Bulk Electric System Planners/Operators Need to Plan Now for Distributed Energy Resources
by Bob Shively, Enerdynamics President and Lead Facilitator
“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don't let yourself be lulled into inaction.” ~ Bill Gates
Although growth is not uniform across the U.S., the number of distributed energy resources (DERs) is increasing rapidly. DER capacity is currently estimated at 35 to 50 GW (depending on whose research you use), and it is expected to double over the next five years.
Source: Navigant analysis referenced in FERC Staff Report “Distributed Energy Resources Technical Considerations for the Bulk Power System”, February 2018.
Key drivers of growth include energy efficiency, demand response, flexible electric vehicle charging, and rooftop solar installations. A key potential change that's driving growth in demand response is flexible loads brought on by consumers installing internet-enabled devices in their homes and businesses. A surprising amount of people I talk with already have voice-activated speakers (Amazon Alexa or Echo, Google Home), which have the potential to control energy-consuming devices. And even more people seem to have installed controllable thermostats in the last two years. A recent whitepaper by Parks Associates found that among homes with broadband internet connections, 26% own at least one smart home device and 28% own a smart speaker with voice-assistant capability.
As of yet, many connected devices may not interact with the electric grid, but that may be only a matter of time. A second whitepaper by Parks Associates revealed that more than half of those surveyed feel it is important to have an energy efficient home; 91% of broadband households take some mindful action to reduce their energy consumption; and adoption of smart thermostats in the highest of any home automation product. The tech giants have noticed and are rapidly responding. Said a recent Wall Street Journal article: “Home-energy management is a battleground between Google and Amazon for internet-connected devices.”
In regions where penetration of DERs is growing, bulk electric system planners and operators will need to react fast. Although DERs are connected at the distribution level, they can have significant impacts on bulk electric system:
Source: Graphic from Enerdynamics' workshop Distributed Energy Resources
An issue for grid planners is the uncertain rate of penetration in any region. As I was recently quoted in RTO Insider: “It could happen in some states very quickly. It could happen in other states not so quickly. … We don’t know what’s going to be the adoption curve of consumers. … You can get people saying this, and people saying that. The answer is nobody really knows. You need to do your planning in mind thinking that nobody really knows.”
For sure, the risks of planning too late are considerably higher than the risks of planning too soon. All ISOs, balancing authorities, and transmission planners must consider the impacts of DERs now and prepare to modify system models and operations to recognize growth of these resources.
Need to inform your employees or stakeholders about DERs and their impacts? Enerdynamics has developed workshops covering the key principles of DERs and their impacts on electric grids. These can be focused on either bulk electric systems or distribution grids and can be delivered in varying lengths ranging from a half-day workshop to two full days. For information, see Distributed Energy Resources and Microgrids: Applications, Technologies, and Economics or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 866.765.5432 ext. 700.
 A DER is a resource connected to the grid at distribution voltage, either behind a customer meter or directly to the distribution system. Resources include demand side management, distributed generation, and distributed storage.
 Parks Associates, “Changing Dynamics of the Smart Home: Opportunities for Service Providers”
 Parks Associates, “2019 Connected Home & Entertainment Trends”
 Wall Street Journal, “Electricity Sector Sparks Tech Interest”, January 28, 2019
 RTO Insider, “Cold Snap Halts DER Talk as MISO Calls Max Gen Event”, January 30, 2019