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Conduit ED DR/DER Week 1: Getting Started with Demand Response and Distributed Energy Resources

Created 7/26/2018 by Conduit ED
Updated 8/2/2018 by Stephanie Lane
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PUC. DSM. SEER. Acronyms dominate the energy industry, ranging from the straightforward to the highly technical. Two acronyms have frequently popped up in recent industry conversations: DR and DER. Over the next few weeks, this series will highlight these two aggregated physical and virtual assets and take a deeper dive into some of the technologies being used by utilities in the Pacific Northwest.

What It Is

Demand response (DR) refers to the tools and strategies used by utilities to balance out peaks and valleys in energy consumption. Because many consumers follow similar patterns—for example, waking up, turning on lights, and making coffee before work—the electrical grid can be strained during high-use periods, which are referred to as “peak demand” or “peak load.” An over-strained electrical grid can result in potential power outages or require utilities to make market purchases for energy to meet their needs.

Distributed energy resources (DERs) are small, modular, energy-generation and storage technologies that provide electric capacity—or energy—where you need it. DER technologies include wind turbines, photovoltaics (PV), fuel cells, micro turbines, reciprocating engines, combustion turbines, cogeneration, and energy-storage systems. Initially known as localized generating assets, current technologies that reduce or fully offset consumer electricity demand such as battery storage and fuel cells are also considered to be DERs. While solar and wind power are now widely known concepts, DERs can encompass a wide range of tactics including, but not limited to, small generators, battery storage, electric cars and Internet-connected “smart” home systems. DERs are aggregated assets that can be triggered, controlled, or scheduled to alter consumption patterns when energy consumers are participating in energy-efficiency or demand-response programs.

Energy generated by DERs can be leveraged during peak demand times or absorbed when there is a surplus of renewable generation, offsetting the strain on the grid. Because new DERs are still emerging and current technology is maturing, utilities continue to explore ways to leverage both DERs and DR for consistent generation, flexibility, and impact on the grid system.

How It Works  

DR and DERs can contribute to utility-load management. DR programs can encourage behavioral, process, and equipment changes to help manage when and how electricity is consumed, leveling use during times of peak demand, while some DERs can also be used to supplement grid capacity and meet demand.

Who’s Using It

DR program adoption and DER integration are growing rapidly in the utility industry. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE)’s analysis revealed that 28 utilities across the United States reported potential annual DR savings of 200 MW or more. A recent Navigant utility survey found that utilities were able to reach 78 percent of their enrolled capacity through DR programs in 2016.

In the Pacific Northwest, utility adoption of DR and DERs are slightly slower than the national trend due to the cost-effective flexibility provided by our hydro resources. Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) and Portland General Electric, two regional leaders in this work, participated in the Battelle Memorial Institute Pacific Northwest Division Smart Grid Demonstration Project, which also engaged the following regional utilities:

Many BPA pilots and demonstrations focus on the research and development of demand response strategies, as well as better understanding the impacts of distributed energy resources in their balancing authority. Other notable DR and DER strategies implemented regionally include Idaho Power’s demand response-enabled agricultural irrigation and Snohomish PUD’s cutting-edge battery-storage systems.

What to Consider

While demand response has existed for decades, industry leaders are still pioneering innovative strategies and exploring opportunities to optimize its impact in the utility space. As the energy industry evolves, understanding how these technologies impact the northwest grid—and where they can boost energy-efficiency efforts—will be a crucial piece of the regional conversation around meeting energy demand. Upcoming installments of this series will explore several DR and DER technologies at work in the northwest, including residential smart thermostats and gas water heaters, agricultural irrigation, battery storage, and solar photovoltaic systems.

Are you a DR/DER newbie? Or a seasoned veteran on the subject? Take this poll and let us know! 

Make sure to stay tuned for next week's article all about Demand Response and Residential Products. Curious about what's in store for the series? Check out the syllabus here

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