Renewable Energy Resilience

Nanogrids, Microgrids and Virtual Power Plants

Expert on new energy business models such as nanogrids, microgrids and virtual power plants, covering cutting edge energy and environmental issues for over 25 years.

Public Utilities + Solar PV + Energy Storage = Win-Win

The stars appear to have aligned for distributed energy resources (DER) to play an increasingly important role in providing energy services to consumers. Some see this growth in capacity from devices such as solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, fuel cells, advanced batteries, and other forms of DER as the supreme threat to incumbent distribution utilities, echoing the much-ballyhooed “utility death spiral” story line. Others see this evolution as an opportunity for utilities to reinvent themselves, aligning their business strategy and business models with the emerging digital economy.

Either way, it is going to be a bumpy ride into the future. Yet there are signs that it is possible to create win-win scenarios by leveraging the diverse services that energy storage can provide. Advances in software that can optimize DER to provide bidirectional value along with the bridging capabilities that energy storage brings to the market can create order out of what would otherwise be chaos.

Is there a way for everyone to come out as winners? The key is intelligent distribution networks, an ecosystem of solutions that spans concepts such as nanogrids, microgrids, and virtual power plants (VPPs.) These three platforms were described in a previous blog.

Two companies are proving that the boundaries between these three unique market applications are blurring, thanks to innovative utility business models and the creative aggregation and optimization possibilities attached to energy storage. 

 PowerStream, the second largest municipally owned utility in Ontario, Canada, is developing an innovative pilot project that involves 20 residential units, each to be equipped with a 5 kW solar PV array and a 6.8 kW/12 kWh lithium ion battery. The project is designed to enroll homes on select feeders (which may not be adjacent to each other) in order to provide system benefits.

Perhaps the most innovative aspect of the project is the business model dubbed DBOOME (Design, Build, Own, Operate, Maintain, and Energize). Customers have an opportunity to participate in a hassle-free, zero-maintenance solar storage program with an upfront cost to partially cover installation, followed by a nominal monthly service fee for a 5-year program. (This DMOOME approach is also the model PowerStream plans to deploy for its microgrid program.) In exchange for the customer’s upfront payment and ongoing service fee, PowerStream offers customers significantly reduced electricity bills and resilience.

The key vendor partnering with PowerStream is Sunverge, which provides residential and commercial building-sited energy storage solutions that integrate renewables such as solar PV. Sunverge offers a combination of onsite hardware and cloud-based services that enable remote monitoring and control of nanogrids, aggregating them up into VPPs. Sunverge has also partnered withSacramento Municipal Utility District, a municipal utility that is using the company’s systems in 34 homes as part of its net zero energy demonstration project. A net zero energy home is one in which a home’s total energy used on an annual basis is approximately equal to the amount of renewable energy generated onsite. Each home is a nanogrid located on a single city block that can also island as a microgrid. Sunverge’s business model also essentially links the concept of nanogrids to a VPP; all of its systems can be controlled remotely from a central control room, and its capacity can be offered up to distribution grid system operators.

To learn more about how public power utilities and energy storage innovators are forging win-win DER solutions, listen to the Navigant Research webinar on Tuesday, March 15 at 2:00 p.m. EDT. 

©2016 Peter Asmus. Photo credit: David Clites. Website by: IMManagers.com