The Future of Energy and Grid Resiliency is Distributed

5 min read

As one of FPL’s smart grid & innovation leaders, I saw firsthand how our grid was consistently put to the test by unexpected outages, power quality issues, adverse weather conditions, and rising load demand. Extreme weather in Florida is the norm, not the exception, and maintaining service availability and reliability, while keeping costs low for FPL customers, is a constant challenge. With extreme weather and the rapidly increasing complexity of the grid due to distributed energy resources (DERs), utilities urgently need to reconsider their approach to operating, managing, and controlling the grid. It’s clear that we need to take action to build a more resilient energy grid – one that’s better equipped to both handle and harness DERs.

Meeting the Challenge of Energy Resilience

Traditionally, energy resilience has been defined as the ability of the electricity grid to maintain or restore operations during and after a disruption, such as a natural disaster or a cyber attack. As history has shown, extreme weather events, such as record-setting heat or cold, can threaten to overwhelm the grid with swings in demand. With today’s race to decarbonize and  “electrify everything,” ensuring a steady supply of affordable, sustainable, and resilient energy has never been more important – or challenging.

Major U.S. power outages, weather-related vs non weather-related
Source: Climate Central

With the proliferation of renewable energy sources and the decentralization of energy generation, achieving resilience has become a lot more complex. It now requires the ability not only to withstand and recover from disturbances, but also to forecast and adapt to changing conditions, such as fluctuations in renewable energy generation, changes in demand patterns, and the integration of electric vehicles (EVs) at scale on the grid. According to a report by EEI, 26.4 million EVs will be on the road by 2030, about 10% of the 259 million light-duty vehicles in the US, with California, Florida, and Texas currently leading in adoption.

Unlocking the Untapped Potential of DERs

The good news is that DERs – including rooftop solar photovoltaics (PV), smart thermostats, batteries, and utility-scale renewables and storage – could actually help ensure and even improve grid resilience and reliability, especially during times of high demand or unplanned outages. We’ll explore this topic next week in a live webinar with Bryan Olnick and Sadia Raveendran.

According to a report by Wood Mackenzie, the forecasted demand response needs of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) do not account for the hundreds of gigawatts of capacity potential from DERs. (Demand response refers to the ability to throttle back demand instead of increasing supply during electricity shortages, often in real-time.) The report highlights that the presence of both behind- and front-of-the-meter DERs on the grid could exceed the reliability requirement assessment by 352 gigawatts by 2025. This validates the untapped potential for DERs to shape load and integrate renewables onto the grid, as depicted in the graphic below. Furthermore, it’s important to note that NERC’s assessment of demand response needs is based on a traditional approach to resource planning, which underestimates the true capacity potential of DERs.

Moving from Defense to Offense with DERs

In short, the future of our energy system is dependent upon squeezing the most value out of these DERs and transforming them from what used to be viewed as a problem into what is now a cutting-edge solution, whether managed as a virtual power plant (VPP) or a microgrid or the broader umbrella of a distributed energy resource management system ( DERMS). Another way of looking at it, as articulated by John Bonnin in the ” Unlocking New Value Streams with Multi-Asset Virtual Power Plants” podcast, is moving from a defensive posture – how can we make sure these DERs don’t do damage to the reliability and resiliency of power grids – to an offensive posture. The latter approach views DER assets as solutions to grid challenges such as meeting demand peaks, resolving frequency variations or intervening and solving voltage sags and spikes on distribution feeder lines.

Annual net DER capacity change by DER market segment
Source: Wood Mackenzie

As battery technologies continue to improve, they can be leveraged to discharge and charge when most needed or when a surplus of renewable energy generation is available, reducing the strain on the grid. Demand side management programs with multi-asset customer-owned DERs, such as incentivizing customers to reduce their energy usage during peak conditions, can also be implemented by utilities to reduce the impact on the grid. Microgrids, which are localized power delivery systems, often used in commercial & industrial facilities or remote locations can operate inside or independent of the larger grid, providing power with hybrid mixtures of renewable energy such as wind, biomass, or hydro. Microgrids have the capability of islanding and maintaining electricity service for a college campus, a data center, or military base, even when the larger grid network goes down.

Utilities have worried about integrating renewable energy and DERs into the grid in the past because they can introduce variability and uncertainty into the power supply. They can’t simply be turned on and off like conventional fossil fuel facilities. This paradigm shift in the energy sector emphasizes the need for flexible and adaptive energy systems that can respond to the changing energy landscape and ensure the continued delivery of reliable and affordable energy to consumers.

Enhancing Grid Resiliency with AutoGrid’s Flex DERMS Platform

This is where a DERMS solution like AutoGrid’s Flex™ platform closes the gap for utilities and grid operators, with a unified “grid to prosumer” energy solution that enables DER participation, flexibility, and the orchestration of assets at scale. Power system operators must carefully balance the supply and demand of electricity to maintain a stable frequency and voltage. Innovations in grid technologies, such as advanced control systems, real-time monitoring, and artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) can help to overcome these challenges and ensure the reliable and resilient operation of the grid. Thanks to the evolution of IT and the emergence of a digital, distributed and decarbonized energy system, past fears about a grid in chaos due to the proliferation of DERs have proven to be addressed by compelling software products that all fall under the board DERMS umbrella.

AutoGrid Flex Platform Diagram

The resilience and reliability of the power grid can be improved through the use of the AutoGrid Flex platform that integrates large-scale front-of-the-meter renewable energy projects such as solar or wind farms with behind-the-meter DERs. With the help of DERMS, and related DER configurations such as VPPs and microgrids, these technologies could reduce the dependence on polluting centralized power plants such as fossil fuel peakers, increase the efficiency of the grid, and even provide backup power during outages.

If you would like to learn more about this topic, our team is hosting a live discussion with Q&A Thursday, March 2 to explore the untapped potential of DERs for ensuring grid resilience. We invite you to register and participate in this informative [Webinar] Radical Resilience: Building an Adaptive Energy Grid with DERMS and VPP.

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