How does a utility know the right instructions to send to fleets of distributed energy resources (DERs) if the utility can't see what's happening nearby in real-time?
That's the question the Holy Cross Energy (HCE) team sought to answer as they met with DERMS providers.
In December 2020, the electric cooperative in Western Colorado announced that it would transition to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2030, with utility-scale solar, wind, and battery energy storage serving as ~80% of its resource portfolio. Local distributed energy resources (DERs) like rooftop solar and home battery systems would provide the remaining ~20%.
The cooperative knew that in order to make this transition successful - keeping services affordable and enhancing grid resilience - it would need to fundamentally re-envision its operations and call upon member-owned devices as resources for grid support.
But how could it do so?
HCE knew it wanted to avoid the complexity of coordinating across multiple DER interfaces and vendors. Like utilities across the country, HCE’s team sought a distributed energy resource management system (DERMS) to bring the pieces together.
However, HCE’s engineers also understood that in order for their operators to safely and reliably call upon member-owned DERs, the operators would need real-time visibility into local grid conditions.
How else would they know what instructions to provide to the DERs?
As part of our recent case study with HCE, Camus sat down with the co-op’s team members to discuss why they chose Camus' “grid-aware” orchestration platform over a standard distributed energy resource management system (DERMS).
From the mid-2010s through 2020, HCE members deployed hundreds of DERs and enrolled in HCE’s innovative programs. During this time, the cooperative recognized that managing proliferating DER types, vendors, and programs was increasingly complicated. Operators were moving from monitoring a handful of screens to flipping between 6, 7, or more.
“When we start controlling EV chargers, batteries, and other resources, we need to pull up more screens and applications because every manufacturer has a different control interface,” shared Sam Whelan, HCE’s Power Supply Manager.
The co-op’s leaders needed to simplify operations while maintaining the flexibility to offer new programs and support new resources.
By definition, every DERMS solution helps simplify this complexity. A DERMS brings together devices of different types, vendors, and owners to provide a utility with a one-stop shop for calling upon DERs for energy and grid support.
However, HCE’s team noticed a big problem. The vast majority of DERMS offerings provide no context as to what’s happening on the grid near DERs. This “standard DERMS” approach monitors and controls the behavior of the DERs, but that’s all.
The standard approach makes figuring out how to safely dispatch DERs a complex problem for grid operators – who are forced to flip between SCADA, DERMS, AMI, OMS, and countless other software systems.
The HCE team knew there had to be a better way.
Along with simplifying operations, HCE wanted a tool that would help its operators take into account local grid conditions while dispatching DERs.
That’s where Camus Energy came in.
Camus’ grid-aware DERMS offering provides orchestration of DERs alongside grid-wide situational awareness and forecasting. By integrating the utility’s operational technologies (SCADA, AMI, GIS, etc.), operators can manage DERs in a way that supports overall grid needs.
This approach becomes necessary to manage grids with numerous DERs or a high penetration of local renewable generation.
Chris Bilby, a research engineer at HCE puts it like this:
“A DERMS usually doesn’t get feedback on grid conditions from the AMI, DMS or ADMS. I view the Camus system as an upper tier of grid management. It’s an orchestrator."
He adds, "Unlike most DERMS today, the Camus platform actually has eyes on your system. It takes it up a notch because it’s pulling data on the grid and allowing us to make decisions based on that data.”
Bilby also pointed to more frequent reverse power flows from megawatt-scale solar plus storage as a driver for more flexible DER dispatch and real-time visibility.
“We need to start planning to make sure that grid voltage stays within boundaries and the grid continues to run smoothly. The [grid-aware] platform helps us answer questions such as:
Once we find solutions to these questions, we can even automate them with Camus.”
With its 2030 vision in mind, HCE recognized that a standard DERMS wouldn’t cut it. But a grid-aware approach could help the co-op achieve its goals.
Holy Cross Energy is striving to become a distribution system operator (DSO). That means managing the local grid and orchestrating complex interactions among distributed energy resources—similar to how independent system operators manage transmission systems today.
By treating all of its energy resources agnostically – whether distributed or utility-scale, its members can participate in its portfolio in the same way as bulk resources.
A standard DERMs wouldn’t support that vision – but a grid-aware DERMS does.
Combining real-time awareness, forecasting, and DER orchestration, Camus’ grid-aware platform has provided a strong, unified foundation for HCE’s transformation into a 100% carbon-free distribution system operator.
For utilities looking to follow the path of organizations like Holy Cross Energy, check out this brief summary of requirements to help distinguish a standard versus grid-aware DERMS.
If you're interested in learning more about the distinction between different DERMS offerings, our team would be happy to chat with you. Contact us below.