. At the same time, EPRI has created a Solar Forecast Arbiter User Group to bring together stakeholders and serve as a forum for shared learnings about forecasting across industry. 

The same independent, data-driven approach guides all EPRI DER-related research, some of which was demonstrated at EPRI’s Distributech booth and discussed on conference panels. For instance, EPRI subject matter experts participated in panels such as “The Role of Grid Forming Inverters in Inverter Dominated Power Systems and Demonstrating Interoperability: Optimizing the Value of Data Across the Distribution Utility”. 

Connecting research and collaboration to the real world 

Collaboration and real-world experience are two important sources of insights EPRI brought to these and other DER-related discussions. For example, EPRI recently facilitated critical industry collaboration in preparation of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Order 2222. That rule directs independent system operators (ISOs) and regional transmission organizations (RTOs) to develop the rules and procedures needed to enable aggregated DER to participate in wholesale electricity markets. 

EPRI provided a forum for DER aggregators, ISOs, DSOs, state regulators, and others to work together to sort out the methods, tools, and interactions needed to enable DER participation in wholesale markets. That work has continued and has been informed and fortified by additional collaborative research and lessons from the field. The research has been focused on important topics, like data exchanges and the proper valuation of DERs participating in markets. 

Last year EPRI released a report, TSO-DSO Coordination Functions for DER, which is the result of the working group’s years of effort. The report is a comprehensive menu of information, controls and monitoring interactions and functions that can be assembled to create a coordination framework suited to an individual region’s rules and market conditions. The functions outlined provide the knowledge necessary to define the roles and responsibilities each party must embrace to successfully coordinate large numbers of DERs. 

Research, develop, deploy, learn, and repeat 

Coordination that fully leverages the decarbonization benefits of DERs, while also maintaining grid reliability, requires new tools. For example, EPRI has led the development of specifications for distributed energy resource management system (DERMS) software that can be used to manage DERs so that a greater number of assets can be integrated without negatively impacting power quality or requiring expensive grid upgrades.  

EPRI also partnered with the New York energy provider Central Hudson Gas & Electric and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to test the capacity of DERMS to manage DER when grid voltage levels rise too high or when reverse power flows near a transformer’s rated capacity. The project also builds on past EPRI modeling studies showing how DERMS can increase the minimum hosting capacity on the distribution system.  

Among the most important lessons are about the costs and benefits of DERMS, the necessary DERMS logic to manage DERs, and the information that must be shared between DERs and the energy provider’s system operators. These and other lessons are included in an EPRI report about the requirements energy providers may need when implementing a DERMS solution. 

Clearly, there are many capabilities that must be developed and implemented to tap the full potential of grid edge resources. But experience has demonstrated the benefits of moving forward collaboratively and with the guidance of research-based and field-tested insights.  

Daniel Brooks


 Daniel Brooks is vice president of Integrated Grid and Energy Systems at EPRI, an independent non-profit energy research, development, and deployment organization based in California. In this role, he leads teams responsible for EPRI’s research, development, and demonstration of integrated energy systems planning, delivery systems planning, grid and market operations, and the integration of renewables, energy storage, and distributed energy resources.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.

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