The Next Next Thing: Dealing with distributed generation and rooftop solar

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Distributed generation and rooftop solar have attracted a lot of attention and controversy in smart grid circles because of their impact on traditional utility business models, continuing renewable energy integration, our energy future and more. We asked industry experts for their thoughts on how significant a resolution of those issues would be. Their insights are interesting reading.

 

As Itron Marketing Director Tim Wolf notes, distributed energy resources, particularly customer-owned photovoltaic (PV) solar, are “taking off.” Residential installations are up almost 50% from 2012 to 2013.

 

Technical and economic challenges

“Solar energy clearly brings benefits to consumers and the environment, but it also presents technical and economic challenges for the utilities industry. Distributed solar assets create new business process challenges around billing as well as power quality and potential safety issues that the utility must manage. In addition, as more people generate more of their own electricity, their share of funding the distribution system declines under the current business model and regulatory structure.”

 

Wolf commented that advanced monitoring, communication and control capabilities of smart meters and other sensing devices will be “critical for the successful management of these resources, no matter how the utility business model shifts.” He added “The ability to measure power flow in both directions, control inverters, monitor voltage levels in near-real time and quickly summon additional resources, including demand response and load control, will be key to maintaining grid stability and integrating these distributed resources. The technology is here and we are doing this now.”

 

Andrew Bennett, Senior VP of Energy at Schneider Electric, took a different tack in his assessment. “Given that the majority of states have specific renewable targets, resolving the tension between increased energy efficiency, renewable energy incentives, local generation (DG) and financial support of the grid is essential. The wider grid today provides several fundamental services. Some are obvious like generation, transmission, distribution and customer service. Others less so: risk management, fuel management, operations, maintenance and so forth.

 

“We must come to grips with what we want the utility of the future to be, bearing in mind that it very well could be located in our basements or attics. One or two breakthroughs could top the economic balance in favor of facility energy self-sufficiency, but do we really understand what means?”

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