Austin Energy Takes Control of Renewable Integration

Austin Energy implements its renewable Integration plan using distributed energy resource management systems.
Published: Thu 18 Feb 2016

Increasingly, utilities are looking at distributed energy resource management systems (DERMS) to help manage the growth of distributed energy resources (DERs). There is a growing need to leave behind the centralised, one-way grid system and its production-heavy methods of load management in favour of an open, interconnected architecture in which balance is achieved through interaction with new distributed energy resources through demand management and storage solutions. This was highlighted in our article Creating A More Open Interconnected Grid Architecture- NiceGrid’s Experiences.

While DERMS can manage demand fluctuations, integrate various distributed technologies, and control prices, the technology is still in its infancy and a standardized solution has yet to be developed. 

Austin Energy’s DERMS plan

Austin Energy, a Texas municipal utility, is taking DERMS by the horns implementing new energy storage and software tools to help integrate the growing quantity of solar power on its system. This aim is in line with its ambition to get 55% of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. 

Austin Energy is currently building a 150MW solar farm and the Austin city council has authorized a 450MW solar farm and another 150MW of solar power that would be added either by building new capacity or signing power purchase agreements. 

The key component of the energy storage and software tools are software applications that will be used to control and integrate distributed energy resources, including energy storage systems, into the city’s grid and enable the grid to interact economically with the surrounding grid of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) region.

The test programme is being implemented under a US$4.3 million award from the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative under which Austin Energy will pilot a platform to enable and promote integrated distributed energy resources, including solar, storage and smart inverter technologies.

The Austin project is part of a DOE initiative called SHINES (Sustainable and Holistic Integration of Energy Storage and Solar PV) that is part of the Grid Modernization Initiative which aims to improve the resiliency, reliability and security of the nation’s power grid. [Modernizing the Power Grid]

Driving an increase in the value of DERs

In January, the DOE awarded US$18 million in funding for six projects under the SHINES programme. The US$4.3 million award to Austin Energy was the largest of the six.

SHINES is the first DOE funding programme which focuses on the connection of renewable power to energy storage solutions. The objective of the programme is to accelerate the widespread deployment and integration of solar PV generation at a system levelized cost of energy (LCOE) of less than $0.14t/kWh.

“As part of the Austin SHINES project we will develop use cases and business models during the initial phase of the project,” says Karl Popham, manager of electric vehicles and emerging technologies at Austin Energy. “Ideally, we want to drive increased value of DERs for the customer, utility, and ERCOT to find that ‘win-win.’”

According to Mr Popham, being able to monitor this cost data should increase the value of renewables, especially distributed resources, on its system which could lead to increased investment in distributed energy resources.

Mr Popham adds that as more utilities increase their renewable targets, storage is going to become a major part of the solution for future grid.  

Managing Austin’s future grid

Austin Energy’s partner in the SHINES program is 1Energy Systems, which is deploying two levels of software to control Austin’s grid. During the 39-month SHINES programme, the Seattle-based company will integrate up to 4MW of solar power, more than 3MW of distributed energy storage, as well as smart inverters and a variety of forecasting and communications applications. Those storage resources will be the first on Austin’s system.

A major part of the project will be the creation and use of a new cost metric that reflects the total  costs of serving customer load with a combination of solar, energy storage, demand response, and existing grid assets in order to get below the $0.14/kWh target.

Under the project, 1Energy Systems will deploy two of its products, its Intelligent Controller (IC) and its Distributed Energy Resource Optimized (DERO) system, which will serve as the project’s distributed energy resource management system (DERMS).

Solar storage-an integral part of the system

The IC software will control two energy storage devices that will be installed. One is a 1.5MW, 3MWh device at a substation. The size of the other storage system has yet to be determined, but will probably be similar in size, according to Dan Sowder, vice president of power systems integration at 1Energy.

The IC system will work at the distribution level to monitor and control the energy storage systems. The software also has an interface to communicate between the storage system and the DERO system.

The DERO system will provide the interface between the DERs on Austin’s system and the wider, bulk power system. The DERO platform also will host several applications that will enable it to pick assets and to send signals to resources while bringing a level of economic “thinking” into the process.

New resources like solar and storage should not be viewed as silos, according to Mr Sowder. He explains that solar storage should not be a “bolt-on component” but that it should be viewed as more integral to the system.

The Austin project is the second deployment of 1Energy System’s DERO system. The first deployment was for the Snohomish Public Utility District in Washington. This project is adding scalable storage and control technology that uses Modular Energy Storage Architecture (MESA) standards.

Further reading

Austin Energy-Austin Energy Awarded $4.3 million of Federal Funding to Drive Energy Storage and Renewable Power Innovation