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DER Integration Offers Utilities Opportunities to Partner With Customers

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The future of energy provision looks less and less like a one-way service deployment and more and more like a partnership between utilities and customers. Increased use of distributed energy resources (DERs) has created opportunities for utilities and customers to work together to meet community energy needs. In creating appropriate service models to accommodate the changing landscape, utilities must consider the complexities of this new generation paradigm.    

The Grid as a Critical Platform

As customers find ways to generate their own electricity, resulting in declining sales for utilities, it may be tempting to consider an extreme scenario in which customers defect from the grid entirely en masse. Yet, according to a report by the American Public Power Association, “There is still tremendous value in both the electric utility and the electric grid in meeting…evolving customer expectations. Not only will the utility continue to play a role in the future, the grid and the utilities managing it are essential in navigating the evolution of the industry.”

The report further notes that complete grid defection is “unlikely and counterproductive to customers seeking low-cost reliability or a decarbonized future.” One reason for this is the added element of electrification which, combined with increased of DERs, “requires a platform and entities to manage this platform.” Based on their existing infrastructure, ability to adapt, and familiarity within the communities they serve, power utilities are suited to serve in that role.

The Right Technology

Two other advantages of utilities are their size and budget, which allow them to offer technology to integrate DERs into current operations. One example of such technology is a collaboration between EnergyHub and Oracle to “help energy providers intelligently incorporate [DERs] into their customer engagement and distribution network operations,” according to an EnergyHub news release.

EnergyHub Cofounder and President Seth Frader-Thompson stated, “Combining our solution with Oracle’s capabilities drives greater adoption of customer-owned DERs and makes it easy for our clients to seamlessly integrate DERs into the entire utility strategy.” In addition to underpinning operations, the solution includes features that develop rate plans, produce targeted marketing, accelerate DER adoption, and improve peak load management.

The New Customer Service

An Electric Light & Power article notes that part of DER integration is the integration of service delivery and customer care teams within each utility. The article states, “In this new utility shape, customer engagement and grid management can no longer be approached separately — optimization of the customer journey and the grid must be synchronized.”

Such integration must include critical information exchange. For example, the Electric Light & Power article notes that utilities “need a comprehensive view of DER assets across the grid, including both utility-owned and customer-owned assets.” Coming from the other direction, customers need a better understanding of things like solar terminology and how solar could benefit them. On a high level, “As utilities are creating an environment in which customers are willing and able to engage with utility DER programs designed to optimize grid management and stability, they nurture a truly connected grid.”

Rather than seeing the proliferation of DERs as a threat, utilities can view it as an exciting opportunity to contribute their expertise and experience to the development of innovative energy distribution models. Given the complexities inherent in any major transformation, there are bound to be challenges but working in partnership with customers offers the opportunity to address them together.

How has your utility’s delivery model changed as a result of DER integration? Please share in the comments.

Karen Marcus's picture

Thank Karen for the Post!

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Stephane Bilodeau's picture
Stephane Bilodeau on Aug 23, 2019 8:44 pm GMT

Great post, Karen! 

Your right DERs should be seen as opportunities.  If utilities properly organize their operation to support this new model, it can even become a new revenue stream.  Artificial Intelligence is an example of the tools that can help them do so: Artifical Intelligence and other transformational technologies, a must in the ever-growing DERs context

Karen Marcus's picture
Karen Marcus on Aug 23, 2019 10:17 pm GMT

Thank you Stephane, and thanks for pointing readers to your very interesting article. 

Gary Hilberg's picture
Gary Hilberg on Aug 29, 2019 1:57 pm GMT

Karen - good article, with the technology and culture of engagement by the end users, utilities could benefit greatly from direct engagement with their customers.  The challenge could be that utilities have been isolated from their customers for so long that they do not have the personnel, skills, processes nor systems to support this engagement.  If they don't engage they maybe bypassed which would not be good as the existing infrastructure is a great asset.  Already there are companies like Sense that allow easy monitoring of all household loads, control of those loads should be next and that will support DER.  

Karen Marcus's picture
Karen Marcus on Sep 3, 2019 9:28 pm GMT

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Gary. I agree, engagement with customers is key for utilities as they navigate this new energy landscape. 

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