Distributed Energy Resource Coordination
Intelligent Software Platform for
New Energy Networks
Kitu Systems provides an end-to-end solution enabling secure and scalable DER communications and delivering value added services to end-users, DER providers, grid operators and third party energy service providers.
We implement a consistent and standards-based approach to interconnect all types of distributed energy resources, including electric vehicles and their chargers.
We deliver cloud-based services to end-users and DER installers accessible through a web portal. We also provide a graphical user interface for utilities to monitor and manually define and dispatch controls to DERs.
Kitu Systems offers a complete set of APIs for Spark, Convoy and Citadel, to device manufacturers, service providers and utilities to enable design of, and integration with other applications and services.
The proliferation of distributed energy resources poses a threat to the grid
The growing adoption of renewable energy sources such as photovoltaic solar panels, stationary energy storage or electric vehicles present a challenge to the electrical grid which was not designed to support bi-directional power flows. Current penetration levels already force utilities and independent system operators to adjust to what is known as the Duck Curve in California, or the Nessie Curve in Hawaii. Further penetration may endanger the stability of the entire grid, causing voltage or frequency issues, outages, or even equipment damage.
At the same time distributed energy resources have brought about a new industry, rich in jobs, innovative business models, value to end users and societal benefits such as greenhouse gas reduction.
It is therefore in the interest of many stakeholders, not just end-users and grid operators to enable continued safe deployment and operation of DERs on the grid.
Coordination of behind-the-meter resources is the most practical solution
Among the strategies designed to mitigate those risks is the ability for utilities to control distributed energy resources located behind-the-meter and coordinate their actions to provide grid-support services when needed. Example of grid-support services include voltage support, frequency regulation or reactive power injection or absorption.
This approach also offers additional benefits, such as deferring or eliminating distribution upgrades or other utility-scale investments (large storage or solar power plants).
A secure and reliable communication infrastructure is required
A key enabler of this coordination at scale is the communication infrastructure, and the capability of user devices and utility or third party systems to reliably and securely exchange information in both directions: the grid operator needs to collect the metrology data to better assess the status of the network on a local basis and the device needs to receive instructions to adjust its behavior based on grid conditions.
Real-time control at the scale of millions of devices connected over unreliable connection pathways (e.g. broadband internet access, cellular) is not practical, and cannot currently or in the foreseeable future be achieved at a reasonable cost.
Utilities and industry stakeholders worked together to design and improve the IEEE 2030.5 communication protocol which introduces the concept of curves and the capability of programming autonomous behaviors into distributed energy resources, enabling them to rapidly respond to energy parameters even if there is no or poor communication.
California is the first state to mandate communication capability in smart inverters by August 22, 2019, and it named IEEE 2030.5 the default communication protocol in its Rule 21 interconnection law.
Different connection methods are available
The investor-owned utilities in California collaboratively authored a Common Smart Invert Profile (CSIP) Implementation Guideline in an effort to standardize smart inverters deployed in California.
From a communication perspective, the CSIP guide distinguished three options:
Direct communication between smart inverter and utility, using IEEE 2030.5
Communication through a GFEMS (Generating Facility Energy Management System); the interface between GFEMS and smart inverter is open, the GFEMS uses IEEE 2030.5 to communicate with the utility
Communication through an aggregator, where the connection between the smart inverters and aggregators can be IEEE 2030.5 or any alternative communication protocol, including proprietary, and the connection between aggregator and utility shall be IEEE 2030.5
Can DERs be trusted for critical safety and reliability functions?
Given the multiple available options and the reliance on general purpose communication networks, utilities are concerned a very large percentage of distributed energy resources would not be available at any given point in time to be called on to perform critical grid-support functions, even with the use of IEEE 2030.5 curves.
Limited-scale pilots have demonstrated the technical capability and benefits of smart inverter coordination: for the most part, smart inverters did behave as instructed. The pilots also outlined the difficulty to communicate with different hardware platforms, over different communication networks, and through aggregators: many communication outages occurred resulting in loss of data and inability to send controls.
Without improved visibility and predictability of behind-the-meter distributed energy resource behaviors, grid operators cannot and will not rely on DERs for distribution planning and other grid-support functions.
End users and solar installers need more information
The other key stakeholders in the conversation about DER coordination are DER owners, installers, and manufacturers. While DER owners are vastly unaware of the issue and simply expect to continue buying ever cheaper energy resources, installers and manufacturers have been reluctant to enable communications. They currently see this as a set of requirements, making the deployment of DERs more complex and more expensive: devices need new capabilities and the interconnection process will involve additional steps by installers.
In order to gain broader support, the concept of coordination at scale of customer resources to build a safer, more reliable, more cost-effective grid needs to translate into value (not cost) created for DER owners and installers.
Only with the right level of incentives will installers perform the additional tasks, and owners invest in the equipment and communication infrastructure to enable grid-support functions.
In California, discussions around tariffs rewarding grid-support services are only starting.
What can be done in the short-term to educate the ecosystem about the benefits of orchestrated DERs and deliver immediate value, not only to utilities, but also DER owners and installers?