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Fastest Growing DER within the Utility Industry

Authored By: Paula Beleno-Ortiz

Distributed Energy Resources, or DER, are power generation or energy storage systems used to provide an alternative source of electricity or enhance the traditional power grid. DER can generate electricity using any primary fuel, although they often involve clean or renewable energy sources. DER includes systems that store energy, such as battery storage, and then supply that reserved electricity to the grid when needed. Some definitions of DER further cover devices which help with load changes as customers lower their usage during peak hours. As power generation, distributed generation, and renewable energy sources continue to transform, DER availability and reliability play an important role in the electric utility industry. 

Even just a few years ago, the power system model relied almost exclusively on a larger power generating system, typically fueled by coal, gas, or nuclear power, which dispersed electricity through a centralized grid. Now the model is transforming to include decentralized power sources (DER) such as solar or wind farms as well as behind-the-meter generation and storage. These distributed sources of energy, some using a two-way flow of power, are revamping the grid from yesterday. Along with green energy technology solutions, which continue to gain in efficiency, reliability, and affordability, power generation has become more diverse. Combined, these changes are gaining in momentum as more developers and utilities are seeking opportunities to connect DER to the grid, allowing for increased reliability, broader grid stability, and diversity of power generation sources.

If you are working in the electric utility industry, I’m sure you’ve seen increases in DER as the technology for power delivery evolves. With my experience, I have seen the strongest rise in the following three areas:

  1. Solar – Both utility-scale and behind-the-meter solar power generation offers utilities multiple sources for power outside of their traditional generators helping meet peak needs for customers, as well as provide reliability and stability to the grid. Qualus Power Services, through our wholly owned subsidiaries, CE Power, CE Power Solutions, and Power Grid Engineering, has been working with several of our electric utility clients over the last few months to add solar DER connections throughout their region. 
  2. Wind – Viewed as not only a green alternative power source, but an avenue for utility-scale power generation with improved efficiency and value, wind DER continues to gain in popularity throughout the United States. Similar to our work with solar DER, Qualus Power Services continues to work with our utility clients as wind generation interconnections increase.
  3. Microgrids – This localized electric grid can be made up of several generating sources, which might include solar and wind farms tied together into a smaller, autonomous grid. Seen as a subset of DER because of their single connection point, microgrids maintain the self-determination to disconnect from the larger grid if necessary. While not without issue, they can be a source for managing the energy supply and enhancing grid flexibility, providing a power resource to help with peak hours as well as system response and recovery.

How are your utilities embracing DER and what are your plans to continue to broaden distributed energy resources while reinforcing grid reliability, stability, and power generation diversity?