NRECA is joining an extensive research project with the U.S. Department of Energy to uncover behind-the-meter solar energy generation on distribution systems with the goal of facilitating more renewable resources while improving reliability.

Utilities can better forecast and manage their generation needs if they know how much rooftop solar is being generated on the system, said Meredith Miller, NRECA senior data scientist. That's where this project comes in.

“The ultimate goal is to show that we can put sensors on the grid and bring data back and use it to answer questions co-ops may have about behind-the-meter solar generation," she said.

“Enhanced knowledge on what is being produced behind the meter will allow utilities to have better control over the grid and offset future costs."

Participating utilities will allow micro-phasor measurement units (PMUs) to be placed on distribution lines or at substations. By analyzing sensor data against a circuit's load history and other information, researchers will seek to estimate the amount of behind-the-meter generation.

The research could help accelerate the deployment of distributed energy resources by allowing utilities to use BTM information for forecasting needs and capacity analysis, she said. It could also lead to better management of other distributed resources, like energy storage from electric vehicles and battery systems.

NRECA is working with the University of Pittsburgh, GE Research, North Carolina State University and Sandia National Laboratories on the project, in addition to DOE. NRECA will deploy the PMU sensors, which are slightly bigger than a Rubik's cube, and team with GE on data analysis to develop a model to estimate BTM solar generation.

Greenwood-based Delaware Electric Cooperative and Sangre de Cristo Electric Association in Buena Vista, Colorado, are the initial electric co-op participants. NRECA will install up to 10 PMUs at the co-ops starting in early 2023.