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Country’s utilities and government regulators are focused on aggressive electrification, decentralization, and digitization efforts, report finds

A second structural impediment to fully realizing DER benefits is the current grid planning approach, which biases grid design toward traditional infrastructure rather than distributed alternatives, even if distributed solutions better meet grid needs. Outdated planning approaches rely on static assumptions about DER capabilities and focus primarily on mitigating potential DER integration challenges, rather than proactively harnessing these flexible assets.

Section II demonstrated how California could realize an additional $1.4 billion per year by 2020 in net benefits from the deployment of new DERs during the 2016-2020 timeframe. This state-wide methodology was then applied to the planned distribution capacity projects for California’s most recent GRC request, showing how the deployment of DERs in lieu of planned distribution capacity expansion projects in PG&E’s next rate case could save customers over $100 million. 

Motivated by the challenge faced in designing a grid appropriate to the 21st century, this report first focuses on determining the quantifiable net economic benefits that DERs can offer to society. The approach taken builds on existing avoided cost methodologies – which have already been applied to DERs by industry leaders – while introducing updated methods to hardto-quantify DER benefit categories that are excluded from traditional analyses. While the final net benefit calculation derived in this report is specific to California, the overall methodological advancements developed here are applicable across the U.S. Moreover, the ultimate conclusion from this analysis – that DERs offer a better alternative to many traditional infrastructure solutions in advancing the 21st century grid – should also hold true across the U.S., although the exact net benefits of DERs will vary across regions.

Designing the electric grid for the 21st century is one of today’s most important and exciting societal challenges. Regulators, legislators, utilities, and private industry are evaluating ways to both modernize the aging grid and decarbonize our electricity supply, while also enabling customer choice, increasing resiliency and reliability, and improving public safety, all at an affordable cost.

The share of renewables in overall power generation is rapidly increasing, both in developed and developing countries. Furthermore, many countries have ambitious targets to transform their power sector towards renewables. To achieve these objectives, the structure and operation of existing power grid infrastructures will need to be revisited as the share of renewable power generation increases.

Renewable energy technologies can be divided into two categories: dispatchable (i.e. biomass, concentrated solar power with storage, geothermal power and hydro) and non-dispatchable, also known as Variable Renewable Energy or VRE (i.e. ocean power, solar photovoltaics and wind). VRE has four characteristics that require specific measures to integrate these technologies into current power systems: 1) variability due to the temporal availability of resources; 2) uncertainty due to unexpected changes in resource availability; 3) location-specific properties due to the geographical availability of resources; and 4) low marginal costs since the resources are freely available.

A transition towards high shares of VRE requires a re-thinking of the design, operation and planning of future power systems from a technical and economic point of view. In such a system, supply and demand will be matched in a much more concerted and flexible way. From a technical perspective, VRE generation can be ideally combined with smart grid technologies, energy storage and more flexible generation technologies. From an economic perspective, the regulatory framework will need to be adjusted to account for the cost structure of VRE integration, to allow for new services and revenue channels, and to support new business models.

There are several technological options that can help to integrate VRE into the power system grid: system-friendly VREs, flexible generation, grid extension, smart grid technologies, and storage technologies. New advances in wind and solar PV technologies allow them to be used over a wider range of conditions and provide ancillary services like frequency and voltage control. Flexible generation requires changes in the energy mix to optimise production from both dispatchable and non-dispatchable resources. Smart grid technologies can act as an enabler for VRE integration, given their ability to reduce the variability in the system by allowing the integration of renewables into diverse electricity resources, including load control (e.g. Demand Side Management (DSM), Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), and enhancing the grid operation and therefore helping to efficiently manage the system’s variability by implementing advanced technologies (e.g. smart inverters, Phasor Measurement Unit (PMU) and Fault Ride Through (FRT) capabilities).

Energy storage technologies can alleviate short-term variability (up to 2 Renewable Energy Integration in Power Grids | Technology Brief several hours), or longer-term variability through pumped-storage hydroelectricity, thermal energy storage or the conversion of electricity into hydrogen or gas.

Two immediate applications for deploying innovative technologies and operation modes for VRE integration are mini-grids and island systems. The high costs for power generation in these markets make VREs and grid integration technologies economically attractive since they can simultaneously improve the reliability, efficiency and performance of these power systems. This is, for example, the case of the Smart Grid demonstration project in Jeju Island, South Korea.

Furthermore, the right assessment and understanding of VRE integration costs are relevant for policy making and system planning. Any economic analysis of the transition towards renewables-based power systems should, therefore, consider all different cost components for VRE grid integration, such as grid costs (e.g. expansion and upgrading), capacity costs and balancing costs. Integration costs are due not only to the specific characteristics of VRE technologies but also to the power system and its adaptability to greater variability. Therefore, these costs should be carefully interpreted and not entirely attributed to VRE, especially when the system is not flexible enough to deal with variability (i.e. in the short-term).

Moreover, RE integration delivers broader benefits beyond purely economic ones, such as social and environmental benefits. Even though not straightforward, these externalities should be considered and quantified in order to integrate them into the decision-making process and maximise socio-economic benefits.

Due to the rapid technological progress and multiple grid integration options available, policy makers should build a framework for RE grid integration based on the current characteristic of the system, developing technological opportunities and long-term impacts and targets. In particular, policy makers should adopt a long-term vision for their transition towards renewables and set regulatory frameworks and market designs to foster both RE development and management of greater system variability. Such regulatory frameworks could include new markets for ancillary services and price signals for RE power generators that incentivise the reduction of integration costs.

Source: IEA-ETSAP and IRENA

International collaboration enables the sharing of risks, rewards and progress, and the co-ordination of priorities in areas such as technology, policy, regulation and business models. In order to reach the goals set out in this roadmap, smart grids need to be rapidly developed, demonstrated and deployed based on a range of drivers that vary across regions globally. Many countries have made significant efforts to develop smart grids, but the lessons learned are not being shared in a co-ordinated fashion. Major international collaboration is needed to expand RDD&D investment in all areas of smart grids – but especially in standards, policy, regulation and business model development. These efforts will require the strengthening of existing institutions and activities, as well as the creation of new joint initiatives.

Collaborating on a policy and regulatory environment that supports smart grid investment is perhaps the single most important task for all stakeholders in the electricity sector. A lack of collaboration has already led to problems in demonstration and deployment projects. As with most policy issues, the key is to find the right balance in sharing costs, benefits and risks. The responsibility for achieving this balance lies with regulators and, in some cases, legislators, but must include input from all stakeholders.

The need for commercial-scale demonstration:- The existing smart grid technology landscape is highly diverse. Some technology areas exhibit high levels of maturity while others are still developing and not ready for deployment. Although continued investments in research and development are needed, it is even more important to increase investments in demonstration projects that capture real-world data, integrated with regulatory and business model structures, and to work across segmented system boundaries – especially interacting with end-use customers. While this is happening currently as a result of stimulus funding (Table 5), it is vital that it continue to expand. Only through large-scale demonstrations – allowing for shared learning, reduction of risks and dissemination of best practices – can the deployment of smart grids be accelerated. Current levels of political ambition appear to be sufficient, but high quality analysis and positive demonstration outcomes must be highlighted to sustain these levels.

Smart grids are complex systems that incorporate a number of technologies, consumer interactions and decision points. This complexity makes it difficult to define detailed development and deployment scenarios. Smart grid technologies are being developed worldwide, so much of the research, development and demonstration (RD&D) can be discussed in a global context. But deployment needs to be discussed at the regional level, where important factors such as the age of infrastructure, demand growth, generation make-up, and regulatory and market structures vary significantly.

The many smart grid technology areas – each consisting of sets of individual technologies – span the entire grid, from generation through transmission and distribution to various types of electricity consumers. Some of the technologies are actively being deployed and are considered mature in both their development and application, while others require further development and demonstration. A fully optimised electricity system will deploy all the technology areas in Figure 8. However, not all technology areas need to be installed to increase the “smartness” of the grid.

Over the last few decades, generation and network technology deployment, market and regulatory structures, and the volume and use of electricity have changed significantly. This transformation has largely been managed successfully, but ageing infrastructures mean that further changes could affect system stability, reliability and security.

The old definition of a microgrid was usually an electricity source, often a combined heat and power natural gas plant or a reciprocating engine generator, that provided fulltime or backup power for an industrial site, military installation, university, or remote location.

Today’s definition is much broader, incorporating cleaner technologies and more diverse customers, establishing microgrids as a key component of tomorrow’s more resilient, efficient and low-emissions electricity system.

Market Research Hub (MRH) has recently announced the inclusion of a new study to its massive archive of research reports, titled as “Global Microgrid as a Service (MaaS) Market Status, Size and Forecast 2012-2022.” This report provides an in-depth evaluation on the market for Microgrid as a Service (MaaS), elaborating on the prime dynamics influencing the development of this market. These dynamics include the major drivers, opportunities, restraints etc. Geographically, the global market is categorized into EU, United States, China, India, Japan and Southeast Asia.

With an extensive forecast period of 2016 to 2021, the analysts have studied major dynamics for the market, which can be helpful for the established players as well as new entrants in this market. In terms of geography, with constant rising industrial sector, countries such as China, India, Japan and South Korea are gaining extensive market share of the MaaS market.

A grid-connected microgrid can be defined as, a set of distributed energy resources and interconnected loads mainly use to supply power to the main grid or utility grid. Microgrids can operate as stand-alone 'islands' and are able to provide reliable electricity even during bad weather. According to the key findings, from several years, the escalating demand for power, along with an increased need for secure, reliable and emission-free power propels the demand for microgrids. Also, it is projected that the microgrids as a service market are recording healthy growth due to various benefits offered by Microgrids, such as highly reliability, economical & effectual energy power, improvement of renewable energy sources and smart grid integration etc.

These microgrids can be divided into Grid type and Service type.

On the basis of grid type, it covers:

Grid Connected
Remote/Islanded

By service type, it includes:

Monitoring & Control Service
Software as a Service (SaaS)
Engineering & Design Service
Operation & Maintenance Service

On the other hand by applications, the report has segmented the market into Military, Industrial, Government & Education, Utility, Residential & Commercial. The Microgrid as a Service Market is having significant growth in many areas where continuous power is must such as industries, Residential & Commercial, hospitals and universities among others.

Advanced Energy Economy (AEE) said last week that global annual revenue from microgrids rose 29 percent between 2015 and last year, according to Microgrid Knowledge. The revenues totaled $6.8 million at the beginning of 2017. The report, which was prepared by Navigant Research, said that the market in the United States has more than doubled since 2011. The sector reached $2.2 billion last year after enjoying a 16 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR), between 2015 and 2016.

Today, the microgrid technology only produces 0.2 percent of U.S. electricity (about 1.6 GW). That capacity is expected to double in the next three years, however.

Microgrids not only improve reliability and resilience – keeping the lights on during a widespread disaster that affects the main grid -- but also increase efficiency, better manage electricity supply and demand, and help integrate renewables, creating opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save energy.
But financial and legal hurdles stand in the way of accelerating their deployment.

Each microgrid’s unique combination of power source, customer, geography, and market can be confusing for investors. Microgrids can run on renewables, natural gas-fueled turbines, or emerging sources such as fuel cells or even small modular nuclear reactors. They can power city facilities, city neighborhoods, or communities in remote areas. As we heard during our research, “If you’ve seen one microgrid, you’ve seen one microgrid.”

The legal framework can be confusing, too. Most states lack even a legal definition of a microgrid, and regulatory and legal challenges can differ between and within states. Issues include microgrid developers’ access to reasonably priced backup power and to wholesale power markets to sell excess electricity or other services. Also, franchise rights granted to utilities may limit microgrid developers’ access to customers.

Smarter Grid Solutions is deploying a fully-operational Active Network Management system in North America as part of its ongoing work under the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL’s) ‘Integrated Network Testbed for Energy Grid Research and Technology Experimentation’ (INTEGRATE) project.

Today ComEd distributed its 2016 Smart Grid Progress Report Delivering on the Smart Grid Promise: Laying a Foundation for the Future. The report demonstrates how the $2.6 billion Smart Grid investment plan is delivering tangible benefits to customers through greater power reliability, energy savings, economic development, community investments and financial assistance.

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