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Is your GIS ready for Distributed Energy Resources?

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Renewables – The New Normal

Four months into 2019, the U.S. reached a new milestone – for the first time in history, renewable sourced generation outweighed coal sourced generation 23 to 20 percent.[1] Despite occurring during a relatively low period of overall production and demand, it was also the month that U.S. wind generation reached a new monthly high of 30.2 MWh.[2] Solar generation also continues to grow; in fact, the Energy Information Act (EIA) expects solar generation to surpass nuclear generation by 2020.[3] Granted, some of this “renewable energy inversion” (as it may someday be known as) may be related to the great ski season we experienced in Colorado (with record breaking snowfall levels causing higher than normal seasonal water supply reaching conventional hydroelectric renewable generating stations), but there is no denying that renewables are substantial and growing. Their penetration into our energy systems at a rapid pace will continue, and most likely accelerate. On the residential side, small scale solar photovoltaic generation has been growing at rates between 18% and 34% year by year, since 2014.[4] The point being, harnessing the sun and wind whether it's at utility scale, residential scale, or a healthy mix of both – is the new normal for utility operators.

Challenges of Renewables & Distributed Energy Resources

One of the main challenges associated with renewable energy resources hinges around their inconsistency. The wind doesn't always blow and cloud cover affects solar production on a continuous basis. This variable and somewhat unpredictable energy output is pushing grid operators to find creative and innovative ways to manage this new energy mix going forward. The traditional electric grid model – where energy flows mainly from generation through transmission out to the edge of the distribution network – presents one level of complexity, and the existing systems and software tools used by network operators support this model well. With distributed energy resources (DERs) storing and/or feeding renewable energy onto the grid at the edge, the flow of electrons is flipping, and existing tools and systems for modeling, planning and managing the grid must adapt.

According to the recent Renewable Integration Impact Assessment (RIIA) report from MISO, "the complexity for renewable integration escalates non-linearly with increasing penetrations of renewables."[5] With the grid changing faster than at any time in history, now is the time to ensure utility operators have a solid handle on the network model. Having the ability to analyze and plan responses to these rapid changes will help utilities proactively deal with the complexity of renewables and DERs.

Impact of DERs on IT/OT Systems

As electric networks have evolved the way assets are tracked has largely been governed by individual teams, each focused on solving specific problems relating to network planning, design, build, operations or maintenance. This has left many utilities with different processes and different views of the network across their Geospatial Information System (GIS), Advanced Distribution Management System (ADMS), Work Management System (WMS), and likely a few other systems. In the worst cases, there are multiples of these applications in use. Traditionally, each department worked in their silo with little awareness of how other teams’ systems contributed to overall operations and business processes, with redundant data maintenance, and rudimentary, if any, integration. This siloed approach to network model management and control will be increasingly inefficient as the volume of DERs in the network grows. Utility operators need an effective DER orchestration solution to better manage the network in an end-to-end manner.

Now that we are in the "post-pilot era" of DERs we are facing the reality of having to live with these potentially foreign owned and operated DER assets connected across the grid. DERs need to be managed as an integral part of grid model so utilities can take their impacts on the grid into consideration, as well as optimize their contribution with regards to flexibility and capacity.

Preparing for DER orchestration involves breaking down the traditional silos of the past, rather than treating DERs as something that needs to be managed separately in a distributed energy resource management system (DERMS). In order to improve network efficiency and reliability, utility operators need to incorporate the expertise around modeling and managing DERs into the broader ecosystem of tools that manage and control the grid.

Utility operators should also look to the disruption of DERs as a catalyst to streamline and improve operating paradigms, analogous to the change in business models which DERs are also forcing upon utilities. DERs present an opportunity to de-silo the operational landscape. Rather than add another system (e.g. DERMS) to the alphabet soup of systems mentioned above, utilities should seek software solutions that can effectively provide DER orchestration, by enabling management of DERs in an end-to-end manner from GIS and planning to distribution and transmission grid operations.

DER-ready GIS

One of the fundamental systems that enables utilities to plan, design, build and manage the evolution of the grid is a GIS for asset management. The corporate network GIS needs to serve as a shared repository with an accurate and complete understanding of DERs and a full complement of information to help utilities understand, analyze and plan their impact on the grid.

The sheer volume of DER assets being introduced to the grid is an ongoing challenge. The GIS needs to help manage not only where DERs are located, but also how they are connected into the grid model and their characteristics – even if those DERs are not owned and operated by the utility. The GIS must be able to truly model the connectivity of these assets, without affecting the performance of the system or the outcomes of your business. An advanced "network-based" GIS offers complete workflow and end-to-end asset planning management that models DERs as an integral part of the network topology.

When choosing a network-based GIS, the utility must select a solution that is proven to scale, is ready to manage DERs and provides a foundational view of the network that can be shared across your business. DERs come in a wide variety of device types from many different manufacturers. A DER-ready GIS has the flexibility to support various types of DERs and represent their connectivity on the grid appropriately enabling the network model in the GIS to be used effectively to analyze, predict, forecast and control the operations of the network within the ADMS, EMS and other systems that play a part in the de-centralized energy management ecosystem.

With a DER-enabled GIS the rapidly evolving state of the network model can be shared consistently across the enterprise, and knowledge about what already exists in the field, what is in various stages of the design and construction lifecycle, or what is simply requested or quoted and pending prosumer action, can all be taken into account when making operational and planning decisions for the future. The modern grid needs more than a GIS, it needs a network-based geospatial solution that specializes in electric networks and provides a solid foundation for DER orchestration across all aspects of the grid operating systems. A DER-ready GIS will help the utility be prepared to manage DERs with a better understanding of what's connected to the grid, allowing the utility to efficiently plan and prepare for the future.

Benefits of DER Orchestration

As the level of renewables and DERs continues to rise, the solutions used to manage and control the grid need to incorporate these assets and their lifecycle in order to support effective operations. Opting for DER orchestration and incorporating DERs into the fabric of utility operational systems provides operators with the requisite situational intelligence to better understand the dynamics of the grid – helping them recognize and respond to situations and better manage the overall operations of the grid. DER orchestration begins with having a DER-enabled GIS that can support a DER-aware ADMS and/or EMS with a shared, consistent representation of the network, in an end-to-end manner.  

References:

[1], [2], [3] https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=39992

[4] https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/current_month/epm.pdf

[5] https://cdn.misoenergy.org/RIIA%20Assumptions%20Doc_v6301579.pdf

Jennifer Reeves's picture

Thank Jennifer for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 23, 2019 6:23 pm GMT

This is an interesting article because of how clearly it lays out the idea that utilities mustn't be complacent to advance one new tech or strategy at a time, but that they all go hand-in-hand and must build a holistic technological roll out strategy. Thanks for your insights, Jennifer. 

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