DER and microgrid companies poised to help as summer heat threatens the US grid

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With grid operators signaling that that the summer could bring power shortfalls, companies that pool together resources such as residential and commercial solar, storage and microgrids are poised to jump in and provide grid flexibility in an effort to keep the lights on.

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The Washington Post recently described the electric grid as “wheezing” and said a number of states are bracing for blackouts. For example, New Mexico’s attorney general is readying for “worst case scenarios” after a regional utility warned of possible blackouts and North Dakota regulators have told the state to prepare for rolling outages.

Enphase Energy, OhmConnect, CPower, SunRun and Honeywell are among the resource aggregators that are stepping in to lend the grid a hand — and getting compensated for it. These aggregators generally pool residential and commercial solar, storage and microgrids and offer them to the grid to fill in the gaps during periods of peak demand or stress. In most cases, the residential and commercial resource owners are paid — indirectly through demand response and other programs — for providing some of the output of their solar, storage or microgrids to the grid. This revenue helps pay for the cost of their systems.

“We expect the grid to be increasingly strained as climate change continues to impact various regions in different ways,” said Andy Newbold, senior director of corporate communications at Enphase, which offers microinverters for solar panels along with storage, and often partners with solar companies to create home and commercial microgrids. Enphase expects to see more record heat waves across the country and more outages, Newbold said.

Enphase now has nearly 2 million systems deployed, most of them residential and commercial microgrids. They generally include another company’s solar panels, the Enphase microinverter, which converts DC from solar panels to AC power, an Enphase IQ battery and an Enphase controller. The Enphase IQ10 battery provides about 10 kWh, for example.

Customer to grid

Enphase customers have the option of enrolling in grid services programs and generally a portion of their battery is reserved for Enphase to provide those services. The programs that compensate Enphase — and its customers — include:

—In New England, the ConnectedSolutions program, which discharges batteries during peak demand events. Under the program, a National Grid customer in Massachusetts could earn up to $275/kW. That means that a customer with one battery with 3.84 kW of power capability could earn up to $1,056 a year, said Enphase.

—Hawaiian Electric offers customers in the Battery Bonus program $850/kW of capacity that can serve the grid during a fixed 2-hour period each day. As more customers are added, the incentive will drop. Under this program, an Enphase IQ10 battery could earn $3,264 a year.

—The Arizona Public Service residential pilot program offers residential battery owners up to $3,750 in incentives for lending their batteries and the data related to the battery’s operation.

The residential and commercial microgrids also provided backup for the homes and businesses where they were located during outages. Enphase used its software to track outages — which can last for a few seconds to a few days — and found that the systems backed up 4,495 grid outage events per month. Each “event” refers to an individual microgrid, meaning that if two neighbors experienced the same outage it would be counted as two grid outage events, said Newbold.

Since the end of 2020, Enphase has deployed more than 400 MWh of batteries across the US and Europe, said Newbold.

In one case, a customer in Texas during a February 2020 storm was backed up by a microgrid for two weeks, said Newbold.

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Connected devices

OhmConnect is another player that aggregates home appliances and microgrids to help out the grid. In August 2020, the company saved 1 GWh of energy over a few days and its members earned a collective $1.3 million, said Cisco DeVries, CEO of OhmConnect.

OhmConnect now has more than 250,000 devices connected and has partnered with SunPower to expand its reach, said DeVries. SunPower’s tens of thousands of solar and SunVault storage customers have the option of participating in the OhmConnect program. The participants receive incentives for automatically sending energy resources to the grid during peak demand periods, he said.

In addition, Sunrun has been signing up homeowners to install solar plus battery storage systems on their roofs. Sunrun pays them an incentive of $1,250 to give up a portion of the stored power. The solar/storage systems will also provide power to residences on a daily basis and in case of utility power shutoffs.

Sunrun will move power from the solar plus storage systems installed on the residential roofs to California Independent System Operator-controlled transmission lines on a daily basis to satisfy the resource adequacy requirements of three community choice aggregators (CCAs) in the San Francisco Bay Area. Resource adequacy requirements call for utilities and CCAs to have additional generation resources available during high peak demand periods, such as in a heat wave, to provide grid stability.

Demand response

And CPower Energy Management has announced that it is participating in four additional demand response programs across the US to help balance the grid as the summer begins, said Glenn Bogarde, senior vice president of sales.

The four new programs that CPower is participating in include the Demand Response Auction Mechanism for Pacific Gas & Electric; Resource Adequacy for Southern California Edison customers; the Demand Response Initiative in Maine; and the non-spinning reserves program for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).  Efficiency Maine and non-spinning reserves are brand new programs, said Bogarde.

CPower is not new to helping out the grid. On one of the hottest days last year — June 29 — CPower delivered nearly 400 MW of reduced electricity consumption, helping prevent blackouts, said Bogarde. In 2021 CPower paid its customers about $230 million in grid revenues, he added. In 2021, the company paid its customers nearly $230 million in revenues reaped by participating in grid services programs, he said.

The company has about 5.7 GW of DER capacity ready to be dispatched to grids across the U.S., which is about 19% year-over-year growth over the approximate 4.8 GW of DER capacity the company had ready to be dispatched at the beginning of last summer, he said.

These assets connect the assets of nearly 2,000 customers at more than 12,000 sites by creating virtual power plants that can meet the grid’s needs, according to the company.

Maximizing customer investment

And Honeywell, which recently partnered with Duke Energy Sustainable Solutions to offer community microgrids, is also offering storage systems to the grid. “Honeywell helps our customers maximize the value of their energy solution investments, which includes monetizing distributed energy resources for a variety of grid services where electric market conditions and regulations allow,” said Matthew Britt, Honeywell’s general manager of sustainable cities.

The grid may need all the help it can get this summer. In fact, in Texas, temperatures soared in May and six power plants tripped offline, which cost the state 2,900 MW. Grid operator ERCOT asked people to conserve energy at a time when they rely on their air conditioners to stay cool. The Texas incident occurred just a few weeks after two other grid operators — for California Independent System Operator and the Midcontinent Independent System Operator— warned of upcoming power shortfalls.

“These types of integrated solutions are increasingly important as extreme weather events and wildfires make blackouts more common,” said DeVries of OhmConnect.

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