Electric Utilities Enter a "7D" World
- Feb 17, 2021 5:30 pm GMT
The pressure for sustainability from customers and regulators and the general public will not only continue, but basic economics increasingly favor renewable energy resources which can produce electricity more cheaply than traditional electric utility generation.
The legacy bulk electric system, a monolithic network of central station generation connected via transmission lines to load centers is being increasingly displaced by real and virtual energy sources on the distribution lines and even on the customer's side of the meter.
"D"istributed energy resources
Distributed energy resources (DERs) are diverse and proliferating at an accelerating rate. They include electricity-producing resources or controllable loads that are connected to a local distribution system or connected to a host facility within the local distribution system. DERs can include solar panels, combined heat and power plants, electricity storage, small natural gas-fuelled generators, electric vehicles and controllable loads, such as HVAC systems and electric water heaters. They can also include conservation and energy efficiency measures. These resources are typically smaller in scale than traditional generation facilities
Welcome to Industry 4.0! The diversity, multitude, and complexity of DERs dictate real time monitoring, analysis, and control. This can only be successfully accomplished digitally, ultimately via the industrial Internet of things (IIoT). Electric utilities will be operating both an electrical network and a digital telecommunications network which will ultimately converge into a cyber-physical system.
Most if not all DERs can be sold by or owned and operated by non-utility entities. Think about getting rooftop solar arrays from Amazon Prime . . . or having controllable loads managed by Apple . . . or receiving a renewable energy credit from Alibaba . . . or monitoring and management of your electric energy supply and consumption by Microsoft.
"D"e facto "D"eregulation
All of these developments represent a foundational shift from the incumbent bulk electric system being operated by regulated cost-plus monopolies to an openly competitive electric energy market. Consumers will be able to pick and choose both real and virtual electric energy providers.
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