Western Colorado is renowned for the towering peaks of the Sawatch Mountains that attract outdoor lovers from around the world. The region also has the equally impressive, though lesser known, distinction of leading the clean energy transition.
Holy Cross Energy (HCE), an electric cooperative based in Glenwood Springs, has an ambitious goal to provide 100% carbon-free electricity by 2030. That target puts HCE in the company of just a handful of utilities in the United States. Today, 48% of HCE’s power supply comes from renewable energy.
To reach 100% carbon-free energy in less than eight years, HCE is fundamentally re-envisioning grid operations. In 2020, the cooperative began a long-term partnership with Camus Energy to support its vision through a grid orchestration software platform.
This case study documents the collaboration—the activities, new capabilities, benefits, and insights. This work is breaking new ground in grid management.
As part of its 100% carbon-free vision, HCE wants to source up to 20% of its power supply from local distributed energy resources. HCE aims to leverage local resources to:
The HCE-Camus collaboration began with conversations about how Camus’ grid orchestration platform could support the cooperative’s goal to provide safe, reliable, affordable, and sustainable energy and services for its members.
First and foremost was HCE’s ambition to transition from a coal-heavy power mix to 100% zero-carbon generation. To meet the goal, HCE considered different mixes of large-scale renewable generation and distributed energy resources (DERs), such as rooftop solar and member-sited batteries.
Its 100x30 plan calls for ~80% of its clean energy supply to come from utility-scale solar, wind, and battery storage, with the remaining ~20% from local DERs. The Camus platform offered an integrated solution for HCE to manage both sets of resources to support its grid and its members.
In 2018, a wildfire burned halfway through a critical transmission pole that powers a significant part of the cooperative’s service area. This close call prompted HCE to expand its grid resilience efforts and mitigate wildfire risks.
The cooperative has optimized vegetation management via satellite imagery, enhanced grid inspections with infrared cameras, and added sectionalizers to help minimize the impact of preventive shutoffs.
With Camus, HCE saw an opportunity to take resilience to the next level through real-time grid visibility and enhanced management of local energy resources.
Core to HCE’s mission is providing affordable power that helps improve the quality of life for its members and their communities.
In early discussions, HCE and Camus identified a promising avenue to make a meaningful cut in costs: peak management. HCE’s power supply contract with PSCo includes a dollar-per-kilowatt (kW) coincident peak charge, the fee associated with the hour each month in which PSCo’s overall system is at peak load. In 2021, HCE paid about 26% of its total annual power supply costs in coincident peak costs. For most years, these charges account for about 20% of HCE’s power costs.
Recognizing the potential to save hundreds of thousands of dollars per month from peak shaving, HCE turned to Camus to better understand when and where to call demand response events. The co-op regularly uses Camus’ coincident peak forecasting module alongside the platform’s direct control of distributed energy resources (such as member-sited batteries) to call events and reduce coincident peak demand.
HCE is led by CEO Bryan Hannegan, a former Associate Lab Director at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Hannegan is keen to demonstrate cutting-edge solutions on HCE's grid and carve a path that fellow utilities can follow.
A core component of HCE's vision is to leverage demand flexibility and distributed generation alongside utility-scale resources. The cooperative plans to do so by creating rates, programs, and a local marketplace where it compensates members for contributions to the grid. This would transform HCE into what's often referred to as a distribution system operator (DSO).
HCE hopes to demonstrate a successful DSO model and help other power providers make the same transition. It views the Camus platform as a key enabler of HCE’s DSO capabilities by helping the co-op monitor and manage local resources.
HCE has made progress toward its vision of sourcing an increasing amount of its carbon-free power supply from local DERs. Relative to other cooperatives around the country, HCE is ahead of the curve with DER adoption. It has recently implemented a range of member programs to support continued adoption and tap DERs for grid services like peak shaving.
While HCE’s members are adopting DERs faster than members of many other co-ops, the trends that HCE is seeing will quickly become top-of-mind for utilities across the country over the next few years.
Since 2018, HCE has managed programs that incentivize and deploy EV charging infrastructure at homes, communities, workplaces, local transit agencies, and the co-op’s vehicle fleets. It partners with EV infrastructure company ChargePoint to provide equipment and manage the charging network.
HCE provides members with free home chargers in exchange for auto-enrolling in the co-op’s “distribution flexibility” tariff. The tariff enables HCE to adjust the rate of charge of the chargers to meet the needs of the member and the network, known as “managed charging.” HCE is also covering grid upgrade costs to develop a public fast-charging network.
Since 2018, HCE has deployed about one home charger every three days. According to a progress report in 2021, there were 270 home and workplace chargers, 278 level 2 community chargers, and 38 community DC fast chargers in HCE’s service territory. This puts 2 of the 3 counties HCE serves in the Top 10 US counties for EV charging.
Since 2009, HCE has offered installation rebates and net metering to members who install renewable electricity generation at their homes or businesses. Eligible systems include solar, hydropower, biomass, geothermal, and wind. As of 2021, members have deployed 19 megawatts (MW) of distributed generation. In total, HCE leverages 30 MW of distribution-connected solar, 12 MW of biomass, and 369 kilowatts (kW) of small hydro from both member installations and power purchase agreements (PPAs). Going forward, the co-op aims to support deployment of at least 2 MW of rooftop solar per year.
In 2021, HCE launched the Power+ program through which the cooperative installs Tesla Powerwall residential battery systems for its members, covering the upfront costs in exchange for a small monthly bill charge and the ability for HCE to call upon the batteries. HCE can do so up to 10 times per month to reduce peak demand costs. Participants are eligible for bill credits through HCE’s “distribution flexibility” tariff.
Currently, more than 500 kW of Powerwalls participate in the program. HCE expects that number to increase to 2,000 kW by the end of 2022. The program’s goal is 5 MW / ~15 MWh of residential storage.
In 2018, HCE worked with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to deploy a microgrid that connects the Basalt Vista affordable housing community with solar power arrays and batteries. The project continues to examine the value of behind-the-meter DERs to members and the grid.
Since 2019, HCE has called upon member resources to support the grid via demand response events. Today, HCE regularly calls events to lower its coincident peak and ensure reliability. Members who are enrolled in HCE’s Peak Time Payback program and reduce their energy use during these events receive credits on their bill. Currently, HCE has access to about 2 MW of demand response resources through this program. HCE’s system peak demand is 270 MW. HCE is also piloting their Green Up program to incentivize increases in usage during renewable oversupply events.
As more HCE members deployed DERs and enrolled in HCE programs, the cooperative recognized that managing proliferating DER types, vendors, and programs was getting complicated. They needed to simplify operations while maintaining the flexibility to offer new programs and support new resources.
“Several years ago, I walked into our dispatch room and noticed that we had gone from three monitors to six monitors,” said Chris Bilby, a Research Engineer at HCE. Bilby’s role includes day-to-day grid operations and managing how HCE’s members interact with the grid.
“I thought, ‘This is going in the wrong direction. We need to filter this down to one interface that provides only the information you need to see and that can recommend decisions based on information that’s in the background.’”
That’s why HCE partnered with Camus Energy in 2020: to simplify complexity. Camus’ grid orchestration platform integrates the utility’s data into a single interface that can monitor and control devices across the network.
“We joined forces with Camus knowing that we have a lot of DERs coming down the pipeline. Camus’ platform is an orchestrator. It allows you to dispatch DERs and provides awareness of grid conditions to inform those dispatches.”
Chris Bilby, Research Engineer
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