From The Team

How G&Ts Can Leverage DERs To Benefit All Members

Authored by:
Steven Brisley
Last Updated: 
January 20, 2023

Across the country, distribution utilities are seeing a surge in member adoption of rooftop solar, electric vehicles, battery energy storage, and other distributed energy resources (DERs). As more devices are connected to the grid, local resources have the potential to not only provide their owners with reduced utility bills, smaller carbon footprints, and greater resiliency, but also be aggregated and leveraged upstream by distribution co-ops and their generation and transmission providers. 

However, for the smallest distribution co-ops, proactively managing the impact of these member-owned resources can feel like a daunting task. Actively orchestrating EV charging to lower peak demand, for example, feels impossible if you can’t even see which members own EVs.

Because distribution co-ops come in many shapes and sizes, a G&T must juggle wide-ranging and sometimes conflicting member demands. That’s true for all types of G&T services but is exacerbated when it comes to using consumer-owned resources to support the broader system.

What great G&T DER operations looks like

Successful orchestration of DERs will rely on G&Ts offering multiple options for how their co-op members coordinate DER dispatch with the G&T. For large and technologically progressive members, the G&T may simply share price signals while leaving the distribution co-op to manage DER operations on their own. For smaller and more resource-constrained members, the G&T may take a more active role: identifying when and where to call upon resources and working hand-in-hand with the co-op operations team to dispatch them accordingly.

Both approaches require trust and data sharing between the distribution co-ops and their G&T.

As DER penetration increases, G&Ts will also need to help ensure that all of their members have enhanced grid awareness. While some members are taking steps on their own to understand the landscape of DERs on their grid, most co-ops lack DER visibility. If a G&T dispatches DERs without considering the operating limits of nearby grid equipment, it can result in serious reliability and safety issues at the distribution-level. G&Ts can avoid this outcome by helping ensure that all of their co-op members have the awareness and communication capabilities to share operating limits with the G&T. For member co-ops who don’t have these tools today, the G&T can recommend vendors that support member-G&T communication and use the G&T’s purchasing power to procure software and hardware at a lower cost.

Saving money for all members and avoiding peak management cost shifts 

Orchestrating flexible consumer-owned devices can save utilities millions through peak management and investment deferral.

Larger, more progressive co-ops have begun using local resources to manage their exposure to higher-cost energy through peak shaving and energy arbitrage. They forecast when their G&T supplier’s coincident peak will occur and then dispatch DERs to lower their demand during that period. This lowers their peak demand costs and can save members millions of dollars per year.

Sounds great, right?

Without a G&T tariff structure that perfectly aligns costs with member rates, distribution co-ops end up reducing their own bills by more than they lower total system costs. This shifts costs away from them and onto other co-ops.

It’s not malicious – it’s just a result of responding to the only price signal available to them.

But G&Ts can flip the switch and help leverage local flexibility to save money for all members – not just those with their own peak management programs. The key is centralized (G&T) coordination with decentralized (distribution co-op) control.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Each distribution co-op aggregates local flexible resources at every Transmission-Distribution interface (typically the substations) and shares a forecast of the total available capacity* for DER dispatch by resource type (think 700 kW and 2000 kWh of batteries at Substation Charlie)

  2. Each distribution co-op also shares a net load forecast for each substation, telling the G&T what they expect their load to be for the next ~24 hours

  3. The G&T uses the distribution-level data to strengthen their own net load forecasts and integrates the available DERS into their supply curve

  4. In places where its economically (or otherwise) advantageous, the G&T sends a request to the distribution co-op to dispatch local resources to shift or shed load

  5. The distribution co-op dispatches the local resources and is paid by the G&T for doing so. Because the resource was lower cost than the next-best source of energy (or capacity), the entire membership pays less in supply costs

*The total available capacity should be limited to the capacity that the distribution co-ops and its members want to make available to the G&T, after considering distribution constraints and other value streams for that resource.

Ultimately, G&Ts can combine the forecast of available flexibility with historical data and forecasts to identify the DERs that will deliver optimal cost savings, bolster reliability, and provide services that benefit the entire system. This helps G&Ts further expand their role as a trusted partner and advisor to their co-op members.

For larger members: achieving local community goals

While DER orchestration can be used to lower total system costs, many distribution co-ops also want to leverage local resources to serve other community goals – including beneficial electrification, resilience and decarbonization.

For these members, providing avenues for local resources to participate at the G&T-level and earn compensation can help improve the business case for deploying more DERs. Batteries can be installed in homes and businesses at risk from wildfires or hurricanes. Electric school buses can be purchased by communities seeking to reduce asthma risk among children while gaining portable backup power. Smart water heaters and thermostats can be installed at the homes of low-medium income residents, enabling them to lower their electric bills and gain access to more flexible, smart home technology.

G&Ts can delight their members by giving co-ops the tools they need to safely adopt these new technologies. For large, technologically-progressive co-ops, the ability to coordinate with their G&T can accelerate their progress towards local goals and strengthen the G&T-member relationship.

For smaller members: enhance awareness and control

For many smaller co-ops, the idea of using real-time awareness to orchestrate DERs can seem out of reach. Some lack the advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) required to understand and forecast net load. Others simply don’t have team members with the right skillset to deploy and manage such a meaningful transition.  And – very often – DER adoption in their communities lags behind that of larger, more urban and suburban co-ops. 

But these smaller communities can still benefit from gaining visibility and control of their community’s resources – and with help from their G&T, it’s not out of reach for them.

G&Ts have both the opportunity and the responsibility to ensure their communities have access to the same affordable, reliable power as larger members – including DER participation. If G&Ts look only to their largest co-ops to provide DER-related services, they will leave behind DER owners in smaller communities. That would be antithetical to the core mission and long history of the G&T. 

By providing avenues for local resources to contribute to the needs of the system – and be fairly compensated, G&Ts can help their smallest members accomplish what they would struggle to do alone: harness local resources for the good of the entire co-op.

“We’re a small distribution co-op. We can't figure out everything. That's where the value of our G&T comes into play. A G&T-scale model for DER operations could do a lot for us.” - CEO, 30,000-member distribution co-op 

We’re here to help

At Camus, we understand that G&Ts must balance the diverse needs of its members. Not every co-op has the resources to pioneer new technologies and implement cutting-edge member programs. Others do. That’s why we offer a grid-aware DERMS and data sharing platform that can serve the needs of each of your members – from the most resource-constrained to those already blazing a trail.

By providing the data-sharing fabric that fosters meaningful partnerships and holistic DER coordination between your G&T and your members, Camus empowers your co-op to work together to save together.  

Learn more about our G&T cooperative solutions or contact us below to set up a conversation about your G&T.

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