Charting the Course in DER Management: Itron’s Solutions for Tomorrow’s Energy Challenges

 

With DER management at the helm of steering the energy sector through its significant transformation, the industry stands at the confluence of decarbonization and technological advancement. This pivotal shift emphasizes the critical need to adeptly navigate the increased load demands from electric vehicles (EVs) and the seamless integration of Distributed Energy Resources (DERs).

Insights from reports by the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the International Energy Agency highlight that the pathway through this transition is anchored in advanced energy forecasting, strategic demand response mechanisms, and robust DER management.

These strategies not only promise to enhance grid reliability but also to empower consumers, turning them into ‘prosumers’ who actively participate in the energy market. Amidst this backdrop, the innovative approaches being adopted for distribution-level forecasting and DER management are crucial for addressing the challenges posed by the increasing electrification of homes and the widespread adoption of EVs.

Nick Tumilowicz, the Director of Products for Distributed Energy Management at Itron shared insightful perspectives at Distributech 2024. MarketScale was on the show floor where Nick discussed the pioneering solutions being implemented to harness distributed intelligence for a resilient and sustainable energy future.

Nick’s Thoughts

“We focus on energy forecasting, which we’ve been doing for 30 years. We really focus these days on distribution level forecasting to look at EV fleet impacts. We’re also looking at demand response, which we’ve been doing for 15 years. So that’s everything for managing load control switches for HVAC and thermostats and pool pumps and things of that nature.”

Introducing DER Management as a Game Changer at Distributech

“And then most importantly and very exciting, the kind of general theme that we have at Distributech this year is DER management. So one of the things that really differentiates ITRON from a DERMS provider perspective is that we build products and services for the edge DERMS, which means we have an aggregator DERMS that’s cloud-based analytics that communicates down to the edge of the grid.” 

Harnessing Distributed Intelligence for Grid Efficiency

“And the edge of the grid, we have hundreds of thousands of DI devices, distributed intelligence meters, that have an embedded DER gateway within it. So that way they can communicate to energy resources like EVs, or EV chargers, thermostats, and solar and batteries. It was a very engaging, actually a bit of a guinea pig this year at Distributech, where we had peer-to-peer discussions. And most of the room was filled with the audience of utilities, mostly within North America.”

Encouraging Proactive Planning with DERs

“They have discussions around how we can provide planning with forecasting, DER management and control. So that’s the visibility to see the wave of DERs coming online. So that way we can be more proactive rather than reactive when we’re needing to support customer choice, like the adoption of an EV. 

So a lot of the discussions were around how we solved for these problems in the days of your 1950s. We had this similar problem called the air conditioner, and the air conditioners were solved. They just came up in droves, there was no interconnection required whatsoever, and we had to build out that grid infrastructure. We had to beef up the distribution grid. 

We can continue to do that this next go-round for the new load called electric vehicles, or the homes that are now electrifying and diversifying maybe away from natural gas, what have you. So the load that the U.S. grid, the global grids, are going to have to support is significant.”

Leveraging Existing Infrastructure for Future Energy Demands

“And the way that we can do that at ITRON and across the industry with our utilities is by using distributed intelligence to use what’s already there. Like, we already have all these meters deployed, all of this telemetry with the networks deployed. Use that investment, leverage that embedded DER gateway, and start managing those devices at the edge, keeping in mind customer comfort, customer choice, and making a connection back to the grid operators and the grid planners so we can most cost-effectively build out in the future. There’s a variety of ways.”

Fostering Collaboration Across Utility Departments

“One thing to note first is that you have utilities, and there’s like many, many departments and factions and schools of thought within. So being able to work in concert with not just the grid planning department, but the grid operators themselves, but also it’s the program administrators being able to have companies like ITRON design, build, and then incentivize and motivate the end customers through programs.”

Innovating Customer Engagement through Incentive Programs

“And we’ll talk about a $20 bill on bill credit that you automatically get if your meters verify that you charged your EV off-peak. So these are really, really basic ways to do behavior programs, passive programs, and now they’re transitioning and moving towards more active management. 

And so one thing that ITRON is really innovating on is being able to provide passive, active today to manage all these new loaves in the context of working with the grid and all those different departments, but also providing this local, real-time autonomous solution that really protects customers’ load, like their 100-amp main distribution panel if they have one. That’s really hard to accommodate in a heat pump air conditioner, an induction stove, a 240-volt washer and dryer, in addition to the 60-amp circuit that you just bought because you got an EV, if not two. So this is one thing that we’re doing to help protect the customer home panel, the feeder that supports that, and then the transformer that is supporting that. “

Providing Comprehensive Solutions for Grid and Consumer Protection

“So in short, what we’re providing here at ITRON is this comprehensive turnkey solution to shine a light on the darkness of the edge of the grid, which is defined as everything from the substation down to the thermostat in your living room.”

Empowering Consumers in the Energy Transition

“All this data is so important, and making this data accessible and being able to also access, connect, and control customer resources is that we now empower the customer or the prosumer, as you said, to really participate and play in the energy transition.

 So we are on a light-speed path towards decarbonization. Some of our utilities need in the next six years to be not net zero, they need to be 100% renewable, and in order to get them there faster, we’ve got to provide that autonomous control.”

Addressing the Root of the Problem: Local Load and Generation

“Most important thing is we’re solving for the problem at its root, and the problem is local load and local generation. Just think of a solar system that’s on top of your house, you have eight kilowatts of glass on your roof, it’s exporting power to the grid in the middle of the day. Between 10 and 2, how do you manage for that? 

In aggregate, that causes problems on the grid, just like we see in Australia today, like upwards of 60% PV penetration. So if you’re sitting at home between 10 and 2 every day, you see frequency and you see fluctuations and flicker, and it’s palpable, it’s visible. The disturbance on the grid. 

So being able to have high-fidelity data to enable that control is extremely important, and it’s also extremely important to bring it back, maybe in a less real-time way, so that way the grid planners and the grid operators can actually see what the problem was yesterday or last year at this time. And that helps build a better grid when you need to take things to the regulators. The higher fidelity data, the better to plan appropriately.”

Article written by Sonia Gossai

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