When market forces spike electricity prices or outages from disasters threaten to linger, wouldn’t it be nice to safely harness all available rooftop solar and other distributed energy resources to cushion the impact?

NRECA will investigate that capability with a $2.9 million investment from the U.S. Department of Energy into a new Community-Integrated Distributed Energy Resilience (CIDER) initiative. The association will provide another $1.1 million toward the three-year project, which launches in 2023.

NRECA will partner with Camus Energy and Emulate Energy and five electric cooperatives to demonstrate how current, affordable technologies can aggregate DER—from solar to batteries to backup generators—to serve members during wholesale rate increases and disaster recovery.

“We’re trying to find DER control techniques that provide benefits to the communities the co-ops serve,” said David Pinney, NRECA analytics research manager and CIDER principal investigator.

“Right now, we believe the two largest community benefits of this project will likely be reduced power supply cost and shorter outage durations.”

After DOE announced the award in early November, Pinney discussed the goals and methods of CIDER.

How will the final product from CIDER improve upon existing outage recovery across the industry?

Pinney: Legacy outage management systems track loss of power and restoration efforts, but they don't allow system operators to see and control distributed assets, which can lead to suboptimal restoration plans and potential safety issues with uncontrolled DER. Through CIDER’s DER control acquisition and the rapid deployment, low cost and scalability of the platform, we will show a clear path to affordable implementation of the same techniques at cooperatives nationwide.

What kinds of the technologies are involved in CIDER, and how affordable will they be to co-op members?

Pinney: We’ll be taking existing off-the-shelf systems and combining and extending them with new capabilities. One key goal of the project is new two-way communication methods through Internet of Things APIs [application programming interface] that will allow consumer-owned DER to participate at a low cost. I think we can achieve connectivity for $20 per device instead of the $200-plus per device that is typical with current control hardware.

Will the owners of rooftop solar and other DER have real-time control of their resources under CIDER?

Pinney: Yes. Existing systems give consumers good control over the individual DER they own. What we’re trying to do is give them the ability to easily “team up” with their neighbors to coordinate their controls to achieve shared goals like mitigating outages and decreasing costs co-op-wide.

Would teaming up a community’s DER facilitate a sort of stored energy supply co-ops could tap into when necessary?

Pinney: One of the components of our approach is a so-called “virtual battery” control system. Right now, it’s difficult to control a large fleet of DERs because there are many different types of devices. For example, water heater controls can only be set to on/off; thermostat controls are continuously variable but might need pre-cooling; backup generators have limits on hours they can run, etc. By providing this single virtual battery interface to the entire fleet of devices, we believe we can make it far easier to control all the devices together to meet backup power and economic control targets.

Give an example of how CIDER would work when disaster strikes.

Pinney: After a large storm hits and the distribution system is damaged, CIDER will first give a clear picture of what DER are still working and capable of providing power. This can help lineworkers determine who has backup power, which 1) helps prioritize restoration efforts, and 2) improves safety by identifying areas where power might come back onto the distribution system.

A stretch goal we have is to be able to coordinate DER and the distribution equipment to power sections of the grid that have lost connectivity to the bulk power system.

What about on a blue-sky day?

Pinney: During normal days, we’re looking at control techniques that can provide cost savings. For example, most co-ops pay a demand charge to their power suppliers based on peak usage during only a couple days per year. If consumer DER can coordinate and reduce demand during these key periods, everyone can save money.