DERMS at DistribuTECH: Getting down to the nitty-gritty of managing more DERs on the grid | SEPA Skip to content

DERMS at DistribuTECH: Getting down to the nitty-gritty of managing more DERs on the grid

If there is one thing Sharon Allan is good at, it is getting energy industry executives and technology leaders into rooms to talk with each other about the highly technical standards needed to move the U.S. clean energy transition forward in ways that benefit all stakeholders.

Case in point, Allan, Chief Innovation Officer for the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA), recently packed a room at DistribuTECH in San Antonio, with about 200 industry experts all focused on developing standards for distributed energy resource management  systems, (DERMS). Managing distributed energy resources (DERs) — such as solar, storage, electric vehicles and smart thermostats — was a central theme at the conference, underlining the growing need for collaboration between utilities and technology developers on standards.

“As we begin to change our grid and have much more distributed energy connected on the system, it changes the way we operate and it changes the demands on the system, and it changes, really, the design points,” Allan said, speaking at the conference. “Our overarching goal is to ensure broad industry input and provide clarity on the issues involved going forward.”

In November, SEPA released a draft of potential DERMS requirements, a 44-page document breaking down the technical specifications for different components and functions of these management systems, piece by piece and line by line. Produced by Allan and a small working group of utilities, the draft served as a catalyst for the robust cross-industry conversation on standards that started in San Antonio and will continue over the next few months.

SEPA plans to hold to a second input session at its Utility Conference, April 23-25 in Rancho Mirage, California. A final version of the standards is slated for release at SEPA’s Grid Evolution Summit, July 9-12, in Washington, D.C.

Why are standards so important? The integration of DERs on the grid affects all aspects of the energy system. Increasingly, energy is being produced by consumers or third-parties, and that changes the equipment on distribution systems and the data that equipment may provide. While only a few states have very high levels of DERs on the grid and a pressing need for standards — in particular, California and Hawaii — most industry players understand the imperative to develop standards now, before they are faced with similar challenges.

For example, according to Vibhu Kaushik, Director of Grid Modernization at Southern California Edison (SCE), the utility is now receiving 5,000 applications per month for residential rooftop solar. SCE expects that one out of five, or one million, of its customers will have solar or solar and storage over the next few years. A 25-fold increase in electric vehicle adoption is also anticipated, Kaushik said.

The management systems in existence now were not designed for this level of complexity, or they may be proprietary and not easy to update as technology and utilities’ requirements evolve.

Nailing down the definitions

The session at DistribuTECH was a first opportunity for Allan and the working group to get more detailed feedback and input from technology developers and other stakeholders. But what occurred was more of a discovery process, taking vague, academic, discussion topics, and creating reference requirements and a lexicon that will enable utilities to develop policies, and vendors to develop products to certain specifications.  The closer these issues are scrutinized and the more the requirements are implemented, the more precision will be needed.

Writing on the walls: The feedback process at the DERMS session at DistribuTECH. (Photo by Sharon Allan)

First and foremost, the industry has yet to agree on the meaning of certain words. For example, DERMS is often used interchangeably with two other terms — DRMS, distributed resource management system,  and ADMS, advanced distribution management system. It is exactly this type of confusion that the DERMS Requirements document is looking to settle. Some of the most intense conversations during the DistribuTECH session occurred in smaller stakeholder groups trying to nail down more precise definitions for these and other terms.

Beyond standards, the DERMs Requirements document will also serve as a de facto driver toward the development of new and innovative products. For example, one point of agreement at the meeting was the need for a new data collection and management platform that is designed for a distributed grid with two-way power flows, and is capable of communicating and collecting data behind the customer’s meter.

Present day supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, built for centralized generation, are not designed to work with distributed technologies located behind the meter. If utilities are going to manage and optimize the operation of DERs to benefit both customers and the grid, they need new forms of data and control.

The DERMS Requirements draft is not meant to define, but rather to list out what kinds of data are necessary, to provide a foundation for tech developers working on these new platforms. By establishing such new data requirements, vendors and consultants can begin designing solutions for an industry-wide market.

Another takeaway from the session is that we have to build out industry use cases — that is, profiles of the kind of functions that are needed — and develop appropriate requirements. As the grid gets “smarter,” the data it is producing is less centralized and can live, real time, on the actual distributed technology equipment. Such distributed intelligence is vital to managing a far more complicated grid. Again, new requirements and best practices are needed for this paradigm-shift.

Microgrids are a good example of the challenges emerging from this level of standards development. Depending on the technologies used, a microgrid can provide local grid balancing and support services, whether it is connected to the grid, or it is disconnected — “islanded” — during an outage or extreme weather event. It may even be able to decide if and when to connect to or disconnect from the grid — and the rest of the system, and the utilities operating it, have to adapt accordingly.

“As we work to finalize these requirements, we also recognize that implementing standards — and ensuring they keep up with technology — is an ongoing enterprise,” Allan said. “We are committed to facilitating these important conversations in our industry to accelerate the transformation required to accommodate DERs, hasten their deployment and foster innovation.”

The DERMS Requirements draft document is available for download at SEPA encourages input and comments from utilities, technology developers and other industry stakeholders.