Unified cloud-based tech will become key to distributed energy resource integration

As we head into a brand-new year, with January practically behind us, we look to what lies ahead in the coming months, perhaps even some in a full-fledged panic, as 2020 climate and energy targets draw closer and closer.

2019 will be a crucial year to take stock of what has been achieved, but more importantly, address what has not been accomplished toward cutting greenhouse gas emissions, decreasing the use of fossil-fueled power, increasing the uptake of renewable power sources and improving energy efficiency.

Much has been written about the trends, technologies and policies along with other variables that will shape and influence the energy sector this year, with considerable emphasis being placed on blockchain technology, Internet of Things (IoT), electric mobility, energy storage and how to manage potential security risks as infrastructure becomes increasingly digitised.

One common prediction across the many reports to emerge, is the continued growth in renewable energy adoption, predominantly solar and onshore wind, facilitated by supporting policies, declining renewable energy costs across the technology spectrum, expanding investment interest in the sector, advances in battery storage and so on.

Portugal Powered Their Entire Country Running On Renewable Energy Alone. In 2016, Portugal powered their entire nation for 4 consecutive days through a combination of wind, solar and hydro-generated electricity. This 107-hour run marked a milestone in Portugal’s clean energy run to meet the EU’s renewable targets for 2020.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the average cost of power generation from all commercially available renewable energy technologies will be competitive with fossil fuels by the year 2020.

average fossil fuel generation costSource: International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)

Renewable energy costs will continue to decline

The cost of solar has plummeted in the last 10 years, with the decline expected to continue. Solar PV module costs have fallen by more than 80% since 2009, states IRENA.

Levelised-cost-of-electricity-projects-and-global-weighted-average-for-CSP-solar-PV-onshore-and-offshore-wind-2010-2022Source: International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)

Furthermore, according to its 2018 PV Status Report, the EU’s Joint Research Centre states that solar power attracted the largest share of new investments in renewable energies for the 8th year in a row.

Fueled by the Internet of Things, the marginal cost to produce and transport renewable energy is heading towards zero. In the future, individuals, communities and businesses will produce electricity locally and will be able to publish their production data online. A plethora of electric cooperatives will be producing and selling electricity as a whole. It is reasonable to believe that energy companies should have to sell less electricity and instead manage energy flows and harness data from local producers and consumers. This energy transformation brings an unprecedented set of challenges for all the major stakeholders including utilities, distribution system operators (DSOs) and transmission system operators (TSOs).

Blowing away the competition. Coca-Cola and Burlington Northern Santa Fe may be two of Warren Buffett's most well-known investments, but the Oracle of Omaha also represents one of renewable energy's greatest advocates. MidAmerican Energy Company, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, has the long-term goal of providing 100% renewable energy to its customers. Illustrating its prominence in the renewable energy sector, MidAmerican claims on its website that "no other U.S. rate-regulated utility owns more wind-powered generation capacity." And the energy company shows no signs of slowing down its commitment: MidAmerican is currently constructing the 2,000 megawatt Wind XI project, which is expected to be completed in late 2019.

Increasing pressure on T&D system operators to effectively manage distributed energy resources (DERs)

A growing concern for DSOs is the rapid increase of non-synchronous generators such as wind and solar that produce a variable amount of electricity depending on the weather. This unpredictability is more difficult to bring onto the grid. The paradigm shift from a traditional power system (i.e. a small number of large generators feeding into the transmission network and then connected to consumers through the distribution system) to a distributed network of small renewable energy sources (RESs) is well documented. The much larger number of renewable energy sources which often feed energy at the distribution level enables the two-way flow of energy. This, together with demand-response, storage and consumption peaks, greatly increases the congestion of distribution networks.

Need for a unified cloud-based platform to visualise and manage DERs online

The solution lies in a solid IT infrastructure which integrates all data from renewable energy source inverters and provides a unified cloud platform that will greatly simplify the management of the smart grid. Although there are several services in the market that focus on acquiring energy consumption data from utility meters, smart meters and IoT devices, today, the primary need is the integrated collection of local energy data from distributed energy producers such as solar panels, local wind generators and local energy storage.

Megabucks: the renewable energy industry is growing fast. By 2019, the global market is expected to to be worth $777.6 bn!

Having an integrated online application program interface (API) that allows DSOs and third-party developers to easily access real-time distributed renewable energy source data (DERs) will create a wide spectrum of applications to optimise:

  • Flexibility from the supply side
  • Flexibility from the demand side
  • Adoption of large-scale energy storage
  • Network interconnection and distribution
  • The design of short-term electricity markets
  • Coordination between management of networks and flexible RES

A key element to the success of such a platform is the ability to integrate data streams from a variety of renewable energy sources, files and repositories ensuring that all the data collected at the site level is seamlessly available through industry-standard communication interfaces. A review on the market has shown that the major solar inverter providers have private cloud databases hence opening possibilities for getting renewable data automatically from the manufacturers of the different brands.

Through such a platform, DSOs will have the ability to:

  • Mitigate the need for flexibility by reducing the production data from the day-ahead and intra-day market, e.g. to 5 min instead of 1 hour1
  • Better guarantee the security of supply
  • Improve the use of large shares of renewables to avoid unnecessary investments and solving congestion by querying energy sources in real time by geographic area
  • Increase the size of the balancing control areas. Having a larger area over which the energy is traded mitigates the need for greater resource flexibility based on the fact that weather patterns are decorrelated over large distances, rendering a less volatile renewable energy sources production profile when aggregated over a large geographic area.2
  • Define the conditions of a well-functioning electricity market which creates a business case for stakeholders

Beyond DSOs, a unified platform will transform the global market of renewable energy source analytics enabling an abundance of third-party cloud applications and services including but not limited to mobile-phone applications, demand-response applications, better management of renewable sources as well as local and distributed trading of renewable energy towards a totally new level of efficiency and productivity for businesses and households.

New kid on the block...chain. Blockchain technology may have its roots in the financial sector, but numerous other industries -- including renewable energy -- are finding uses for the decentralized platform technology. Privately held Conjule, for example, uses a blockchain platform to enable the peer-to-peer trading of excess energy generated by homeowners' solar panels. On a larger scale, utilities are also finding uses for blockchain-based solutions from energy trading to EV charging. Navigant Research estimates that total utility spending on various blockchain-based platforms is expected to reach $3.7 billion by 2026.

References:

R.R Verzijlbergh, L.J. De Vries, G.P.J. Dijkema, P.M.Herder: Institutional challenges caused by the integration of renewable energy sources in the European electricity sector. Url: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1364032116307651#!