How utilities can tackle congestion due to DER penetration


Utilities in North America need to better understand the behaviour of their customers and evolving needs if they are to mitigate the risks of congestion in the distribution network, according to a study conducted by OMNETRIC Group.

The study focus was to understand the growing risk of congestion on grid networks due to increased penetration or integration of distributed energy resources (DERs).

The report Watch Out! Congestion ahead shows that congestion troubles can be addressed in five key ways:

  • Increasing flexibility: DERs, while unpredictable, have the potential to enable utilities to operate grids more efficiently and economically. By adding software tools to the grid, utilities can influence the behaviour of different stakeholders such as consumers and aggregators and smooth-out peaks in the system.
  • Utilising data-driven insight: improved integration of data from assets, sensors and meters across the distribution grid can allow utilities to combine operational​ and customer behaviour-related insights to better avoid congestion.
  • Sharing responsibility but retaining control: in the pursuit of flexibility, utilities will devolve some of their grid management responsibilities to third parties, but by setting the operating framework in which the ecosystem operates, utilities will continue to maintain ultimate responsibility for grid health.
  • Establishing a value-based market: utilities can avoid congestion by transforming the market from a centrally fueled and controlled system to a network of localized grid components that produce, consume or manage energy and where every activity is evaluated according to the positive and negative consequences it has on the grid, and charged accordingly.
  • Calling on regulators: in many ways, regulators have the potential to set the pace for utilities’ response to congestion. By becoming ambassadors and enablers of an age of customer centricity regulators will ensure the future success of utilities.

OMNETRIC Group projects that implementing infrastructure enhancements, battery storage integration, demand response or a distributed energy management systems to tackle congestion can help save $20,000 per MW of connected DER capacity per annum, or $4.5 million over 10 years.

Craig Cavanaugh, CEO – North America, OMNETRIC Group, said: “As more energy resources are added to the grid edge, congestion is a looming threat which the traditional system view cannot expose.”

“Our research shows that distribution operators need to switch outlook if they are to avoid grid congestion in the new energy economy. Rather than focusing on load arriving downstream from transmission, they need to monitor the activities initiated by customers and other parties, often located behind the meter. This type of vigilance requires advanced solutions and integration of operational and information systems data to enable a mix of asset-, behaviour- and market-based actions that can combat congestion.”

The study was conducted this year, and includes interviews with executives from nine US utilities including Consolidated Edison, Duke Energy, Entergy and NV Energy.