As more and more distributed energy resources are added to the grid, both in the UK and elsewhere, companies like Smarter Grid Solutions (SGS) are updating their software to keep up.
SGS’ Distributed Energy Resources Management System (DERMS) was developed earlier this year, with the company launching the third generation ANM Strata 3.0 to help accelerate progress towards net zero.
Current± caught up with Colin Gault, head of products at SGS to talk about the update, the importance of batteries on the system and the challenges of staying ahead of the curve.
Why have batteries been a particular focus for the latest upgrade?
Recent deployments have been for batteries, and I think that's the general trend. We're seeing a lot more batteries being connected, especially because of their flexibility.
So a lot of the assets that we've been adding for customers are battery assets, and they bring slightly different constraints to their usage. There's charge and discharge, so there's a positive and a negative effectively, and there is a state of charge that you have to manage as well. So when dispatching these assets, when we're doing our day-ahead dispatching or time-ahead dispatching, we have to consider the constraints of using the battery.
There's conditions that you have to expect from using the battery, the obvious one being that it has a charge capacity, and then there's other conditions on its use to prolong its life. So you don't want to go through too many discharge cycles in one day. And there's conditions on how long you can be charging for and in terms of longer term there is actually a number of cycles you can do in a year. All these things come with conditions of usage or warranty conditions on the battery.
So we've had to develop a lot of that into the platform so that we can put rules around the schedules, so that a user can't come in and create a schedule that would go outside one of these conditions. If it tries to create a schedule for the battery that takes it above charged capacity, then obviously it will block them from doing that, but equally it also stops them from going through more cycles in a day than they're supposed to.
What are the main challenges that you've come across in developing the DERMs platform?
I'd say the hardest thing is to develop the platform ahead of knowing where the market is going. So we're trying to pick the best features, or trying to develop the features that are needed most. Batteries have become a no brainer; there's so many of them being developed. But then, it's a challenge to decide if people are going to try and manage large devices or thousands and thousands of small devices, and that's something that's still not necessarily clear.
So that's the kind of challenge for us, how we build both of those things into the product. So we want to be able to control the large assets, but equally we want to be able to support those customers that are wanting to control lots of small assets.
Then you've got to think, well where does aggregation come into the mix? So you've got lots of ambitious customers, energy as service providers and the DNOs that have lots of ambitions about what they want to do with demand, control and support in terms of services and markets that they want to bid into, but it's all still an emerging picture.
So, the challenge for us is to develop the right features at the right time, which is a challenge for all product development, but it's quite difficult in the energy sector because it's a regulated industry so have to see how fast the DNOs are going to move and how fast energy as a service can move, how fast new markets can come online.
What drives the changes to the DERMs platform, like the increased focus on batteries?
The battery boom was because of the enhanced frequency response, and we’re thinking about where the next one of those things is going to be. We have to consider electric vehicles (EVs) as well, so how much is EV charge management going to play into this? And how much development do you need to do because the people developing the chargers have platforms of their own.
We have to see if we need to talk to the individual assets or do we talk to the supplier of those assets, who has their own platform that manages them? That's kind of an architectural decision that's still panning out depending on who you talk to. So for us the challenge is always just trying to make sure we do the right thing at the right time and make sure we have everything in place for the customers when they need it and how quickly we can develop new features for them. So a lot of our platform development is on making it a flexible platform.
So as opposed to trying to nail down every single last feature, we build a platform so that if a customer wants to do something quickly, then we can actually support that on the platform through configuring the product as opposed to having to build a whole new software application. We've always throw in that flexibility into the product.
Do you have any predictions for what the energy landscape will look like in the next 10 years?
I can imagine that the energy landscape is going be a lot more consumer driven. If everyone has an EV in the driveway - that's obviously more than 10 years away - but if more people have EVs in the driveway, then they'll be inclined to have battery storage if that allows them to manage their electricity usage, especially the consumer at the household level. If that happens it'll be after industrial and commercial sites have more EVs and things.
A lot of the balancing on the grid is done by the generation. I think that's going to flip around and a lot of will be done by load in 10 years, or at least load supported by batteries, and then on site generation possibly.
I think there's going to be a lot more automation, controlling energy demand in 10 years’ time, especially in large buildings. You've obviously already started to see it in homes; I think that will become the norm, especially with the retail market pushing a lot more of the smart home products. I think there's a lot flexibility that could be managed with the automation and the software is deployed. That will be driven by the products that people buy, so if EVs are everywhere and batteries are everywhere, then those two things alone can provide a lot of flexibility that can be managed.