PG&E taps Schneider and Microsoft for new DERMS

PG&E taps Schneider and Microsoft for new DERMS
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At an innovation summit hosted by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Schneider Electric, Microsoft and PG&E announced the deployment of a distributed energy resource management system (DERMS) on Microsoft Azure to maintain grid reliability and accelerate customer adoption of distributed energy resources (DER) such as electric vehicles, energy storage and rooftop solar.

PG&E CEO Patti Poppe invited Schneider Electric North America CEO Annette Clayton and Daryl Willis, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Energy & Resources to talk a bit about the announcement during the event.

Poppe first recalled the heat wave that hit California in September last year. “I’ll never forget it; we were standing in our control room and we were watching the load curve go up. It was September 6th and it was getting dangerously close,” she said. Ultimately after CAISO used the public broadcast system to ask millions of Californians to conserve energy, there was no brownout. And while it is wonderful that the people saved the grid Poppe would rather not re-live that scenario.  

“Let’s not do that very often,” she said.

Instead, what if PG&E could “leverage distributed resources to supply energy on the hottest days at the lowest societal cost possible,” and that’s what this DERMS should allow PG&E to do, she said.

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Clayton added that PG&E has been “innovating on one side of the meter and we’re innovating on the other side of the meter and that innovation really needed to intersect in a much more powerful way.”

Indeed, the exponential growth of DER promises much-needed load flexibility as more renewables come online. DERMS provides the ability to harness that flexibility when and where it’s needed.

The DERMS technology provides greater visibility into DER behavior and the ability to control DER intelligently. Greater situational awareness allows for more proactive management to keep the grid safe, secure and resilient, while helping utilities provide clean, reliable and affordable energy to their customers.

Schneider’s EcoStruxure DERMS is a cloud-based, grid-aware software platform, which runs on Microsoft Azure, that integrates, analyses and optimises data from DER — like solar, electric vehicles, battery energy storage and microgrids, according to the company. That data then provides electric grid operators with enhanced communication and coordination capabilities to unlock the value of DER as flexible grid resources. 

EVs as mobile energy storage

In California, where 23% of all new vehicles sold last year were EVs, Poppe sees great potential in eventually being able to tap into those EV batteries.

“We have almost 500,000 electric vehicles on our roads, which is the equivalent of 9000 megawatts of capacity,” she said. While today the utility thinks of those megawatts as load that needs to charge, “I imagine them as supply and with the DERMS platform we’re talking about, they can be leveraged at the right times,” she said.

PG&E serves more than 16 million people across Northern and Central California, where its customers are often early adopters of new, clean energy technologies. PG&E is taking proactive measures to ensure grid reliability and meet the growing electricity demands of California.

The utility has connected more than 700,000 customers with rooftop solar to the electric grid and more than 55,000 PG&E residential, business and government customers have installed battery energy storage systems connecting to the grid across PG&E’s service area, totaling more than 500 megawatts (MW) of capacity.

Plus PG&E has made significant progress deploying grid-scale battery energy storage. In August of 2020, PG&E had just 6.5 megawatts (MW) of battery energy storage connected to the power grid. Today, PG&E has 1,200MW of storage capacity operation and by September this year, it expects to have 1,700MW online, or enough to meet the instantaneous demand of 1.2 million homes at once. PG&E has contracts for battery energy storage systems totaling more than 3,000MW to be deployed over the next few years.

DERMs will enable the dispatch of these technologies when California needs energy most.

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A unified team

The DERMS collaboration among Microsoft, PG&E and Schneider Electric to develop and launch a DERMS strategy symbolizes the power of a unified team with diverse talents and expertise working collaboratively to achieve a new utility-industry standard for integrating DER at scale, said the companies in a press release.

Clayton lauded PG&E’s comprehensive, cloud-enabled DERMS strategy as an example of Schneider Electric’s Grid to Prosumer philosophy. “This approach to optimise distributed energy resources is agile enough to keep up with 21st century demands on the grid. A stepwise approach is key in DER implementation to effectively handle short-term goals and prepare for the long-term vision.”

The collaboration builds on Schneider Electric’s 30-year co-innovation relationship with Microsoft to deliver solutions integrating Microsoft Azure, an open cloud computing platform with the tools, scale and security to address the demands of critical energy infrastructure today and in the future.

“Collaboration is key to addressing the complex global energy challenges and achieving a more sustainable future,” said Willis.

Priority use cases

Schneider Electric, Microsoft and PG&E have identified several foundation use cases for the new system, including:

  • Real-time visibility into all DER. Enhanced situational awareness of grid impacts, both in real-time and with forecasted lookahead, plus instant alerts for improved operations planning.
  • System capacity for peak summer days. Visualized DER capacity, timely impact analysis, customer feedback (measurement and verification) and additional DER capacity.
  • Local capacity for new service connections and interconnections. Oversight of interconnection requests enables utilities to leverage actionable data to faster evaluate and process DER connection requests and streamline processes that ensure resilience.
  • Reliability and resilience with energy storage. Utility-owned & aggregator-provided storage asset dispatch for improving local reliability and network deferral (non-wire alternatives).
  • Transportation electrification. Integration, managed charging and vehicle-to-grid coordination for residential vehicles and commercial fleets.

The companies are continuing to build and enhance the platform to address additional use cases over the next several years.

Originally published on Power Grid.