Technology grows as driving force behind providing solutions for electric customers

Published on February 15, 2017 by Daily Energy Insider Reports

The U.S. electric industry is harnessing a wide range of technologies with the aim of strengthening the grid while providing electric customers with innovative solutions.

Smart meters, battery storage and electric vehicle charging are just a few examples of technology that play a critical component in delivering services that electric customers want.

“We want to recognize the partnerships between tech companies and electric companies and how technology is such a key part of how we are moving forward in this sector,” said Lisa Wood, executive director of the Institute for Electric Innovation and vice president at the Edison Foundation.

The Institute for Electric Innovation held a briefing in Washington on Tuesday that focused on delivering services that customers desire and the innovative approaches to providing solutions in the electric sector.

“When we look to the future and see customers having all these choices, and we understand some of those are driven by economics and some are driven by those who want to do something different. They want to control new aspects of their life, their energy consumption. We need to understand what drives the customer,” said Karen Lefkowitz, vice president of Utility of the Future at Pepco Holdings.

One area where customer choice is overlapping with the utility and grid needs is with energy storage, said Manal Yamout, vice president of policy and markets at Advanced Microgrid Solutions (AMS).

AMS installs large advanced energy storage systems at customer sites. The company then uses that battery system to provide the services that customers want: demand charge management, resiliency or hedging against high energy prices in the future.

“What we’re doing and what others are doing in this space that is really fundamentally different is putting in these systems, and designing fleets of aggregated distributed resources with the utility and the grid in mind first,” Yamout said.

AMS has more than 120 megawatts of energy storage projects under contract, including 90 MW of grid support in capacity-constrained areas in Southern California.

AMS is working with Southern California Edison in relation to a $4 million grant the utility received from the U.S. Department of Energy to better integrate more solar into the electrical grid.

In addition, AMS and Pedernales Electric Cooperative, the largest U.S. electric distribution cooperative, were recently awarded a $3.2 million grant by the Department of Energy to demonstrate the use of advanced energy storage technologies to integrate solar energy into the grid in Texas.

“With new technology with storage and with software it is possible to give the utility what it wants, to give the grid operator what it wants and to give customers what they want,” Yamout said.

The electric industry is also laying the foundation for the grid to accommodate integrating growth of electric vehicles.

The charging of electric vehicles – each of which has an electrical load roughly equivalent to half of a house – will add pressure to the grid during periods of peak demand.

“One of the things we want to do is look at tariffs and incentivize customers to charge off peak,” Lefkowitz said. The company has a demand response program and also an electric vehicle tariff pilot program operating in Maryland that it may expand to other areas.

“But one thing utilities have to start thinking about is peak is going to change,” she said. Peak demand will adjust based on a number of different variables, including the season, the time of day and the amount of installed renewable energy in an area.

“Our planning has to be a lot more expansive and future looking and rely a lot less on a hundred years of history that is no longer necessarily a predictor of the future,” Lefkowitz added.