Utility asset management critical for DERs and DERMS

Today’s renewable energy conversation in the utilities industry focuses on distributed energy resources (DERs) – defined by the the International Energy Association (IEA) as “small-scale energy resources usually situated near sites of electricity use, such as rooftop solar panels and battery storage” – and distributed resource energy management systems (DERMS), the software, integration and services that manage them.

DERs are becoming integral components throughout the power grid. As they continue to come on board, DERMS – defined by the IEA as “a utility enterprise system that enables proactive control of the grid and DERs (to the extent that the utility is allowed to dispatch customer-sited resources)” – become increasingly important because they can improve grid management.

The proliferation of DERs and their effects on electricity grids

According to the IEA, the rapid expansion of DERs “is transforming not only the way electricity is generated, but also how it is traded, delivered and consumed. Accordingly, DERs can create new power system opportunities, but at the same time, can pose new challenges when a grid has not been properly prepared.”

Renewable energies are not new to utilities. Hydroelectric dams and solar farms, for example, have been a part of the energy matrix for over 50 years. However, there’s an urgent need now to address climate change and reduce environmental impacts, and the rapid pace of the energy transition is resulting in a proliferation of intermittent renewable energy sources.

“Distributed production is increasing rapidly. It’s almost at 20% of the overall production worldwide. In some countries, like in Spain, external DERs production reached 45% of overall energy production in 2023,” said Jean-François Allard, director, EMEA utilities and communications for Hexagon’s Safety, Infrastructure & Geospatial division.

The rise of DERs is putting pressure on grid modernization because many grids were designed before major DERs adoption. The IEA says the expansion of DERs requires greater flexibility and consistent balancing of supply demand. A lack of visibility of DERs can leave companies “unaware of the advantages to be gained by incentivizing DER owners to align their equipment use and location with the needs of the grid.”

DERMS are not a revolution, but an expansion

Asset management solutions are vital to utilities. Companies everywhere can manage their own assets, but DERMS go a step farther. DERMS represent all existing solutions to manage and sell electricity, from production to delivery, but there is something that sets them apart. DERMS focus on more than a company’s produced energy, they focus on all energy coming from external producers and produced by renewable energies.

A critical part of DERMS is a relational digital twin – a model network to understand where all assets are, to run analytics and predictive models and to forecast how to adjust during disruptions. This is the component that offers knowledge about external producers. Utility companies can gain insights, identify patterns and make informed decisions based on data-driven predictions.

Relational digital twins for electric networks

A critically important step toward adopting a DERMS strategy for any utility is modernization of assets.  This is achieved with modern geospatial asset management solutions that allow for the creation of a relational digital twin.

A relational digital twin is much more than a 3D rendering of a network. It’s a system of record of a network model, topology, associated assets and surrounding environment. A utility’s entire network, both internal and external components, is fully digitized, including connection points, energy consumers, energy sources and consumption data.

“A relational digital twin describes and locates all electricity assets, their relationships – how they are connected, how they interact to each other – and helps create simulations, for example, the impact of construction or critical incidents,” Allard said. “It allows a utility to run analytics, implement predictive models and forecast how to adjust during disruptions.”

With the right digital twin technology, utilities can access network asset data to support a DERMS solution, which typically also includes advanced distribution management systems (ADMS), asset performance management (APM), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and energy retail.

Without a utility industry-specific geospatial asset management solution and a relational digital twin, utilities cannot manage real-time data, perform forecasting and make predictions to accommodate fluctuating demand and bidirectional energy flow needed to effectively respond to the rapid transition toward renewable energy sources and DERMS.

Harmonizing utility networks

Until recently, electric utilities were focused on static energy production and consumption. The surge of renewable energy means that every location can both produce and consume, and that production and consumption sources can move. DERs and DERMS will create a systemic view regarding energy.

“Renewable energy can be produced anywhere, anytime, by anyone,” said Allard. “This energy is less controlled, but DERMS can harmonize the ‘unmanaged’ production to deliver electricity to a specific location, to customers, when they need it.”

Learn more

Reliable grid management in the age of DERs and DERMS is absolutely achievable, with the right utility asset management foundation in place. Discover how your utility can get ahead of the renewable energy surge.

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