10,000 aggregated distributed energy assets take advantage of a software platform that connects them and helps decide when to charge and when to discharge

“To take advantage of when to charge and when to discharge —  and bid into the wholesale market — you need a software platform to connect all of the batteries together,” Sternberg said. The software platform monitors battery telemetry — the current state of charge and the battery’s capacity to offer power to the grid or take from the grid. An algorithm creates predictive controls and shows how much capacity is available in real time.

From Microgrid Knowledge June 24, 2019

Excerpt Schneider and Autogrids

Advanced microgrids interface with the utility as it configures the best mix of resources — utility and microgrid — based on pricing , weather, available resources and other factors at any given time.

Today’s signaling is relatively simple, along the lines of what’s on and what’s off. But Feasel sees the communication becoming increasingly sophisticated in the future, more subtle “gradients of what’s working, when it’s working.” Such signals require “a much more comprehensive connection to the utilities, and the markets, and we see Autogrid being a real key part of that,” Feasel said.

The Autogrid platform creates new kinds of signals for customers, he said. Schneider intends to augment its microgrids “to interface with those signals at a very deep level.”

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“How do we build a seamless customer service so that we can up data channels, and how does it play out with its end customers?” said Ben Cohen, head of global strategy at Autogrid, in a separate  interview. “Because we can connect to upstream hardware — generation and transmission — we can increase the value around demand response and pass on greater savings to customers.”

The partnership creates value, Cohen adds, because customers will learn how much energy is consumed for each building connected to the microgrid. They will be able to use the data to forecast load and to shift energy usage. And once a solution is agreed upon, the assets can be managed accordingly — true whether the microgrid is islanded or connected to the main grid.

“It is all about how reactive you are to market conditions,” he said.

As energy becomes more distributed and as customers become more proactive with their providers, these kinds of services will only proliferate.

Expanding scope

Autogrid has made clear its intent to expand into global markets. For example, the company recently announced its technology will be used in the world’s largest behind-the-meter virtual power plant, a project being developed in Japan.

So the partnership contributes not only to Schneider’s microgrid foray in North America, one of the world’s strongest markets, but also helps its broader global strategy. 

“Clearly one of the reasons that we have decided to invest in Autogrid is because they have the capability to take us around the world and not just in to North America,” Feasel said.

The investment is led by Schneider Electric Ventures, which focuses on incubating, investing, and partnering with start-ups to achieve a sustainable energy future.

Here Comes the World’s Biggest Virtual Power Plant — And it’s Behind the Meter

June 20, 2019 By Elisa Wood2 Comments

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Japan is taking a leap ahead of the rest of the world, with the help of California company Autogrid, in developing what’s described as the largest behind-the-meter (BTM) virtual power plant.

virtual power plant

Cityscape in Tokyo by Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com

The project will aggregate 10,000 distributed energy assets which, as one resource, will sell power into the nation’s wholesale energy market, still short on capacity from the loss of the Fukushima nuclear plant in 2011.

Tesla launched a larger, 50,000-home virtual power plant in Australia last year. But it is different in that it is a front-of-the meter project, said Christopher Sternberg, president and chief operating officer of Autogrid.

The Japanese virtual power plant will initially use only batteries, but at a future date can incorporate other various distributed energy assets, such as solar, electric vehicle chargers and smart home thermostats, said Sternberg in an interview with Microgrid Knowledge. The project also has the capability to be configured into a microgrid, although that is not part of the current plan.

No cost to households

ENERES, a Japanese energy services and trading company, is acting as project developer and providing the batteries at no upfront cost to households. In exchange, the households will allow ENERES to use the batteries for capacity transactions in the market. In the event of a power outage, the batteries will discharge to the homes, providing backup power.

Autogrid’s software will manage all aspects of the virtual power plant, including aggregation, dispatch and customer engagement.

“To take advantage of when to charge and when to discharge —  and bid into the wholesale market — you need a software platform to connect all of the batteries together,” Sternberg said. The software platform monitors battery telemetry — the current state of charge and the battery’s capacity to offer power to the grid or take from the grid. An algorithm creates predictive controls and shows how much capacity is available in real time.

About 200 batteries are scheduled for installation later this year and the remainder next year. ENERES plans to source batteries from several different manufacturers, among them Tesla, LG, Sonnen and Panasonic.

“What makes our platform unique is that we’re not tied to any particular device,” Sternberg said.

Lessons for the US

Japan has been deregulating its power market since 2016, a change that has attracted innovation and competitive players. The nation has also set aggressive renewable energy goals and is being pushed to move even faster. Earlier this week 19 major corporations operating in Japan, including Apple and Sony, urged the government to set a goal to make the grid 50 percent renewable by 2030.

No similar, massive virtual power plants are yet underway in the US. But Sternberg sees lessons learned from the ENERES project for the US market, particularly in places like California, New York and PJM, where use of batteries, and in some cases virtual aggregations, is ramping up.

“This type of technology is coming to the US sooner rather than later,” he said.

Schneider Electric, a large microgrid player, recently took a percent stake in Autogrid. Sternberg sees the partnership as indicative of growth in projects that create virtual power plants and microgrids.

Large players see opportunity in microgrids (“essentially miniature virtual power plants”), he said, as well as projects that connect multiple microgrids into a virtual power plant.

“This model is just really starting to take off around the world. We think the main reason for that is the improvement and availability of storage technology over the last 12-19 months —  it has gone mainstream,” he said. “It’s an exciting time to be in the industry.”

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Data collection and lessons https://microgridknowledge.com/bronzeville-microgrid-social-justice-solar/

Before the Bronzeville microgrid project, ComEd received a US Department of Energy grant to build a controller that can control multiple microgrids. “This builds on that, enabling solar-plus- storage with a smart inverter to provide a controllable resource for the microgrid,” he said.

ComEd is collecting data on 55 metrics, including the microgrid’s impact on the community and critical infrastructure. The company is looking at how solar can be used as a resource for the microgrid, how to improve solar forecasting, and how to optimize the solar using the microgrid controller. The company is also studying when to use solar, when to store it, and how to balance it when the system is islanded, said Passo.

In Mid-April, ComEd completed an islanding test using the solar and battery together controlled by the microgrid. “This demonstrated how we can go into conditions where islanding is possible,” he said.

The Dearborn Homes solar installation is supported by a $4 million federal grant to ComEd to design and deploy solar and storage in a microgrid.

The solar portion of the project is also supported by incentives from the Future Energy Jobs Act, clean energy legislation enacted by Illinois lawmakers in 2016. The incentives help reduce the upfront costs associated with the installation of solar panels. To get the incentives, VLV Development trained 35 workers in solar installations.

VLV Development is delivering a portion of the solar to the Chicago Housing Authority at a cost that will yield about $1 million in savings over 15 years, said VLV’s Vincent. The housing authority paid no up-front costs.

Complex project

For Vincent, partnering with the Chicago Housing Authority and ComEd — while training the workers — yielded both challenges and education about how to approach the next project.

“This has been the most complex project I have been a part of in terms of public engagement and meeting all the different needs of each partner.” The company needed to meet ComEd’s guidelines and restrictions related to installing solar. In addition, the housing authority added more requirements. Using trainees to install the solar created another layer of complexity.

Bronzeville Microgrid

Solar panels on Dearborn Homes Development. Photo courtesy ComEd

“It would be better to have a longer pre-development cycle because of the unforeseen challenges of working with each entity and the other dynamics,” Vincent said. “But this project is an example showing this can work, and the lessons learned we will use to develop an easier path for the remaining 49 MW.”

MARIA in action

The company’s mission is to provide mitigation, adaptation, resilience, innovation and awareness — or MARIA, said Vincent.

“The Bronzeville microgrid project is a reflection of what MARIA looks like in action,” he said.

The Bronzeville microgrid is designed to serve 10 critical facilities. It will connect to a nearby microgrid at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Working in coordination, the microgrids are expected to demonstrate how the whole-is-greater-than-the-sum of its parts when microgrids ‘talk’ to each other, an important step toward creating a decentralized grid.

Track news about the Bronzeville microgrid by subscribing to the free Microgrid Knowledge newsletter.

NRDC’s Max Baumhefner, senior attorney for the climate and clean Energy Program, explores how the proliferation of electric vehicles could potentially lower utility bills across the board. 

Max Baumhefner, senior attorney, climate and clean Energy Program, NRDC

Can the addition of more electric vehicles to the grid actually lower utility bills for all customers? A recently updated study demonstrated just that, showing that electric vehicle drivers are not being subsidized by other customers and, in fact, they are putting downward pressure on rates. Between 2012 and 2018, in the two utility service territories with the most EVs in the United States, EV customers have contributed nearly $600 million in net-revenue to the body of utility customers.

Because the transportation sector is the nation’s largest source of climate-warming pollution, it’s a sector we must transform to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Put simply, this requires widespread adoption of electric cars, trucks, buses, etc. powered by electricity increasingly generated from emissions-free resources like wind and solar.

The EV story

There’s a misconception that widespread charging of electric vehicles (EVs) will necessarily stress the electric grid, resulting in costly upgrades that drive up electric rates. However, analysis of the two utility service territories with the most EVs of any in the U.S., Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and Southern California Edison (SCE), conducted by Synapse Energy Economics found the opposite has been observed in the real world—EVs are pushing electric rates down, largely because they tend to charge overnight when people are sleeping and there is plenty of spare capacity on the grid. EV customers on time-of-use (TOU) rates, only do 9-14 percent of their charging during on-peak hours when total demand for electricity is at its greatest. And even EVs that remain on default rates that do not encourage off-peak charging consume less electricity during on-peak hours than typical households (though, as my colleague, Pamela MacDougall explains here, we still need to move those folks onto time-of-use rates that increase fuel cost savings by rewarding off-peak charging).

Because EVs are not straining the grid to this point, there’s little marginal cost associated with accommodating EV charging, but significant new revenues (money that would otherwise go to oil companies) that is returned to all customers in the form of lower rates and bills.

How do EVs impact electricity rates? 

Synapse evaluated the revenues and costs associated with EVs from 2012 through 2018 in the PG&E and SCE service territories. They compared the new revenue the utilities collected from EV drivers to the cost of the energy required to charge those vehicles, plus the costs of any associated upgrades to the distribution and transmission grid and the costs of utility EV programs that are deploying charging stations for all types of EVs.

In total, EV drivers contributed an estimated $584 million more than the associated costs. And this finding is not merely a result of the fact most EV drivers in PG&E and SCE territory remain on default rates and pay high upper-tier prices as a result. Even if 3 in 4 were on time-of-use rates designed for EVs, those drivers would still have provided approximately $450 million in net-revenues.

You might assume that utility shareholders kept that extra $584 million, but thanks to an accounting mechanism known as “revenue decoupling” that money is automatically returned to utility customers in the form of lower rates and bills. In states that have yet to adopt revenue decoupling, there may be a lag between utility rate cases, but EV charging should still put downward pressure on rates to the benefit of all customers.

From theory to reality

Numerous studies have found that widespread EV adoption could push utility rates down in the future in states across the union. For example, MJ Bradley and Associates conducted analysis concluding that levels of EV adoption consistent with meeting long-term climate goals could potentially reduce utility bills in Minnesota by $10.2 billion by 2050. What the recently updated Synapse analysis reveals is that we are on track to realize the future benefits quantified in studies the like Minnesota report. Because Synapse examined the two utility service territories with the most EVs of any in the US, the analysis provides a promising view of the future in states like Minnesota where the EV market is still nascent today.

We are clearly moving in the right direction, but more resources need to be put into programs that increase EV adoption and ensure EV charging is done in a manner that supports the grid. With this study, we’ve seen firsthand the real-world downward pressure on rates that EVs are providing. A future filled with electric vehicles zooming around on American roads promises to be one in which the air is cleaner to breathe, consumers are no longer vulnerable to the vagaries of the world oil market, and utility customers pay less out of their pockets for their electric bills.

This blog originated on the Natural Resource Defense Council’s (NRDC) expert blog. It was written by Max Baumhefner, senior attorney, climate and clean Energy Program at NRDC. Emily Deanne, Communications Assistant, NRDC, contributed to this blog post.