Navigant Research Blog

Innovators Wanted for DER Solutions

Brett Feldman — April 18, 2017

Coauthored by Ken Horne and Laura Vogel 

Distributed energy resources (DER) are a hot topic in the energy industry these days. Some industry players take it as gospel that there will be an inevitable transition from centralized electricity generation to dispersed sources of both producing and reducing power to manage the bulk of grid supply—including Navigant Research.

The Energy Cloud and Changing Relationships

The Energy Cloud will most likely be the result of a fundamental shift in the way electricity is generated and distributed. It will signify an evolution in the traditional relationship between stakeholders across the electrical grid, particularly between utilities and their customers.

The Energy Cloud

(Navigant Consulting, Inc.)

Such a change may occur in the long term, but there are plenty of challenges that need to be overcome that invite numerous opportunities for innovation from current and new players in the energy industry. The issues range from technical to economic, regulatory, and consumer-based.

Energy Cloud Issues: Opportunities for Innovation

(Navigant Consulting, Inc.)

Technical Issues Facing the Energy Cloud

On the technical side, many hardware and software questions need to be answered. It is not so simple as to throw DER onto the existing grid—which was designed for one-way power flow. If clusters of DER on one feeder or substation occur, which is more likely than perfectly dispersed resources, voltage and reverse power flow issues must be dealt with. Visibility to DER on the grid will be key, along with real-time state estimation for behavior of the grid under near-term changes—for example, a switching operation. Communication standards (such as OpenADR) for different vendors, devices, and resource types will be necessary so that the grid operators do not need to rely on each DER vendor’s proprietary system. Big data management will be paramount for optimizing transactions, telemetry, prices, and controls on the grid.

Capturing Value Streams in the Energy Cloud

Assuming all the technical hurdles can be met, policy and economics will determine the types of business models that will succeed in a DER environment. No two countries in the world or even states in the US have identical regulatory structures. Thus, in order to scale up efficiently, flexible business models that can capture multiple value streams will be required. In some markets, the regulated utility may be allowed to own and finance projects, while in others the utility may be prohibited from such activity. Measuring the value of DER will vary by market as well, so creative financing mechanisms will be necessary. Finally, a new type of transactional platform will be imperative to accurately enact deals between suppliers and consumers—or even from consumer to consumer—in a timely manner.

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