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The dangers and deliverables of DER

We’re still full of questions about the utility future, but the nature of those questions has morphed dramatically in the last few years. We used to ask “where” and “what” questions: Where did our certainly go? What happened to our stable customer base? Where will changes impact our infrastructure? What happened to our once-predictable industry?

Now that we’ve lived with the changing landscape for a bit and are more comfortable with our adjusting roles, our questions are more focused on timing: When will the customer truly become the center of the utility universe? When will a more transactive energy market be the backbone of interactions? When will distributed energy resources (DER) officially shift from outlier to touchstone?

The answer to all those questions is simple: soon.

Utilities have been seeing themselves as more customer-focused for years, comparing their customer service to that of retail businesses and banks, and that investment is near fruition. Additionally, transactive energy and the concept of more open, real-time markets is seeing a big boost from innovative new tech concepts such as the potential of blockchain, an idea opening a lot of potential doors in its jump from bitcoin to the power business. And even DER is moving from maybe to mostly as numbers continue to clock in. (Navigant thinks the world will see over 500 GW of DER in the gen mix by 2024, in fact.)

So, it’s all in process. It’s all in flux. And it’s all tied together: Utilities are more focused on the customers' wants and needs. The customers' wants and needs will require more flexibility with both market and grid, and distributed energy resources offers just that—lots of flexibility.

While the flexibility of DER could make it the cornerstone of your customer-centric grid in the future, we recognize this push forward still has a few hurdles to leap. So, let’s talk the Ds of DER: the dangers and the deliverables—because what you really want to know is how this can all pay off in the end.

 

The DER dangers

While utilities are tasked with delivering safe and reliable energy, things are changing rapidly around them, specifically their customers' energy choices on that edge: rooftop solar, electric vehicles, storage, microgrids, appliances, energy management systems are all in mix.

Consumers are choosing the “options” option, so to speak, including the adoption of DER in larger numbers and at a faster pace than anticipated, and utilities have to keep up, whether that means investing themselves (in microgrids and storage) or simply figuring out how to juggle consumer investments in the area (in EVs and solar).

While DERs, like the rest of the utilities’ world, continues to get smarter and more data-driven, there are still questions about these new, non-traditional sources. Reliability concerns circling around DERs these days aren’t really about the technologies’ capabilities for control and reliability but about getting down to brass tacks on modeling, interconnections, operations and regulations.

In the end, planning for those DER dangers and pitfalls on the horizon will win utilities the game, and whether the DER is controlled by the utility itself or by the consumer on the edge of the grid, it all has to work together to deliver.

 

The DER deliverables

Utilities—together with association partners such as the Energy Storage Association and vendor partners such as Oracle—can turn the DER challenge into opportunity by supporting the growing adoption of that DER and integrating all of it into the network model.

Whether your DER growth is driven by the customer, the utility executive or renewables standards, you can inject reliability and stability into all that growing flexibility by planning ahead in these four areas.

  1. Register any customer-owned DER asset: Get this information into your system and make it transparent across the board from the CIS to the ADMS. And keep it updated on all sides, from ops to sales and all the way out to fieldwork.
  2. Model your DER load: It may be difficult. It’s going to take trial and error, but it can be done. Mix that customer registration info we just discussed with weather info and data on your system. Toss in existing distribution models. And keep working those numbers.
  3. Optimize your grid: That DER is coming in. Use it wisely to tweak your operations. It will take some adjustments and some balancing, but, in the end, your system will be more flexible for it.
  4. Bring in the customer: DER is a form of community outreach, essentially. Pull some new programs out and get customer input and feedback. Craft a focus group or two around peak reduction programs, for example, and help the grid and your customer service numbers.

Smoothing the path to fuller DER adoption makes for a smarter utility and a smarter overall community as well. It enables cities to reduce costs by extending the life of assets and helps them deliver on programs for greater efficiency and reduced emissions—an opportunity to establish the utility’s central point in the growing, interconnected, intelligent energy landscape.

 

But don’t feel like you must conquer the Ds of DER alone. An Oracle Utilities expert is always available to work with you to find the right ways to manage that DER and the impacts on your system.

Visit us at oracle.com/utilities.

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