Distributed Control: Building the Bridge for Today’s Energy Transformation

January 31, 2020 0 Comments
Distributed Control: Building the Bridge for Today’s Energy Transformation

By Matt Knott, JD Energy division of JD Technologies, LLC

The energy industry today faces a critical crossroads within an evolving distribution landscape. Driven by the convergence of increasing Distributed Energy Resource (DER) deployments and customer/regulatory expectations of safe, reliable and affordable power delivery, utilities are searching for effective strategies to adapt with new advanced distribution management and planning applications.

Over the past decade, many industries have transformed with digital innovation on the basis of ever-present connectivity. Today, electric utilities are beginning to experience first-hand this wave of change at a pace that quickens with each passing year. Pushing the pace are primarily 3 major trends:

• Digitization: The increasing amount of connected devices both on the grid and in the home

• Decentralization: The type of generation taking place in a distributed vs centralized fashion,

• Customer Centricity: The influence of customers demanding to be more than ratepayers – gaining access to more data and greater control.

These trends driving the “transformational evolution” of the energy industry are just beginning to have a profound impact within utility operations. Customers are becoming prosumers, power delivery is less predictable, and the need to minimize costs, improve reliability, and extend asset life continues to increase. Thriving amidst this transformation involves rethinking the current construct of central command and control system-centric architectures. On the foundation of digital innovations, utilities are in position with new tools to redefine operations today for the connected, sustainable future.

If you think back to the evolution of cell phone market, establishing a common operating system that mediated between hardware and the “world of apps” was a prerequisite for the age of the “smartphone”. Today, this smartphone has changed the world and opened up a whole new universe of opportunity, innovation, and economic development. A similar model connecting devices that monitor and control the generation, delivery and consumption of power with diverse, value-driven applications has emerged, enabling a fundamental architecture shift in the way that utilities, transmission operators, customers, and third parties can interact with the electric power grid.

With distributed assets, including electric vehicles, energy storage, solar inverters among others, experiencing significant growth and directly impacting grid performance, a common bridge based on distributed control supporting energy-specific software services between that physical world and the world of “apps” will simplify integration and unlock the profound power of today’s digital world. This drives forward a whole new era of grid resilience, efficiency, control and overall optimization. Enabling this distributed model will propel the energy industry from an industrial revolution “electro mechanical” paradigm to a truly scalable “digital world”.

This bridge enabling a distributed control model must embody the following characteristics:

1. Broad – Functions across all energy providers both traditional and emerging which include municipalities, industrial customers, microgrids and individual customer’s businesses and households.

2. Innovative – Provides solutions for the critical challenges facing the industry including:

• Supporting further decarbonization of the generation mix

• Integrating Solar and other Distributed Energy Resource (DER) assets for customer and grid management benefit

• Increasing load from transportation electrification

• Exceeding grid reliability and resilience expectations

3. Flexible – Enables of multiple utility business models – integrated utility, DSO, islanded microgrid for large industrial or community, connected microgrid for large industrial or community.

4. Adaptable and extensible – supports new technologies and capabilities over time without requiring continuous re-architecting of the system including:

• Immediate and urgent needs of stakeholders such as enabling ubiquitous DER integration

• Pathways for existing and new innovative energy ecosystem service provider stakeholders whether SAAS providers, vendors, utilities, etc.

• Future development of new, innovative ideas

Bringing these characteristics into fruition, the Elpis Squared (Elpis) Flex ControllerTM connects the digital energy world as a flexible, intelligent communication and computing platform. Providing local coordination and control, support for data logging, networking, and flexible upstream communications, Flex Controllers provide a unified gateway in managing power in a distributed model and quickly move scattered data into outcomedriven applications ranging from DER visibility to overall capacity optimization. Its versatile computing platform allows stakeholders from different organizations to configure customizable features and functionalities based on business and technical needs – unlocking the potential of a 21st century grid operating system.

Modernizing the distribution grid involves more than just replacing old assets with new versions of the same equipment. In order to effectively address current, emerging and future business challenges and regulatory goals, utilities need new apps to transform existing distribution systems into flexible, agile and resilient power delivery platforms. Indeed, adapting today’s top-down, system-centric, siloed, centralized architecture to a more distributed future is the bridge necessary to reliably and efficiently accommodate resulting bidirectional and variable power flow – establishing the platform to help both nurture and engage customers while optimizing operations all the way down to the meter and beyond.

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