Navigant Research Blog

Energy Market Participation for DER Continues Taking Shape

— September 12, 2017

Distributed energy resources (DER) are often touted as having the potential to disrupt traditional energy markets by providing both reserve capacity and ancillary services. However, to date, there have been limited actual opportunities for this diverse set of technologies to provide these services. Regulatory efforts and collaborations between utilities and technology providers are actively working to change this dynamic in global markets. Likely one of the more innovative programs to bring DER into wholesale energy markets has been California’s Demand Response Auction Mechanism (DRAM).

DRAM is a pay-as-bid solicitation program through which utilities are seeking monthly demand response (DR) system capacity, local capacity, and flexibility capacity from DER. This innovative program aims to allow multiple DER technologies to compete on a relatively level playing field providing load reduction services on-demand for utilities. Contracts for load reduction through the DRAM have been awarded to companies providing DR from both commercial and industrial and residential customers, EV charging providers, and distributed energy storage/solar PV providers. Last month, the DRAM program closed its latest round of awards, with utilities requesting approval for 200 MW worth of contracts.

Tip of the Iceberg

DR is emerging as the primary entry point for DER to participate in competitive energy markets. Many DER, namely distributed energy storage systems, are highly flexible resources capable of providing a range of services, including DR/load reduction, ancillary services, and the ability to absorb excess energy during periods of low demand. Despite the variety of benefits DER can offer, the markets for providing and being compensated for these services are not yet in place in many areas. While existing DR markets only utilize one of the services that DER can provide, they are likely the most viable point of entry into competitive markets. The required integration with utility systems has been effective for decades, and grid operators are comfortable with these programs.

For most DER providers, a DR-type program is not the end goal for grid integration and energy market participation. However, it is a great opportunity to prove both the value and reliability of DER to help solve grid challenges. With California pioneering new programs, and other opportunities taking shape around the world, the evolution of DER participating in energy markets will evolve quickly.


Energy Storage to Optimize and Advance CHP Generators

— August 31, 2017

Energy storage is often associated only with the integration of renewable energy. However, recent market developments have highlighted the potential for storage to optimize both existing and new fossil fueled generators. While large-scale pumped hydro energy storage has been used on the grid for decades, those systems were rarely tied directly to any generation plants. A recent storage project built by General Electric in California is evidence that the falling costs for battery storage are opening opportunities to improve the efficiency and flexibility of existing generators.

There are attractive advantages for energy storage to optimize generators at a smaller scale. Gas-powered combined heat and power (CHP) systems are becoming increasingly popular due to the improved efficiency these systems offer customers that need a reliable supply of both heat and electricity. Because of the varying energy needs of these customers and the dynamics of CHP systems operation, there is frequently an overgeneration of either electricity or heat. This energy is often wasted, as establishing contracts that export excess energy is costly and challenging. Both thermal and electrical energy storage systems can greatly reduce wasted energy when tied to CHP systems and can provide attractive ROI for customers.

Industry Actions

Several recent acquisitions in the industry have emphasized this dynamic. In a recent blog, my colleague Adam Forni discusses these developments and the efforts of generator manufacturers to expand their offerings and participate in the emerging Energy Cloud. Notable recent investments in storage providers include Wärtsilä’s purchase of Greensmith and Aggreko’s acquisition of Younicos.

In both cases, incumbent generator providers moved to acquire storage companies focused on the software and controls required to optimize storage systems and integrate them into electricity markets. These tie-ups are mutually beneficial, as the storage providers gain access to new sales channels and potential new customers. The generator providers are likely focusing on developing the capabilities to integrate storage into their offerings and utilize new combined solutions to provide energy and capacity services in competitive electricity markets. The additional revenue generated by these grid services can greatly improve the overall economics of new storage and microgrid projects, including those that expand the capabilities of existing generators.

Into the Future  

The move toward microgrids and local power systems to improve the resilience of energy supply is an important driver for the integration of energy storage with conventional generators. Navigant Research’s recent Market Data: Combined Heat and Power in Microgrids report anticipates that 11.3 GW of new CHP capacity will be added in microgrids around the world over the next decade. The addition of these systems presents a major opportunity for both thermal and electrical energy storage to improve overall efficiency. Through the integration of energy storage and the sophisticated software platforms used to connect to energy markets, large amounts of new distributed energy capacity will become available on the grid.


Tesla and Storage Industry Take Up Another Challenge to Strengthen the Grid

— August 3, 2017

In September 2016, the massive blackout that hit South Australia cut electrical service to roughly half of the state’s 1.7 million residents for anywhere from 4 to 48 hours, putting grid reliability and renewable energy in the spotlight. Following that event, Tesla CEO Elon Musk claimed that large-scale energy storage could have prevented the disaster, promising that his company could build 100 MW of energy storage in just 100 days or it would be free. While this was seen by many as an attempt to get energy storage in the conversation about grid upgrades, it has now been announced that Tesla won a competitive solicitation to build a 100 MW storage facility.

Tesla’s new project will be located at the Hornsdale Wind Farm currently being built by French firm Neoen. The project will have a 100 MW power output with 129 MWh of storage capacity using Tesla’s lithium ion Powerpacks. The system will be used to smooth the output of the wind farm, shift energy to align with grid demand, and provide reserve capacity for the grid that could theoretically prevent future blackouts as both a source of system inertia and system restart services (in other words, a blackstart).

Major Challenges

Tesla faces some major challenges to build this project in such a short period. If successfully operational within 100 days, it would be one of the few 100 MWh-scale storage systems in the world commissioned in less than 4 months. These records were recently set last year when several large storage projects were built in response to California’s Aliso Canyon natural gas leak to provide emergency reserve capacity.

The key challenges noted by companies that developed the Aliso Canyon response projects involved supply chain and logistics and the overall orchestration/coordination of the project. However, Tesla may have advantages in logistics, as it is a vertically integrated provider of battery systems, which will reduce the time required to order both batteries and balance of system components. Given its recent expansion of manufacturing capacity, it is possible that the company already has many of the modular Powerpack systems built and ready to ship to support this project.

Once the batteries and all necessary components have arrived onsite, the coordination of such a large and complex engineering project is no small feat. Few projects of this scale and type have been built. As with many large storage projects, the experience is a first for local contractors providing engineering and construction work, which can delay the process.

Major Impact

If the project is successfully developed on time, it will represent another milestone, proving the maturity of the energy storage industry. The relatively short timeframe needed to build new large-scale storage projects gives the technology a major advantage over alternatives such as thermal power plants and transmission and distribution infrastructure. A shorter development period allows for shorter planning cycles for utilities, allowing them to quickly respond to changing grid conditions.

This project represents the first major competitive win for Tesla’s large-scale storage business in the Australian market. However, Tesla is not alone in developing massive storage plants in Australia. The Lyon Group recently announced its third solar plus storage project in the country, bringing its total pipeline of projects in development to 640 MWh. However, many stakeholders still question the economic viability of these storage projects, and regulatory rules are still evolving in Australia and other markets around the world. Despite the concerns, these projects are evidence that energy storage is starting to play a major role in the global electricity industry, with large-scale projects able to solve grid issues faster than conventional systems.


Best Practices for Residential Energy Storage Implementation

— June 27, 2017

A growing number of utilities are exploring opportunities to develop networks of residential energy storage systems throughout their grid. When properly developed, these programs can provide numerous benefits to both utilities and their customers:

  • Reduce peak demand—avoid transmission and distribution upgrades and costly peak generation
  • Integrate higher levels of distributed generation
  • Improve resilience for customers
  • Increase customer engagement and develop new products and services
  • Gain greater visibility into usage behind the meter

Given the multitude of potential benefits, residential energy storage is a growing topic of interest among utilities. Projects launched to date have taken different forms around the world depending on the specific needs of utilities and local market structures, such as those in New York, Vermont, and Australia. Working with a diverse group of utilities, Navigant Research has identified best practices for residential energy storage programs and organized them into three key categories: program design, customer adoption, and implementation.

Program Design

Key to any early stage residential storage initiative is establishing a program that is well-defined but highly flexible. These programs should be developed as if they were full commercial offerings, rather than solely pilot projects, with defined revenue streams and payback/performance targets. As the technology and business model are new to most utilities, it is important to allow for the program to evolve over time based on customer feedback and any technical issues that may arise. Program directors should plan to identify and implement lessons learned as they gain a greater understanding of the impacts and benefits.

Customer Adoption

It is important to ensure that presenting the program to customers is kept simple, as most customers are likely to be unfamiliar with distributed energy storage technologies and their value. Programs should be designed to target existing concerns or desires of customers. For example, many residential customers place a premium on the ability to have backup power. Some early residential storage programs have marketed their offering mainly as a backup power solution to customers. However, the systems will be used primarily as a tool for the utility to reduce peak demand and congestion in certain parts of the grid.


When implementing and operating a residential storage network, the focus should remain on having a program that is both well-designed and flexible. By defining the necessary operating parameters and specifications, utilities can select the best vendors and products to meet their requirements upfront, limiting the need to add or change suppliers. A key aspect of this is determining the operating specifications for systems up front, while also planning for them to change over time. For example, identifying what percentage of battery capacity must always be held in reserve in case of an outage to ensure customers have backup power. Additionally, the optimal charging and discharging patterns to align with grid needs in each area is an important consideration. These types of parameters should be determined upfront; however, they are likely to change over time and program operators should have a plan in place to make the necessary adjustments.

The residential energy storage industry is evolving rapidly as new products and business models are developed around the world. New potential revenue streams for these systems, such as frequency regulation, may begin to emerge over the coming years. Ensuring that change and evolution are part of any program upfront will enable utilities to realize the maximum benefits of this technology while reducing the risk of stranding assets.


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