Navigant Research Blog

Exploring Potential for Integrating Transactive Energy into Virtual Power Plants

— August 4, 2017

The concepts of virtual power plants (VPPs) and transactive energy (TE) are similar in that they place prosumers—formerly passive consumers that now also produce energy—front and center in an emerging market for grid services delivered by distributed energy resources (DER). Both trends are indicative of an electric grid ecosystem that is decarbonizing, decentralizing, and digitizing.

Navigant Research believes that the future of energy rests on the foundation of cleaner, distributed, and intelligent networks of power, what we call the Energy Cloud. The VPP model presents a compelling vision of this future, as does TE. When combined, new revenue streams for diverse energy market stakeholders are inevitable. What portion of the VPP/TE plethora of possibilities will find its way into prosumer pockets?

In a new Navigant Research report entitled VPP Transactive Revenue Streams, I identify six grid services that could be enhanced by integrating TE within the VPP framework. Much more work needs to be done to put money into stakeholder pockets, so I’ve also briefly identified the regulatory challenges that need to be addressed to make these revenue streams real:

  • Localized clean energy: How can previous policy vehicles such as net metering and feed-in tariffs be accommodated or revised (or eliminated altogether) to shift from subsidy schemes to a more transparent market locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally? TE platforms operating within VPPs may be a good starting point.
  • Virtual capacity: Just as consumer supports need to be revisited for solar PV and other distributed generation, so do assumptions governing determinations of resource adequacy for wholesale system planning. Perhaps exit fees and demand charges are obsolete in a DER-rich future. What are new ways to monetize the actual non-generation-related services a power grid provides?
  • Real-time demand response: More sophisticated load-based demand response will be part of the toolkit to displace ramping fossil fuel generators up and down in response to variations in solar and wind. Harvesting load will be one of the key innovations to benefit from TE-based blockchain ledger systems.
  • Fast frequency regulation: While the VPP seeks to provide creative fast frequency response, the sources of such services are still often spread far apart. In an ideal world, localized generation, energy storage, and load could be marshaled to address frequency challenges to the grid. How can we integrate locational benefits in the pricing of such grid services?
  • Smart voltage control: The proliferation of smart inverters onto the grid represent a rich resource portfolio that can be monetized in multiple ways. TE trades would enable a similar value proposition as fast frequency response. The same challenges to pricing locational benefits apply.
  • Big data from small sources: A VPP supported by TE must rely on accurate and timely data, analytics, and insights. While prosumers may not reap large profits from the data they provide via TE, energy service providers and distribution system operators may view this as the largest revenue stream flowing from the digital grid utility transformation.

Do VPPs create opportunities for TE revenue streams or vice versa? Most likely, these two DER platforms will evolve in parallel. DER management systems that can harmonize VPP and TE platforms must incorporate market pricing mechanisms to reflect the changing value of millions of connected endpoints throughout the day. That’s quite the challenge, which also translates into a major revenue stream opportunity for the Energy Cloud ecosystem.

To learn more from two major players active in the Energy Cloud ecosystem—Enbala Power Networks and ABB—tune into the Navigant Research-hosted webinar on Tuesday, August 15 at 2 p.m. EST.

 

The Role of Analytics in Enabling Smarter Homes

— July 13, 2017

The Internet of Things (IoT) has begun to move beyond the hype and is slowly but surely delivering on its promises with more Internet-connected devices than ever before. It reached an estimated penetration rate of 5.3% of homes in North America in 2016. These IoT devices are generating growing volumes of valuable data, which has led to the need for analytics solutions.

Means for Actionable Insights

Analytics solutions are software platforms embedded with algorithms that can identify patterns in data to provide actionable insights. In the residential sector, analytics software can crunch data transmitted from devices within the home. It can also be used with publicly available and third-party data sources on weather, demographics, and home infrastructure to enable a variety of applications, including customer engagement, energy management, monitoring and control, and automation.

Currently, analytics are mostly focused on customer engagement. In the energy industry, utilities are analyzing smart meter data to provide customers with more information about their energy consumption and specific ways in which they can reduce use and save on energy bills. However, customer engagement is only the beginning of what can be done with residential analytics solutions. Stakeholders in this space have only begun to scratch the surface of the available opportunity data has to offer.

Increasing Whole Home Efficiency

Navigant Research expects analytics to foster whole home integration of various connected devices by increasing awareness across multiple facets of the home, from thermostats to door locks to refrigerators to solar panels. Having insight from various devices across the entire home can enable machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies to create comprehensive ecosystems of connected home technologies. Ecosystems like these can act intuitively and think independently of the homeowner, creating smarter and more efficient homes.

This concept of more comprehensive and integrated ecosystems is the key to the success of the smart home, as smarter, more connected, and intuitive homes are expected to play a vital role in the Energy Cloud. Smart homes are expected to act as dynamic grid assets that sell energy back to the grid through distributed energy resources, shed and shift load demand through system optimization, and generally support a more reliable grid. All of this can be done by transitioning the market from a focus on individual purchased connected devices to devices supported by more intelligent technologies, starting with analytics solutions. To learn more about the role analytics play in the smart home, see Navigant Research’s report on Smart Home Data Analytics.

 

Mapping Smart City Applications to Smart Street Lighting Platforms

— June 28, 2017

City managers interested in smart street lighting applications today can choose among a multitude of technologies and vendors. Questions such as cost, functionality, useful life, and ability to accommodate other applications over time, however, can make the decision-making process overwhelming.

To provide guidance, Navigant Research performed a heatmap analysis in a study commissioned by smart street lighting vendor Echelon. The heatmap compares the characteristics of various narrowband, mediumband, and broadband network technologies with the performance and cost characteristics required by 10 different smart city applications. Network technology features such as costs, reliability, security, latency, and bandwidth, among others, were evaluated.

Smart City Platforms and Applications: Suitability Heatmap

(Source: Navigant Research)

The analysis indicated that for a balance of cost and functionality, the mediumband options, such as power line carrier (PLC) and radio frequency (RF) mesh technologies, offer several advantages. For basic lighting controls, there are several narrowband connectivity options that will work at a competitive price—but they are limited in terms of capacity for additional applications to be layered on top.

In contrast, broadband options such as point-to-multipoint RF solutions, public 3G or 4G networks, or Wi-Fi may be robust enough to handle even high bandwidth applications like closed circuit TV—but at a higher price. Wi-Fi—public access or private—may also bring higher security concerns to municipalities, as there are publicly available hacking tools for cracking Wi-Fi networks. Also, public access Wi-Fi may see its throughput constrained by citizens streaming video over their phones; this could impair the efficacy of higher speed applications such as smart traffic light controls or gunshot detection.

Advanced Controls Have Advantages

At the most basic level, lighting controls provide elementary features such as remote on-off control, dimming, and scheduling functions. There is also a wide range of advanced functions that can be enabled by intelligent controls, including energy monitoring and billing, performance monitoring, color controls, adaptive lighting, and emergency response.

Beyond the capabilities for advanced lighting controls, street lighting networks also have the potential to support a range of non-lighting applications: environmental/air quality monitoring, traffic monitoring, smart parking, and gunshot detection. An even wider range of applications may benefit from sharing the network infrastructure. These might include traffic light controls, smart waste management, public messaging/ digital signage, or high definition video surveillance.

New applications for smart street lighting platforms are emerging still. New ideas such as controlling sprinkler systems or controlling public restroom locks have been raised—and other new ideas are sure to emerge as connectivity becomes more ubiquitous.

Better Quality of Life

A growing number of cities globally are looking for ways to not only reduce their energy expenses, but also improve the efficiency of city operations and provide a better quality of life to their citizens. As such, the selection of the appropriate smart street lighting platform that meets both long-term goals and near-term constraints should be given careful consideration.

For further detail on smart city applications, street lighting as a platform, and the relevant connectivity platforms discussed herein, see the Smart Street Lighting as a Smart City Platform white paper, available here. Navigant’s Navigating the Energy Transformation white paper, available here, also provides a related discussion of smart city solutions as a platform in the Energy Cloud era.

 

Wärtsilä Acquires Greensmith: Genset Manufacturers Expand Their Role in the Energy Cloud

— May 19, 2017

This week, Wärtsilä announced its acquisition of Greensmith, highlighting a significant trend: generator set (genset) manufacturers are acquiring systems integration and controls capabilities. As this trend continues, the companies are embedding themselves ever deeper into the distributed energy paradigm outlined in Navigant’s Energy Cloud.

Hybrid/Storage Plays

Wärtsilä of Finland is a major global producer of larger reciprocating engines for power generation and marine uses. Yet, genset manufacturers in a variety of segments have been building relationships with storage and controls companies. This strategy can be considered both defensive and offensive in the fast changing genset industry, as explained below. Some specific moves since 2015 are shown in the following figure.

Generator Manufacturers with Publicly Announced Hybrid/Storage Plays

(Sources: Navigant Research, Company Press Releases)

In addition to Cummins, Caterpillar, Wärtsilä, and Doosan, other generator manufacturers, including General Electric (GE) and Aggreko, have announced storage offerings developed either internally or by undisclosed vendors. Most of the above companies also offer solar PV solutions in conjunction with their installations, whether through partners, through distributors, or directly.

There is clear appeal in genset/storage/PV hybrid systems. PV provides clean daytime power at cheapening costs, while gensets provide flexible baseload on demand for nighttime hours and fluctuations in demand. Solar production forecasting, as in the cloud monitoring systems developed by CSIRO, can adjust the operation of gensets to improve integration and save fuel costs (often a significant few percentage points). Storage then provides multiple benefits: in addition to smoothing out PV production, batteries can optimize genset operation, allowing for fuel savings, smoother operation, and sometimes even elimination of redundant gensets.

Defense and Offense

With the latter fact in mind, this acquisition/partnering strategy can be thought of as playing defense—acquiring a backfill revenue source for what may be a declining need for number of systems on any given project. Consider the example presented by Wärtsilä here. Of the six gensets in the “spinning reserve by engine vs storage comparison,” two have become redundant with the addition of battery storage, since the storage provides the spinning reserve formerly afforded by the gensets. If vendors see lower genset sales in cases like these, they may jump at the chance to backfill with sales of controls, storage, or PV.

Apart from its defensive aspects, this strategy also has significant offensive upside. As power production becomes ever more decentralized, genset manufacturers with solid distributed energy resources (DER) strategies will be well positioned to capture market share. There exist major opportunities in microgrids and virtual power plants—indeed, all across the Energy Cloud. As the core technology providers of thousands of legacy microgrids, genset vendors are both driven and well suited to serve a major role in the future of electricity.

 

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