Behind-the-meter is key challenge for DER power grids

Behind-the-meter is key challenge for DER power grids

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By Nick Flaherty

A study commissioned by Siemens has shown that the surge in distributed energy resources (DER) is a key challenge for power operators.

Limited visibility and understanding of DER behaviour creates operational challenges and impacts grid performance and while distributed energy resource management systems (DERMS) exist, the adoption is slow.

The report shows the extent to which utilities are challenged by behind the meter distributed energy resources and the benefits that increased DER visibility could enable. Key findings include the importance of investing in technologies to boost visibility behind the meter, as well as prioritizing DER management programmes and communication systems for a more reliable and stable grid.

This is vital for autonomous grids with local processing where there are three key findings.

Investing in the technologies that boost visibility behind the meter is necessary for utilities to successfully navigate the energy transition and future-proof the grid, while prioritizing strategies like demand-side and DER management programs for increased flexibility behind the meter. Finally, utilities need to strengthen customer trust to boost participation in management programmes.

 “The complexities associated with behind the meter DERs are a significant challenge to electricity distribution utilities in North America. Technology can help by providing actionable insights into the opportunities and challenges of these resources to improve grid resilience. The software and digitalization tools we implement today, will not only increase capacity, but aid in reliability – laying the foundation for an autonomous and advanced clean grid of the future,” said Marcus McCarthy, SVP of Siemens Grid Software, US and Mexico.

The report highlights the steady transformation of passive energy consumers into producers, consequently altering the energy market. This transition is an opportunity to tap into alternative sources of power and increase the resilience of the grid to meet sustainability goals.

However, according to the study, behind the meter visibility is a challenge in designing cost-effective programs and monitoring. At least half of utilities surveyed have experienced an increase in the adoption of solar panels (64%) and electric vehicles (50%) over the past three years. Batteries are expected to gain popularity with over half (59%) of respondents expecting increased penetration in the next three years.

Operational challenges caused by behind the meter DERs are known but difficult to address due to lack of visibility.

Findings from the survey highlight that there is a lack of clarity in understanding DER’s location, size, and activity. 70% of respondents said they rely on interconnection requests and/or integrations with platforms like distributed energy resource management systems (DERMS) to gather information about the location of behind the meter DERs.

Utilities say they only have visibility into, on average, 36% of DERS on the grid through platforms like DERMS. As a result, the report indicates that behind the meter DERs create an operational issue for utilities. Nearly three quarters of utilities said that customer adoption creates challenges, including voltage visibility and control issues, back-feeding, protection and control coordination issues, distribution transformer and conductor overloads, masked or hidden loads. 

Only 37% have currently implemented DER management programmes that have communication and management by grid operators of DERs to deliver grid services and balance demand with supply. This means only 35% of customers participate in DER management programs versus 54% for incentive-based demand-side programs.

More than half of respondents expect visibility into the behaviour and location of all behind the meter DERs to benefit their operations department by reducing their SAIDI (System Average Interruption Duration Index) and SAIFI (System Average Interruption Frequency Index) and increasing productivity.

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