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Energy in Transition


Distributed energy resources: Tying all of the pieces together

This author no longer works for DNV GL.

Distributed energy resources have re-entered utility board room conversations once again. This discussion initially happened around 1998–2000, when new technologies, such as microturbines and next generation fuel cells, were entering the market. A combination of unfulfilled price and performance promises from the technologies, combined with surging prices of natural gas, eventually made the discussions moot.

Today, the emergence of shale gas has lowered gas prices to levels last seen since, well 1998–2000, and advanced distributed technologies are again entering into utility board room discussions. This time, things are a little different. Prices for technologies such as solar have fallen to levels that incentivize more than just early adapters to deploy the technology, fuel cell technologies have advanced, and new entrants, such as advanced storage technologies are becoming available. What this means for utilities is that this time, the probability of actual deployment of the technologies is much greater, and utilities will have to accommodate increasing amounts of distributed energy resources being deployed on their systems. However, this doesn’t have to result in a negative impact for utilities.

I believe there is a difference this time around…The technologies do not have to be viewed as the pure threat they once were, but instead as assets that can be deployed and utilized on the grid. What has changed this? Smart grid concepts, communications, and controls are now being incorporated into just about all future planning.

Though there is a great deal of promise in utilizing these devices to support improved reliability, deferral, and resiliency, there is still a great deal of work that needs to be done.  The systems don’t have to be thought of as just stand-alone, one-off projects—but rather can be integrated pieces to a larger whole. Even dividing the control between end users and utilities can be part of this future. Though the concept is bold, is not an easy task.  Controls, communications, and even regulatory policies will need to be adjusted in order to allow all of the distributed energy resources to be utilized to their full potential.  Our team has a series of initiatives and tools that will help our clients navigate, capture, and leverage these opportunities.

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