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New WattPlan Grid Software Said to Offer Fast, Comprehensive DER Modeling, Analytics and Planning 

The ongoing decline in the costs of deploying solar photovoltaic (PV) power and battery-based energy storage systems and deployment of digital, smart grid technology is opening up opportunities for municipal power utilities and electricity cooperatives to tap into local, emissions and pollution-free solar energy generation capacity distributed across their customer bases. Such initiatives are a first, yet big step, towards refashioning the means and the manner via which electrical power and energy is generated and distributed from the ground up.

Clean Power Research (CPR) and SMUD (Sacramento Municipal Utility District) on Jan. 17 announced the launch a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution that models and forecasts customer DER (Distributed Energy Resources) adoption on-demand. Given its ability to evaluate the operational and financial impacts of any degree of customer DER adoption, utilities using WattPlan Grid, as it's known, “will be able to quickly conduct customer, feeder and system level DER planning studies for their entire service territory,” CPR and SMUD highlight. 

Digital Decentralization

SMUD, the sixth largest municipal utility in the US, and other California municipal utilities and cooperatives have emerged at the leading edge of the wave of change sweeping across the US power and energy industry and markets, a digital transformation taking us down a path towards increasing reliance on decentralized, low or zero-emissions energy resources and infrastructure. 

Based on assessments of a range of customer DER adoption scenarios, WattPlan Grid enables utilities to make better informed investment decisions, according to CPR and SMUD. It also: 

  • Designs rate schemes that help customers and utilities benefit from DER adoption, and
  • Adapts to changing business models and DER market conditions

“WattPlan Grid will help us determine how best to maximize the benefits of DER investments in our community,” SMUD Chief Grid Strategy and Operations Officer Paul Lau said. “The ability to forecast customer DER adoption quickly using consistent and accurate methods through a variety of planning scenarios allows us to more effectively plan for and manage our grid over the long term, and that helps us continue to deliver affordable, reliable electricity to our residential and business customers.”

Those are capabilities that are increasing demand as utility residential and business customers install solar PV and other types of “behind the meter” power generation systems, as well as battery-based energy storage capacity. 

Tracking, Assessing and Planning for Greater Distributed Energy Resources Penetration

Increasing amounts of customer-side, “behind the meter” power generation poses substantial business, as well as operational, challenges to utilities and others responsible for providing reliable grid power and energy. That ranges from being able to coordinate and balance fluctuations in grid power and customer loads to the so-called “utility death spiral” whereby utilities lose customers, and revenues, as more and more households and businesses install distributed, smart power generation and distribution capacity. 

“It can take months to analyze just a handful of scenarios with current DER planning practices that rely heavily on subject matter experts with spreadsheets and one-time consulting studies,” CPR and SMUD elaborate. 

Furthermore, current DER analytics systems do not provide the degree of spatial detail necessary to accurately or comprehensively model the impacts of greater DER penetration on the grid.  In addition, they do not assess how the purchase of one DER by a customer may lead him, her or them to adopt others, such as battery energy storage or an electric vehicle. 

CPR and SMUD highlight some of the key benefits fast, comprehensive DER planning software afford utilities and other power and energy grid stakeholders: 
 

  • DER planners, resource planners and distribution planners can consider a wide range of adoption scenarios and quickly adapt planning to changes in the market. Better planning drives smarter investments.
  • Rate analysts can evaluate rate designs that allow customers to save money with DERs and encourage customer adoption of DERs to benefit the utility.
  • Customer program specialists can understand customer behavior at an individual customer level, allowing more effective engagement and identification of new business opportunities.

“Utilities doing advanced DER forecasting have expressed strong interest in more accurate and granular models,” CPR CEO Jeff Ressler said. “With WattPlan Grid, we provide a deep, repeatable platform for accurately modeling and re-modeling scenarios as inputs and conditions change.”

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