Many in the DR and smart grid community have worked hard to give demand response a standing equal to traditional energy efficiency, and to have the words “demand response” be the third thing that falls off the lips of policymakers and others when they are talking about efficiency and renewable energy.
The good news is that this is now happening. It means that DR has truly arrived (forget for the moment the court threats; DR will not die a legal death no matter what SCOTUS decides). It means that people finally "get" DR.
But the last thing that the electricity world does these days is stand still. The ground underneath it continues to shake, rattle, and roll with change, most of it technology-driven. The same is true with DR.
One of the biggest changes in electricity, and one that rapidly seems to have achieved the level of being a consensus expectation, is distributed energy resources (DER). The pressures of cost, emissions reductions, customer choice, resiliency, risk management, and market forces, not to mention technological breakthroughs, are all pointing toward a future electricity industry that will be more distributed than what we have today.
So what does that mean for DR?
That will be only one of the big questions taken up by speakers and attendees at the upcoming 12th annual National Town Meeting on Demand Response and Smart Grid. (www.smartgridtownmeeting.com). Here is a small preview of how I think the discussion might go.
Let’s look at the definition of DER. There is no official one out there as far as I know. However, the components of any definition or description you will see are common. Words like flexibility, resiliency, modularity, and dispatchability show up, as well as the idea that such resources can be either utility or non-utility owned. That also sounds like DR, right?
But you may never have thought of DR as a DER. After all, one of the beautiful things about DR is the fact that it has so many different benefits to so many different parties in so many different places. That leads to different people thinking differently about DR. But what about thinking about it as DER?
What about the customer aspects of DR, you say? Doesn’t that make it different from other DER options? Well, no. A lot of the other options have customer aspects as well. Certainly storage. Certainly microgrids. Certainly EVs. Certainly roof-top solar. None of these are large, centralized supply options. Distribution of energy resources (i.e. decentralization) necessarily means that customers will be very much involved in the modern electricity system.
DR does have some history of being a serious, bonafide resource. Since the establishment of the ISO/RTOs, DR has been seen as a resource by those entities and by the DR providers that bring it to market.
Now along comes DER, and resources becoming a much more inclusive and diverse concept and reality. That means there is a new way to think about DR – as one of the most obvious and natural distributed energy resources there is. It is dispatchable. It is flexible. It is available at any time. It is modular and distributed.
But wait. DR is not only a resource, but it is a tool that can be used to help integrate those other DER options in a way that allows them all get a seat at the DER table.
For example, I recently chatted with a large utility that has a already-high and accelerating level of roof-top solar on its system. So far, the collective solar resource from those deployments is not necessarily giving the utility the resource it needs. That is because the peak of solar availability/supply is not the same as the peak demand period. This means the utility still has to be able to meet that peak demand when the solar resource is not available. Can DR help? One would think so, as it seems like DR could lower the peak demand down to where solar can continue to meet the demand as it did in the off-peak period.
Similarly, a modern microgrid is really a DER option that is made up of DER other options. One of those needs to be DR , which will enable the other resources within the microgrid to fully participate in both islanding and transactive energy. DR can help enable a microgrid to ramp up and down on the overall electricity system. DR can also help in the operation of the microgrid as its own system when appropriate.
DR will also be one of the DER options that will need to “plug and play” on the distribution-level platforms that new developments like REV in New York are aiming to create if they are to be successful.
In my view, DR is a DER, and that is the way that those of us in the DR and smart grid community need to think about it in addition to all of the other ways we already think. If DER is a framework or context into which supply and demand must fit, then we need to think and talk about DR that way.
If you agree, but want to learn more about it, come to the Town Meeting where we will be talking about all of this. If you don’t agree, then you should also come to the Town Meeting! We want to hear different thoughts, different ideas, and different voices. See you there!