AutoGrid, the startup that says its software can integrate, analyze and control lots of distributed energy resources on the grid, has a new challenge -- integrating three unique state programs into a single interface.
That’s what National Grid, the utility serving more than 7 million customers across New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, has hired it to do. Over the course of the next 12 months or so, the grid analytics startup will implement its “flexibility management” software to manage about 400 megawatts of demand response -- from old-school emergency commercial and industrial load control, to aggregated DERs as alternatives to traditional grid investment.
AutoGrid was picked out of an initial list of 27 companies responding to National Grid’s RFP last year, Fouad Dagher, National Grid’s manager of new products and services, said in an interview this week. The company has already been working on integration with the utility’s existing software systems in all three states, starting with capturing the data they’ve collected on the hundreds of large transmission-connected and smaller commercial customers enrolled in today’s programs, he said.
But National Grid is looking ahead to new challenges, such as integrating rooftop solar, plug-in electric vehicles, and behind-the-meter batteries into its grid operations, Dagher said. “Can we duplicate this, can we scale it, can we use it across different jurisdictions without using something new every time? The ownership and sharing of the data we’re going to be sending back and forth is very important to us. Can we scale it up to focus on additional technologies?”
National Grid is also looking for new opportunities outside traditional utility business models, which will require different relationships with its customers. “How do we look at it from the customer point of view, the information-sharing, the messaging that goes with it, the analytics that goes with it?”
"From the AutoGrid perspective, this was very well aligned with our capabilities,” said Shane O’Quinn, AutoGrid’s strategic accounts director.
The startup, which has raised about $40 million, has deployed its software for utilities including Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), Oklahoma Gas & Electric, Austin Energy, Florida Power & Light, and Hawaiian Electric.
The Bonneville Power Administration has been using AutoGrid's software since November 2014 to manage its multi-party demand response efforts. And Dutch energy company Eneco Group is running a 100-megawatt virtual power plant, tapping customer-sited combined-heat-and-power systems and industrial demand response, using the company’s platform.
With National Grid, “we’ve already gone through all the steps to identify the work involved,” said O’Quinn. “This is a cutover of existing DR customers. It's a lot more simple than going out and getting new customers. The various aggregators in the market are already connected to the assets with direct telemetry in many cases -- we’re communicating to them through OpenADR and other standard communications protocols to give National Grid a standard platform to aggregate all these aggregators."
Even so, “it does create a lot of challenges as well, making sure you have the proper integration ties into the aggregators, and the National Grid systems that exist,” he said.
Once that’s complete, however, National Grid, aggregators, and customers have access to a common store and source of data, along with a “platform that allows you to tap into that flexibility for various use cases."
AutoGrid's software modules include demand response optimization, distributed energy resource management, virtual power plants, and energy storage management systems, integrated with the startup's predictive controls engine -- a network modeling software suite that aims to predict, alter and optimize as many distributed energy resources as possible to help meet the utility's goals.
National Grid plans to implement five programs in the first year of operation. In New York, these include the Emergency DR Program, the Distribution Load Relief Program, and the Commercial System Relief Program. In Massachusetts and Rhode Island, the utility will use AutoGrid for its Connected Solutions programs.
All told, the portfolio includes about 400 megawatts of utility-controllable load, mostly in existing DR programs, Dagher said. But the utility is also seeking new commercial and industrial customers, which enroll through demand response vendors such as EnerNOC, CPower, NRG, IPKeys, and Direct Energy.
It’s also looking beyond current methods of managing demand response, particularly in Rhode Island, where it’s testing a targeted demand response program as part of its non-wires alternatives program.
“We started our first demonstration non-wires alternative, where we try to leverage customer DERs -- both residential and small commercial -- to see what we can do to reduce demand on a couple of feeders,” said Dagher.
DERs as replacements for grid investments are being used in New York as well, under the state’s Reforming the Energy Vision effort.
National Grid runs a demand response program in Massachusetts, mostly with smaller commercial customers. It is using this customer base as part of a three-year demonstration project, aimed at understanding the costs and benefits of utility investment into distributed energy management.