Navigant Research Blog

Why VPP Software Vendors Are Vital to the Success of the Emerging Energy Cloud

— November 30, 2016

Ethernet CablesThe concept of a virtual power plant (VPP) means different things to different people. It’s really just a creative way to imagine the variety of grid services that can be harvested from the plethora of distributed energy resources (DER) that are rapidly populating power grids worldwide.

A VPP is the epitome of the changes transforming relationships between utilities, customers, and a host of other market participants that are building real solutions to the pressing energy and environmental challenges facing the world today. Navigant has coined the term the Energy Cloud to describe the evolution of our collective energy future. VPPs are just one aspect of this shift toward smarter, cleaner, and smaller power sources being aggregated into real-time solutions that benefit individual asset owners while contributing to the sustainability of existing infrastructure.

The Value of Software

Now that hardware assets such as solar PV panels, batteries, and other DER are becoming commoditized due to increased market penetrations and creative business models, the key to unlocking greater value from both new and existing DER is software—the fundamental technology driver underlying the VPP market.

Software is a broad category. It includes systems that connect DER in order to optimize synergies between like and unlike resources, in addition to the interface mechanics of interacting with utilities and wholesale markets for ancillary services. IT and related software is where the money is being made in the VPP market; according to Navigant Research’s Virtual Power Plant Enabling Technologies report, software spending is expected to represent nearly 90% of total VPP implementation spending by 2025. The same report also provides an analysis of the energy storage systems being wrapped into VPPs.

A sudden surge in energy storage deployments being aggregated into VPPs is tilting the market in dramatically new directions. How utilities and wholesale transmission grid operators treat energy storage as an asset may be the most important technology-related development affecting near-term commercial VPP deployments.

Ranking Vendors

Navigant also recently published a Leaderboard report ranking VPP software vendors. There is always an apples-to-apples comparison challenge with the Leaderboard format, but by stepping back and focusing on the overall trends in the market, insights bubble up to the surface.

Ranking software vendors active in the mixed asset VPP market is even more problematic than microgrid controls vendors given the lack of available transparent data on performance of software products. The lack of a universal definition for a VPP only adds another layer of issues in developing a ranking. These caveats aside, the rankings do reveal some market insights.

Some vendors claim vertically integrated utilities are the best near-term market for VPPs, since all ancillary services required to keep the grid physically in balance are purchased by one single entity. Others argue that deregulated markets open doors to new ways of monetizing value and harness the value of diversity and competition. I believe both opportunities will help build the VPPs of the future. It will be mix of pure-play software vendors, energy storage innovators, and large global technology companies that show the way.

 

Recognizing the True Value of Storage and Facing Cybersecurity Threats

— October 28, 2016

AnalyticsEnergy storage has historically been too expensive to integrate with distributed energy resources (DER), but prices have fallen significantly across several portions of the value chain in the past few years. To continue to improve the economics of the technology, it’s important for new and existing energy storage systems (ESSs) to provide multiple services to customers. This will open up a larger market for aggregated systems that can help realize the true value of storage. Software platforms that can analyze, operate, and optimize battery energy storage-enabled virtual power plants (VPPs) will be critical to capitalize on value stacking.

Aggregated Energy Storage Systems

Powershift

(Source: PowerShift Atlantic)

For instance, energy storage service provider Greensmith Energy was chosen to provide its software and integration services for several recent projects. In September, investor-owned utility American Electric Power (AEP) chose Greensmith’s GEMS platform to manage its 2 MW/14M MWh ESS in West Virginia. AEP plans to leverage the software’s functionality to expand the use of the system into a revenue-generating asset rather than solely a backup system for its distribution network. Several other companies like Sunverge, Demand Energy, and Green Charge Networks have also recently partnered with utilities where smart software will be used for flexible ESSs.

Energy storage software is increasingly becoming a vital part of determining the bankability of a project. Software modules optimized for different grid-level or customer-level applications create value for both utility-scale and behind-the-meter (BTM) users. Particularly for residential and/or commercial customers, the software module can create viable revenue streams by:

  • Optimizing self-consumption in real-time across multiple variables (e.g., demand charges, utility tariff data, etc.)
  • Participating in utility-sponsored demand response and resource adequacy programs
  • Providing long-duration backup power and islanding capabilities

A noteworthy development in the residential ESS software market is a recent partnership announced by energy Internet provider AutoGrid and distributed ESS manufacturer sonnen. The two companies partnered to fully integrate AutoGrid’s flexibility management suite with sonnen’s residential and commercial battery solutions. AutoGrid and sonnen will help energy project developers, utilities, and other energy service providers better manage, optimize, and aggregate sonnen ESS systems and other DER. Both companies believe that the partnership will help maximize project return on investment (ROI), reduce project delivery times, and unlock new revenue streams for several value chain players.

Need for Cybersecurity

With the increased automation of energy storage and DER in general, it will be important to consider the cybersecurity threats that could occur. These attacks can disrupt general system functionality or cause targeted damage to intellectual property, critical infrastructure, and physical assets. Incidents of cybercrime and associated costs can be substantial; companies must prepare for the worst-case scenario. This is not only important to protect against threats, but also to aid in how businesses continue to operate during an attack, as well as how they adapt and recover after. So what does this mean for DER businesses and stakeholders?

  • Utilities have the ability to drive the storage market forward, enabling ESSs to achieve profitability under several business cases like VPPs.
  • DER software companies should focus on developing controls that can optimize multiple use cases to maximize the value of projects.
  • ESS and other DER software developers must ensure they are adequately protected from cyber threats, including developing strong compliance programs, having advanced functionality to mitigate against vulnerabilities, and ensuring systems are in place to immediately alert stakeholders of breaches.
 

Can DER Bring the Cuban Grid into the 21st Century?

— October 18, 2016

Wind and SolarAs national relations with the United States and other nations continue to improve, Cuba is emerging as a potentially lucrative market for renewable and distributed energy development.  The country’s first utility-scale solar PV contract awarded in June 2016 highlights its potential to become a leading market in the Caribbean. The potential for renewables and distributed energy resources (DER) development in Cuba and throughout the Caribbean stems mainly from the region’s extreme dependency on imported fossil fuels. Furthermore, Cuba has a number of very old thermal power plants and decaying grid infrastructure that must be modernized to improve reliability and meet the country’s increasing demand for electricity. Cuba also has significant renewable energy resources and a goal to generate 24% of its electricity from renewables in 2030, up from just 4% today.

Opportunities and Challenges Abound

Improved diplomatic relations are driving rapid changes in Cuba’s economy, including large-scale wind and solar PV facilities already under development. Island electricity grids inherently have less stability than large continental systems and have traditionally struggled to effectively integrate large amounts of renewable generation. As a result, many islands—including Puerto Rico and parts of Japan—require that new large solar plants include a set amount of energy storage capacity. This could likely become a requirement as the Cuban solar market matures. Energy storage both centrally located and distributed in buildings can allow for the stable integration of renewables by smoothing output and controlling ramp rates, as well as optimizing these new resources by aligning renewable output with demand by time shifting energy. Navigant Research’s Energy Storage for Renewables Integration report explores the dynamics for these technologies specifically on islands.

Some of the earliest opportunities for DER development in Cuba may be the island’s numerous tourist resorts. Resorts around the world have demonstrated a willingness to invest in DER to improve the reliability of their power supplies and to develop images as eco-tourist destinations. This can provide opportunities for DER providers focusing on the commercial and industrial sector, particularly companies offering innovative financing programs such as power purchase agreements (PPAs). This model is demonstrated by the power system developed by EnSync Energy (formerly ZBB Energy) for a resort in French Polynesia that includes solar PV, energy storage, a local biofuel generator, and advanced controls for system optimization.

DER Barriers

Despite this potential, a number of barriers still exist in the Cuban DER space. The country’s electricity market remains state-run, along with most of its economy. In order to realize its renewable energy ambitions, Cuba will require foreign investments and technical expertise. The government is already looking at some level of market deregulation that would encourage investment by allowing foreign companies to own energy generation (and potentially storage) projects. These changes could provide a much-needed boost to the market; however, the Cuban market regulators will likely need to further formalize policies to instill confidence in foreign investors and financiers.

 

If $9 Billion of Renewable Energy Is Curtailed in 2030, What Opportunities Will Emerge? Part 2

— October 4, 2016

Cyber Security MonitoringThe first part of this blog covered the growing trend of renewables curtailment. This second post will cover the solutions that are turning curtailment from a problem into an opportunity.

Many solutions have been proposed to address the integration of renewables into the energy sector. The first two, transmission upgrades and storage technologies, tend to get a lot of media attention. However, these can be seen as “necessary but not sufficient” options in the race to integrate renewables. Flexible gas generation technologies will also play a growing role in the grid of the future.

Transmission upgrades connect renewables to more loads and diversify generation resources. Germany, with 26% of its generation coming from intermittent sources in 2015, has been building out transmission to connect the windy south of the country to the industrial north. As in many global markets, transmission expansion is subject to NIMBYism, and in Germany’s case is being forced underground, which is more expensive. California, with 14% of its generation from intermittent sources in 2015, may be expanding its independent system operator (ISO) into a regional organization across the climatologically diverse Western Interconnection, though the decision has been delayed for further review. And China, generating just around 3% of its electricity from wind in 2015, still curtailed billions of dollars of wind power in recent years and is quickly pushing to interconnect it with load.

Storage technologies are growing quickly, as well. Hydroelectric storage is a cheap and clean technology that nonetheless sometimes battles drought-related, environmental, and even methane emissions concerns. Batteries, including lithium ion and other types, are rightly making news as costs fall and policies like incentives and storage mandates drive the market toward rapid growth. These and related storage technologies, including compressed air storage, are growing quickly and will become a major part of our electric grids.

Flexible Solutions

Flexible gas-based generation solutions tend to get less media attention but will also be crucially important in the flexibility of the grid.

  • A 2016 National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) report suggested that for California to accommodate 50% of its generation coming from solar PV, a wide range of changes would need to take place. Notably, flexible thermal generators and combined heat and power (CHP) plants were mentioned as a key necessity, even if the amount of energy storage is boosted by more than 10 times what is outlined in the current mandate.
  • A 2015 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists on California’s grid states that under a 50% Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) scenario, curtailment could be cut from 4.8% to 3.2% if natural gas resources are able to turn down to half-power.
  • A 2015 report points out that Denmark was able to generate 39% of its electricity from wind thanks in large part to flexible district energy CHP resources. These district energy systems are in some way the core of Denmark’s grid and are expected to become electricity consumers rather than producers during times of high wind generation.
  • A 2016 report funded by the German government suggests that power-to-heat will be more important than batteries in balancing that country’s grid in the future.

Most of these reports suggest that fossil-based sources will fuel this generation, though carbon-neutral biogas and hydrogen are taking strides to catch up too. These gas-based technologies have the dual benefit of boosting grid flexibility while (in most cases) decarbonizing heating, an area of growing concern. As a complement to the transmission and battery storage changes making headlines, these sources are set to become key contributors in the grid of the future.

 

Blog Articles

Most Recent

By Date

Tags

Clean Transportation, Electric Vehicles, Finance & Investing, Policy & Regulation, Renewable Energy, Smart Energy Practice, Smart Energy Program, Smart Transportation Program, Transportation Efficiencies, Utility Innovations

By Author


{"userID":"","pageName":"Energy Storage","path":"\/tag\/energy-storage","date":"12\/7\/2016"}