Distributed Energy Sources Can Reduce Cost of Electricity up to 50%

The Stanford researchers published a paper describing a program they built to model Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) deployment in a way that will result in the lowest cost to grid operators.

Planning for DERs makes grid management trickier than it was when a company simply built a huge new plant and connected a power line to it. Without a lot of data, it’s hard to know what kinds of energy resources will have the most impact economically and environmentally and what will be most cost-effective for utilities. But a trio of researchers from Stanford University is attempting to make this planning easier for utilities and policy makers to solve. Their research was published in Nature Energy this week.

The program “ReMatch” uses smart grid data to match groups of consumers with different kinds of distributed resources based on the customers’ energy use and the ability to construct resources in that area (like solar panels, batteries, etc.). If a business district uses a lot of power around mid-day, for example, it might be worthwhile to offer incentives for that area to install solar panels. If a row of restaurants is open until 9pm, perhaps offering those businesses a solar-plus-battery option would be more cost-effective.

The modeling program can also break down customer energy use by the hour.

The software can, for example, pick out customers who use a lot of solar in the morning and customers who use a lot of solar in the afternoon. The utility can then use that information to balance the enrollment of each kind of customer, thereby evening out the demands on the grid.

The researchers applied ReMatch to a 10,000-customer sample in California, using real hourly data gleaned from smart meters. The model found that constructing DER infrastructure in a targeted way reduced the Levelized Cost of Electricity (that is, the present value of the resource over its lifetime costs) by nearly 50%. This was, the paper states, due to a dramatic reduction in operating costs incurred by the utility.

“Our results suggest that in order for distributed infrastructure to become a reality we must design smart and targeted policies, programs, and incentives that facilitate the balancing of consumer type enrollment in DER plans and programs with the existing grid,” the researchers concluded.

Distributed Energy Resources, being potential alternatives to continually building out a centralized grid, include all kinds of hardware that the utility may not necessarily own directly — solar panels, natural gas-fired microturbines, stationary batteries, and alternative cooling. Demand-response schemes, where a grid operator shifts electricity consumer use (usually through incentives) away from high-demand times, are also considered DERs. [arstechnica.com]

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