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Prioritizing Residential Grid Flexibility

In order to attain 100% renewable energy, we need to fundamentally change the way our utility grid operates. We built our transmission and generation systems around the presumption that energy would be consistent and stable, and that demand is similarly controllable, without too much variance. Renewable energy has been adverse to this notion of grid stability. Renewable Distributed Energy Resources, such as Solar and Wind, are variable. As such, it becomes exceedingly hard to guarantee power to neighborhoods as the mix of renewable energy sources go up, while traditional power plants phase out. 

As a result, throughout the country, subject matter experts and industry leaders are finding that grid flexibility is one of the number one priorities. “Flexibility is the future because it is arguably the single most important element of a decarbonized smart electricity network. It gives us the flexibility we need to enable more renewable energy and forms a crucial element of the journey towards net zero,” said Sotiris Georgiopoulos, UKPN’s head of smart grid development, as stated in a Microgrid Knowledge article. 

When considering resiliency and the need for power during outages, flexibility is also key. Customers have been finding solar alone to be insufficient in ensuring stable demand, leading to the development of hybrid systems. As noted by Erik Svenholm, vice president of non-wires alternatives at S&C Electric, during Microgrid Knowledge's Virtual Conference, “For energy resiliency a backup generator solves a single issue a single way, has its own supply chain and inserts a new point of failure,” he said. “The best bet is to have flexible systems with multiple operational modes and pathways that have a better chance of exhibiting a useful operating mode regardless of what actually happens out there. For microgrids, to me, this points toward advanced systems with multiple energy sources and use cases.” 

In these cases, where resiliency and redundancy is needed, deployment of fuel cells over traditional energy sources or diesel generators, is a great example of how flexibility can be key. As stated in an excellent article by Greentech Media, " 

Earlier this year, utility Pacific Gas & Electric faced pushback from environmental and solar and energy storage industry groups to a plan to deploy natural-gas generators to back up communities facing multiday fire-prevention blackouts. The groups argued that California utilities shouldn’t be adding new carbon- and pollution-emitting resources when the state is trying to meet ambitious zero-carbon goals. 

Now PG&E is planning to rely on mobile diesel generators instead, at least for this year. But as California regulators grapple with the best way to provide multiday power backup for wildfire and blackout-prone communities, a new report says that solar and batteries can’t do the job alone.

The report is from consultancy The Brattle Group and sponsored by Enchanted Rock, a Texas-based developer of microgrids based on natural-gas generators. It indicates that providing two to four days of backup power for a 10-megawatt community microgrid from solar and batteries alone would require far too much redundant battery capacity — up to 350 megawatt-hours of batteries for 10 megawatts of load — and require up to 90 acres of solar PV to reliably charge them over that time.  

Natural gas generators, on the other hand, can provide steady power for emergency needs and bid into state resource adequacy and energy markets to cover their costs, the report says. Combining them with solar and batteries, or offsetting their emissions by capturing renewable natural gas (RNG), or methane from dairy farms, landfills and wastewater treatment plans, could further reduce their greenhouse gas impacts." 

When the demand for renewables increases, so does the need for grid flexibility. The responsibility and burden will likely fall on the residential developers, as large scale projects in major utilities get postponed. Through aggregating all points of consumption and production in one's smart home, utilizing smart panel technology, the overall macro level demand curve can be controlled. Previously, power flowed from the power plant to the home, and there was no coordination. Now, the home can selectively turn on and off equipment as to help the overall grid, while also providing some excess energy as well. 

Cloud Based Distributed Energy Resource Management Systems, such as seen in Tuscon Arizona's Utility "Project Rain" pilot, as provided by Smarter Grid Solutions, is the future. Through this type of technology, utility operators can schedule and coordinate commands for various combinations of Distributed Energy Resources, from electric water heaters being turned on to energy storage systems discharging, at times beneficial to the grid. These types of systems decrease the "duck curve," which allows greater grid stability, enables "energy as a service" to be possible, and ultimately leads to lower utility costs for all. 

As said in an excellent article by Microgrid Knowledge, "Call them nanogrids, smart homes, or something else, households are increasingly shaping up as a means to leverage grid flexibility, and energy companies are stepping forward with a range of products to advance the market. 

Circuit breakers, energy control platforms, batteries, aggregations, virtual power plants, non-wires alternatives and building electrification are being configured to make homes into grid assets.  

Aggregated together, households are seen as a significant way to manage ever-shifting grid supply and demand, particularly as consumers begin to charge electric vehicles at home."


Published by David Perzynski, 6/22/2020

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