Holy Cross Energy Case StudY

Chapter 3: The Platform in Action

17 Min Read

man looking at monitor of utility software
Camus' cloud-based grid orchestration platform is deployed at distribution utilities and load serving entities across the U.S.

Chapter 3: THE Platform in Action

Seeing Immediate Value

After the platform’s launch in early 2021, HCE’s engineering and power supply teams quickly began to use it for their distinct needs. There was an immediate recognition of its benefits and its potential to take grid management to the next level. These early benefits included:

One interface for grid-wide orchestration. 

In contrast with HCE’s prior grid management activities, the platform combined monitoring, analysis, and control of the grid and its energy resources in a single interface. By reducing the need for control room staff to move back and forth between different monitors, HCE was able to streamline its day-to-day operations.

“The platform provides a single dashboard that can manage and aggregate a multitude of DERs for many different applications. This simplifies what would otherwise be a very complicated task.”

Chris Bilby, HCE Research Engineer

“A key value of the platform is that it integrates all the controls in one place,” said Sam Whelan, HCE’s power supply manager. “If we see something happening on the grid or in our energy portfolio, we can make the necessary adjustments to our various programs and large-scale resources at the same time.”

Better visibility. 

Nothing is more frustrating for grid operators than being unable to see what's happening on their system. Despite progress in other industries, most grid operators today are forced to rely on data that lags hours or even days behind. At HCE, siloed and delayed data was a barrier to flexible grid operations. 

The Camus platform immediately provided more granular, real-time visibility by combining grid and device data with near-term forecasts.

“Over the last several years, we’ve been collecting more and more granular data,” said Bilby. “Our demand data from smart meters has gone from one-hour intervals to 15 minutes. Now that we’ve deployed Tesla Powerwalls and wireless energy monitors for our members, we’re getting five minute data and even 30-second data. The Camus platform puts this data in front of the right people and helps them understand what they can do with the data. It allows them to make decisions.”

With a clearer picture of grid conditions, operators at HCE are able to identify problems more quickly.

“Recently, we noticed a big jump in the load on a substation. Because our grid data is so accessible, we were able to quickly determine that there was an outage at one of our largest generators.”

David Manning, Resource Scheduling Analyst

Manning points to other benefits of grid visibility that he expects to see in the near future.

“With new utility-scale solar resources coming online, there’s a growing risk of reverse power flows on certain substations,” he said. “The visibility every day into what’s happening on our system is useful for me in thinking about problems that we have coming down the pike.”

Enhanced data quality. 

When integrating data in the platform, Camus helps utilities identify and correct discrepancies, errors, and other data shortcomings. The improved data quality serves as a stronger foundation for monitoring, analysis, and forecasting. 

During the process of collecting and integrating HCE’s data, Camus and HCE found and fixed issues such as out-of-date firmware on meters at substations and solar arrays, inaccurate calculated points in the SCADA system, and insecure, clear-text file transfers.

“One of the areas where we saw value right away was in Camus flagging data that looked out of bounds or off — problems that are difficult to catch with the human eye.”

Sam Whelan, HCE Power Supply Manager

An up-to-date grid connectivity model.  

Prior to working with Camus, HCE was only able to update the grid model in their meter data management system (MDMS) quarterly, due to constraints with its existing vendor. That meant that HCE was using a model that was as much as three or four months old.

“If we wanted to implement new services or evaluate new grid assets, the vendor wasn’t able to provide the timely feedback loop that we needed for those activities,” said Bilby. “Since Camus integrated our grid data, we have been able to update our grid model weekly.”

Peace of mind. 

With coordinated control, real-time visibility, and improved data quality, HCE is better able to serve the diverse needs of its membership. The Camus platform has helped HCE’s leaders tackle today’s challenges while preparing for the future. That flexibility has, in turn, delivered more peace of mind for team members across HCE.

Utility transformers on a pole
An early use case of the Camus platform included estimating transformer loading

Initial Use Cases

The platform’s visibility serves as a foundation for Camus to help HCE operate its rapidly changing grid. HCE and Camus plan to continue to add tools to the platform as part of their ongoing partnership. As a starting point, HCE asked Camus to deploy two high-priority capabilities:

  • Net demand and coincident peak forecasting to support HCE’s power supply management and scheduling
  • A tool to estimate loading on each of HCE’s 14,000 distribution transformers

As the co-op continues to decarbonize its grid and become a distribution system operator, HCE plans to leverage the Camus platform for additional use cases.

Peak Forecasting for Power Supply Management

For utilities across the United States, power supply portfolios are continuing to shift. HCE is no different, moving from heavy reliance on coal toward a goal of 100% renewable supply by 2030.

The HCE power supply team views all energy resources on the same playing field.

“Our goal is to be agnostic as to where our energy comes from and to view all of our resources holistically,” said HCE Power Supply Manager Sam Whelan.

“We want to be able to design programs that allow members to participate in our portfolio in the same way as a bulk system resource.”

Sam Whelan, Power Supply Manager

Implementing an agnostic approach can be complex and cumbersome.

“We already have numerous grid datasets and internal data streams,” said Whelan. “When you start controlling EV chargers, batteries, and other resources, you need to pull up more screens and applications because every manufacturer has a different control interface. That's why we’ve asked Camus to pull all our data and controls into one simple, user-friendly platform that lets us treat our resources agnostically.”

Aggregating Member Resources 

Member-owned resources must be aggregated to be effectively coordinated for power supply management. While some utilities rely on third-party aggregators to coordinate member- or customer-owned resources, Whelan said that HCE wants to aggregate resources itself.

“Based on our cooperative principle of serving our members, we want to keep that direct relationship with members,” he said. “HCE is focused on member satisfaction and making sure everyone feels a part of the co-op. We want that to continue.”

Coincident Peak Forecasting  

In 2021, HCE hired David Manning as a Resource Scheduling Analyst to schedule power procurements and balance near-term supply and demand. In addition to managing the co-op’s supply resources, Manning must forecast expected demand, fully considering the impacts of distributed resources like rooftop solar arrays and electric vehicles. 

To tackle this complicated forecasting challenge, HCE turned to Camus.

For HCE, a core driver of its power supply costs is the co-op’s coincident peak with the Public Service Company of Colorado (PSCo). PSCo’s 12 annual coincident peak charges amount to roughly 20% of HCE’s annual power costs. By forecasting PSCo's system peak, Manning can find ways to meaningfully reduce power supply costs through peak shaving. As more dispatchable DERs connect to the system, the value of accurate forecasting and peak shaving will increase.

At the outset of the Camus collaboration, HCE relied on an internal peak forecasting tool that needed gut-checks from other data sources. 

“When we were forecasting the peak, we would have our internal forecast pulled up, an external forecast data source pulled up, and a couple different weather sources pulled up—all on multiple different windows or screens.”

Sam Whelan, Power Supply Manager

To simplify the forecasting process, Camus launched a coincident peak forecasting module that automates the process that HCE's forecasters had used for years.

Example coincident peak forecast with historical information
Example coincident peak forecast with historical peak demand information

A machine learning model combines historical PSCo peak demand values and weather forecasts in a regression model that generates a point forecast for the PSCo system’s peak demand, including the hour in which it occurs. The point forecast is then combined with the month-to-date peak value and historical load ranges in a statistical classification algorithm, which classifies the forecasted peak as very likely, likely, or unlikely to be the coincident peak for the month.

The results inform when Manning uses the platform to call demand response and battery discharge events to reduce the peak. From November 2021 through March 2022, these events saved HCE a total of about $90,000 in power supply costs.

“The Camus platform is much more user-friendly and neatly packaged than any of our internal Excel-based tools, and it’s much easier to get up to speed on it,” said Manning.

“I was able to use it to call a battery event in my first two weeks on the job. Being able to click a button to say when I want to dispatch them has allowed me to create immediate value in my position.”

David Manning, Resource Scheduler
Determining When To Call Events

In addition to pinpointing the specific peak hour, Manning points to another advantage of the Camus forecasting tool over HCE’s status quo: It provides better insight into whether or not events should be called early in a month. 

Forecasting peak demand at the start of a month is inherently trickier due to the large number of days remaining in the month. As the number of remaining days decreases, the uncertainty decreases. This occurs because each month has only one coincident peak, so predicting a peak early in the month requires more assumptions about what potential peaks will look like the rest of the month.

Before adopting Camus’s approach that considers time of month, the HCE team relied on simple heuristics to incorporate time-of-month considerations.

“If you're at the beginning of the month, the demand forecast for the peak hour on a certain day might be a relatively low number of megawatts, but the Camus tool might still say it’s likely or very likely to be the coincident peak,” said Manning. 

“In October 2021, before the Camus tool was up and running, I missed the coincident peak because the weather was mild at the beginning of the month. I thought chances were high that we were going to see a higher peak later in the month. With Camus, I wouldn't have missed that peak."

David Manning, Resource Scheduler

This approach to forecasting helps Manning call the optimal number of demand response events to substantially reduce the coincident peak without over-burdening local resources. It also frees up behind-the-meter resources to add more value, e.g. by participating in wholesale markets.

“There is a finite number of events we can call,” said Manning. “If we call an event and the peak doesn’t occur on that day, there can be a relatively significant cost associated with that. The Camus tool is helping us save money by avoiding unnecessary events.”

Automating Peak Management

Currently, Manning is validating the tool alongside HCE’s internal forecasts. He expects his reliance on Camus to continue to grow over time, especially as he’s able to look at the contribution of specific factors, like weather, to peak forecasts. 

“When we can look under the belly of the forecasts, I will rely completely on the Camus tool,” said Manning. “Our vision is that these decisions will be automatic, or at least that the platform will make a strong recommendation and I can say yes or no to that. Given how accurate the tool has gotten so quickly, I imagine doing that in the next year.”

Net Load Forecasting

An understanding of peak demand is crucial to reducing costs, but the challenge of managing power supply doesn’t stop there. Utilities like HCE must also forecast overall net loads on their system to ensure they're matching supply with demand 24/7/365. And as rate structures and incentives become increasingly complex, accurately forecasting net load becomes more difficult.

Camus's net load forecast provides HCE with a more accurate picture of hourly demand over the next few days—accounting for distributed generation like rooftop and community solar systems.

The tool automates the net load forecasting methods already in use by HCE’s power supply team.

Better forecasts help HCE procure wholesale power, call upon demand-side resources to shift load, and anticipate emergency demand response events. For example, if the net load forecast shows a gap between projected demand and procured supply, HCE can purchase more power or adjust demand-side resources. 

The tool is currently in the beta phase. The team is fine-tuning its accuracy and integrating it with the platform’s controls. 

“The vision is to create a circular loop where the forecast informs a decision about when to charge the batteries, for example, and the results of that decision flow back to the forecast so that we know what we need to procure each hour,” said Whelan 

“The insights from the forecast will be essential to our control decisions when we start seeing oversupply from renewables.”

Sam Whelan, Power Supply Manager

“Once we’re comfortable with the level of accuracy of the net load forecast, we plan to use the tool to identify trading opportunities in energy markets so that we can procure power a lot more strategically and in ways that reduce costs for our members,” said Manning. “I see a lot of potential in feeding data streams into the tool, such as how DERs are currently being managed and how much power we’ve already scheduled to purchase.”

camus transforming loading screenshot
An example of the overview screen from Camus' transformer loading analysis tool

Transformer Loading

The proliferation of renewable energy and DERs on HCE’s grid has not only affected its power supply mix. It is changing how its control room staff operate and manage their critical grid assets. The first major opportunity to support the HCE engineering and operations teams was to address data gaps related to transformer loading.

With more than 14,000 transformers, HCE is committed to reducing transformer failures and outages due to overloading, identifying transformers in need of replacement, improving utilization of transformers, and understanding the extent to which new loads can be accommodated on different parts of the grid.

Estimating Loading

In December 2021, Camus rolled out a tool that uses available data to estimate current and historical loading on each transformer. It uses GIS data to match each meter with the transformer that serves it. Then it uses AMI data to aggregate the power consumed at all the meters served by a particular transformer.

By comparing a transformer's actual loading with its nameplate rating (from GIS data), HCE can identify which transformers are over-, under-, or efficiently loaded. Today, HCE uses a report that highlights the 25 highest-loaded transformers as a percentage of rating over the prior day, week, and 30 days.

The tool provides data on local grid conditions to help HCE's team put the transformer loading information into context. Data on voltage (maximum, minimum, median) and power consumption at each downline meter enables HCE to better understand how different members contribute to each transformer's loading over time. 

Protecting From Failures

While the feature is still quite new, HCE is already gaining valuable insights from its use. For example, HCE has identified its highest loaded transformers—some at 200-300% of their nameplate ratings—and is evaluating the causes of the high loading. The team expects the lessons from these analyses to inform new strategies to support safe, efficient operations. 

“The transformer loading tool gives us a real-time picture of aggregated voltage at each transformer. Two of our transformers recently prematurely failed, and if we had had this tool up and running, we probably could have saved them and avoided five hours of outages.”

Chris Bilby, Research Engineer

Bilby added that HCE plans to use the aggregated voltage readings to better understand grid conditions and inform decisions about discharging large numbers of batteries or charging EVs. A next step is to enhance the tool to include planning capabilities. 

“Let’s say that we’ve identified an overloaded transformer that serves four homes, and one of the homes wants to get an EV. What do we need to do to enable that?” said Bilby. “We want to add a feature to the platform that simulates how the transformer’s load would be impacted by a new EV.”

sunrise over colorado mountains

Preparing for HCE’s DSO Vision

HCE is preparing for a significant shift in its grid operations as it works toward its goal of 100% carbon-free electricity by 2030. It aims to become a distribution system operator for a grid in which both utility-scale resources and local DERs play meaningful roles in grid operations.

The Camus platform is directly supporting HCE’s preparations. It helps HCE quickly and easily integrate new energy resources, providing visibility into a changing landscape and more flexibility in managing local grid conditions. 

The platform also helps HCE take a strategic approach to the deployment of DERs and utility-scale renewables. The platform arms HCE with data to inform decisions on the optimal location and configuration of these resources. And it provides a transparent way to communicate these insights to members and project developers.

“We’re working with Camus to create voltage maps of our system,” said Chris Bilby, HCE Research Engineer. “These may show us that there is more room for renewables in some areas. But they may lead us in other areas to require members to couple their rooftop solar with batteries so that they’re not generating during the daytime.”

Emerging Wholesale Energy Markets

In 2021, the Colorado legislature passed a bill requiring the state’s transmission utilities to join organized wholesale electricity markets by 2030. The transition to wholesale markets is likely to occur over the next several years, making available day-ahead and real-time markets for procuring energy. HCE wants to be prepared to optimally dispatch its diverse local assets in these markets.

“We’re focused on peak reduction for just a few hours each month. For the rest of the time, I see incredible potential to look at energy markets across the West, take a financial position, and meet that with our fleet of resources.”

David Manning, Resource Scheduler

Investigating Local Energy Markets

In addition to participating in a wholesale market, HCE plans to establish a local energy market in its service territory.

Rather than implementing distinct control policies for different types of local resources, a local market can communicate real-time values of energy and capacity that enable all local resources to participate on a level playing field. Those real-time values could be informed by factors such as HCE’s grid operational costs, day-ahead wholesale prices, coincident peak charges, and constraints on local feeders. 

Managing Local Markets

HCE envisions using Camus to manage this local market. With the platform, HCE’s grid operators can orchestrate all energy resources in a way that optimizes their use and maximizes value for HCE and its members. The idea is to expand the field of resources that can provide services needed by the distribution grid.

As a first step to enable the local market, Camus and HCE are conducting modeling analyses on dynamic rate and incentive structures. By leveraging customer data already integrated into the platform, the team is evaluating how different rates would impact energy bills and encourage market participation among groups of members: low-income, those who own solar + batteries, and those located in particular parts of the grid.

HCE is also investigating the value of various member-provided grid services and how member-owned devices may respond to market signals. A key step in understanding these dynamics more completely will be a pilot program that enables members to sign up for real-time rates and receive signals from HCE about changing their energy use or production.

“Our vision with Camus is to figure out how to send our members the right price signals based on the market—and how to automate the responses of our members’ devices to get them the lowest cost.”

Sam Whelan, Power Supply Manager

The extent to which market activities are automated will depend on members’ preferences. Camus and HCE will set up programs and processes in the platform that allow members to participate at the level they want. 

“We will need to make it easy for our members and give them simple opt-in/out-out decisions that they can make with their smartphones,” said Bilby. “As the orchestrator, we will use the platform’s controls to implement these decisions.”

“What gets me super-excited is the prospect of leveraging grid visibility to run a market in our system and manage congestion and voltage.”

David Manning, Resource Scheduler

Said Manning, “The platform will be steering the ship and automatically making course corrections during day-to-day operations. That will give me more time to think strategically and focus on long-term procurement decisions.”

young girl reading on a bed


A Glimpse of What’s Possible

HCE is at the leading edge of the clean energy transition, with an ambitious goal to provide affordable, reliable, and 100% carbon-free electricity by 2030.

To reach the finish line, the cooperative is fundamentally re-envisioning how it operates its grid. HCE is striving to take on the role of a distribution system operator, enabling its members to participate alongside conventional resources.

Camus Energy’s secure, cloud-based grid orchestration system is a critical enabler of this transformation. The platform combines monitoring, analysis, and control of grid-connected resources to provide HCE with the data and orchestration it needs for a community-focused future.

HCE has made remarkable progress. Its power supply is ~48% carbon-free (up from ~30% in 2015). It has demonstrated the orchestration capabilities that it will need as a distribution system operator. And it is continuing to push forward with new programs that incentivize members to support the needs of the grid.

For other community-focused utilities, HCE’s success to date offers an exciting glimpse of what’s possible with a sustained commitment to a bold vision.

To learn more about Holy Cross Energy's partnership with Camus or to evaluate how your utility can make progress towards similar goals, fill out the contact form below.


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