The Electric Power Research Institute (“EPRI”) has launched a three-phase initiative regarding distributed energy resources (“DER”) and grid integration. Phase I was completed this month with the release of The Integrated Grid, Realizing the Full Value of Central and Distributed Energy ResourcesIt is a concept paper designed to frame the issues necessary for consideration by stakeholders such as utilities, regulators, and customers, as well as distribution and DER vendors. DER includes forms of electric generation supply such as small natural gas-fueled generators, combined heat and power plants, electricity storage and solar photovoltaics (PV) on residential rooftops and in larger arrays. Typically, these generation sources must be connected to the distribution system. One of the most significant and important elements of the report is that it highlights a critical distinction between connection and integration. Being connected to the grid is not the same as being integrated into the grid.

In most service territories, the current distribution system was not designed to accommodate an expansive amount of DER while sustaining high levels of electric quality and reliability. Unlike centralized power plants, technical characteristics of certain types of DER, such as variability and intermittency, present challenges that must be addressed to facilitate long term grid integration. According to the report, in order to maintain established standards of quality and reliability, DER must be integrated into the planning and operation of the electric grid. To facilitate DER’s integration, the report presents a call to action in four key areas:

  1. Interconnection Rules and Communications Technologies and Standards
  2. Assessment and Deployment of Advanced Distribution and Reliability Technologies 
  3. Strategies for Integrating Distributed Energy Resources with Grid Planning and Operation
  4. Enabling Policy and Regulation

Phase II of the initiative will encompass a six-month project to develop a framework for assessing the costs and benefits of the combinations of technology that lead to a more integrated grid. Phase III will include demonstrations and modeling using the analytics and procedures developed in Phase II to provide comprehensive data and information to stakeholders, hopefully yielding successful and cost effective integration of DER.

With another round of storms expected to yet again pound most of the East Coast this weekend, let me remind everyone to acknowledge the first responders braving often dangerous conditions to restore and maintain your electricity. It has been a rough winter and many may feel like they are always losing power. However, this fact from the report reminds us that electricity is usually there when we need it:

Today’s power system has served society with average annual system reliability of 99.97% in the U.S., in terms of electricity availability.

– The Integrated Grid, Realizing the Full Value of Central and Distributed Energy Resources, page 9.