Smart Energy Solutions: Modernizing The Grid

February 19, 2018

Getting smart about energy is, seemingly, one of the more straightforward projects a jurisdiction can undertake. Smart metering, for instance, has been adopted by major cities around the U.S. and can quickly deliver a tangible ROI. Now, as this smart grid technology gains traction around the world, governments and utilities must reckon with new energy models in order to reap the most savings.

Distributed energy resources (DER) are just one disruptive element in the smart grid space. DERs refer to on-site assets deployed across the grid that can be aggregated to provide power to both users and utilities. Renewables, solar and storage all fit the DER definition. Where the legacy model for energy distribution sees power flow downstream from a central source, DERs offer an alternative by creating a resilient, multi-directional energy flow.

With this network, however, comes a need to manage it. Utilities that embrace the DER model to augment their distribution model often need to court outside help to monitor the millions of devices spread out across the grid and leverage these resources for grid optimization. According to mPrest Chief Commercial Officer Ron Halpern, there are two types of vendors who typically arise to meet a utility’s needs: DER Management System (DERMS)-only and end-to-end.

Working with both of these kinds of vendors bring their own challenges, however. DERMS-only vendors are often more agile when it comes to doing business, but their management systems run the risk of being limited in scope. For utilities to make good use of DERs, they must be integrated into the grid ecosystem, and many of the solutions on the market don’t meet that need.

“Many of these vendors started out where the market used to be: microgrids or virtual power plants,” Halpern said. “As a result, their DERMS solutions are very VPP or microgrid-oriented and less utility-oriented.”

End-to-end vendors, meanwhile, aren’t always the right fit, either. These companies are typically original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that are used to dealing with legacy utility models. As such, their advanced distribution management systems (ADMS) are often a comprehensive package. So, while DERMS is still included, going with an end-to-end vendor means adopting a whole new ADMS, which means a costly systems overhaul that could take anywhere from three to five years. If the end goal is full grid modernization at a reasonable cost and timeframe, neither solution is fully satisfying.

To bridge the gap between these two approaches, mPrest is letting utilities have their cake and eat it, too. With a solution that reduces cost, time and risk, mPrest offers DERMS to utilities along with the asset management capabilities and systems approach that are often the purview of end-to-end vendors. Tantalizingly, mPrest’s offerings are also interoperable, meaning that choosing them as a partner won’t preclude a party from deploying third-party pilots or devices. With mPrest’s “System of Systems” architecture, all facets of energy can be swiftly and seamlessly integrated and managed centrally, even as the smart grid becomes more and more decentralized.

The New York Power Authority (NYPA) is just one use case that affirms mPrest’s solution’s capabilities. In March 2017, the NYPA partnered with the Israel-based provider to develop an asset management tool for the state’s power systems. The finished product, called the mPrest-NYPA Predictive Maintenance System, has since been deployed in the Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant, the Blenheim-Gilboa Pumped-Storage Power Plant and at the 500 MW plant in Queens. The results have been swift, as the NYPA was honored in September 2017 with a Best of New York award for Best Data Analytics/Business Intelligence Project for 2017.

“The New York Power Authority is on its way to becoming the nation’s first completely digital utility and this is yet another example of how we are effectively incorporating new technologies into our operations,” NYPA president and CEO Gil Quiniones said in a press release. “The monitoring and control system allows us to determine the health of our assets and improve the efficiency, reliability and cost-effectiveness of our facilities. Digitization is set to become a game-changer for the power sector and we at NYPA are leading that change.”

Despite successful rollouts, significant challenges remain for grid modernization efforts in the U.S.  For one, there are very few large-scale deployments of DERs in the country, thus obviating the immediate need for robust asset management systems. Even where there are buildouts, the expansive nature of U.S. geography means that certain regions utilize different forms of DERs; sunnier areas may adopt PEVs while windier corridors will utilize mills, for example. Conflict and competition between jurisdictions can also complicate matters when partnerships are involved, as well.

Ultimately, though, the benefits of a modernized grid are too great to ignore. As adoption of DERs and flexible management systems become more widespread, legacy generation systems won’t need to generate as much energy. This, in turn, results in cost savings across the board. Staying the present course of strengthening legacy systems, on the other hand, is too costly an option to utilize as energy needs rise.

“There’s a need to invest in DERs and management rather than in legacy assets that will become stranded,” Halpern said.

By utilizing systems like mPrest’s, where DERMS, end-to-end and asset management needs are fulfilled in tandem, cities can avoid the fate that Halpern described. While challenges like stakeholder buy-in and policy entanglements remain, successful use-cases like NYPA’s show that when states and localities are ready to modernize, smart grid solutions are ready to go.

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