CPS Energy: Grid modernisation for harsh weather and DER bottlenecks

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With utilities increasingly faced with the challenge of operating energy systems during harsh weather events, together with the increased penetration of distributed energy resources (DERs), how are modernisation programmes helping to address grid network bottlenecks?

According to Mike Kotch, vice president of utility and energy at 3Insys, more than 80% of energy customers in the US had their service interrupted by harsh weather in the past five years. Also, DERs continue to present challenges to utility operations on a daily basis in relation to voltage flows and congestion.

In a discussion held during the Itron Inspire digital event, James Trevino, director of control systems at CPS Energy explained how deploying smart grid and renewable energy technologies are helping the utility to ensure grid resilience and reducing the impacts of power disruptions during events such as flooding and hurricanes

He said smart grid investments have helped in ensuring the 28 harsh weather events experienced in San Antonio in 2020 had less impact on CPS Energy’s grid network and services. In 2020 alone, CPS Energy managed to record $700,000 in cost benefits within the San Antonio area. In addition to the financial benefits, the utility managed to ensure customer services remained constant through quick restoration of power for consumers who were affected by outages.

Although few harsh weather events have been witnessed in 2021, Trevino said CPS Energy has so far recorded $900,000 in avoided costs in 2021.

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CPS Energy started its grid modernisation journey in 2012 by installing smart meters, volt optimisation, and digital substations. Today, the company has installed 600 reclosers and seven digital substations.

He added: “DERs and electric vehicles are coming and are having massive impacts on the grid. We noticed we have some gaps and this prompted us to develop a ten-year grid resilience plan.”

Trevino said the plan includes CPS Energy expanding its Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition System (SCADA) and ensure the utility is in line with changing regulatory policies on cybersecurity.

He said his firm has embarked on an initiative to expand its generation capacity by procuring 900MW of solar capacity – “the largest single procurement of renewables capacity in the US”. In addition, CPS Energy will add to its assets 50MW of energy storage capacity and flexible energy resources. Solar energy will help the utility ensure a secure energy supply as resources such as EVs increase energy demand on the grid, whilst storage will enable the use of flexible energy and renewables to provide baseload power.

Microgrids, distribution automation, and the installation of a distributed energy resource management system (DERMS) will be a key focus to enhance grid reliability and resilience in the next five years, said Trevino. The DERMS will allow CPS Energy to optimise the management of DERs and voltage regulation to avoid curtailment.

Trevino, added: “We are deploying the SCADA in 3 phases over the next four years. The first phase will cover the wholesale market and DER interconnection whilst in the second phase we will focus on the transmission and distribution demonstration of DERs. In the third phase, we will look at other advanced requirements.”

The upgrade of the transmission system is expected to start in November.

“DER, solar, and EVs are a pop-up and are growing and are going to be a big problem from a SCADA perspective to do accurate power flows,” said Trevino.

As a result, he said the utility will leverage demand response, grid automation, and self-healing capabilities to help simplify the connection and management of the DERs on the grid.

The CPS Energy representative stated that his utility is looking into vendor consolidation to address weather events and DER challenges and to accelerate its digital and renewable energy transformation whilst ensuring customer services.

Find out more about the Grid modernisation and distribution automation projects session at the Itron Inspire website.

CPS Energy has been recognised by Itron with the 2021 Innovator Award for its leadership role in piloting partner innovations. Find out more about this here