by Jeff St. John

This year’s Grid Edge Innovation Summit will bring together top talent and expertise from around the world of distributed energy. And as with every Greentech Media grid edge event, this year’s summit will showcase a set of projects that represent the future of the grid.

This week, after months of careful selection and some tough voting choices, we’re pleased to announce the 10 winners and two honorable mentions of this year’s Grid Edge Innovation Awards

These winners were nominated and voted on by energy industry stakeholders, including the team of analysts at GTM Research.

All of the chosen projects involve innovative applications of grid edge technologies. They also offer solutions to the technical, business and regulatory challenges of distributed energy integration. Take a look, and join us in June to meet the minds behind these projects changing the face of the future grid.  

Integration of energy storage and solar PV: Austin Energy, Doosan GridTech and SHINES

Back in 2016, Austin Energy, the municipal utility serving Texas’ capital city, landed a $3.4 million grant from DOE’s Sustainable and Holistic Integration of Energy Storage and Solar PV (SHINES) program, to stand up a platform that could manage solar PV, battery, demand response and other DERs across its distribution system. There are many different names for this kind of capability — virtual power plant and distributed energy resource management systems are two common ones — but few examples of projects at scale.

The end goal was solar-storage costs of about 14 cents per kilowatt-hour — a complicated metric, meant to represent a “credible pathway to a competitive levelized cost of energy for solar energy when augmented by storage and other DER management and optimization tools,” as GTM Research puts it. 

Austin Energy’s long list of SHINES project partners have put together a smorgasbord of DERs, including two utility-scale energy storage systems, multiple customer-sited energy storage systems, rooftop solar systems at residential and commercial properties, smart inverters, forecasting tools, market signals, and advanced communications.

To optimize this mix of assets, Austin Energy has turned to the DER optimizer from Doosan Gridtech, the platform acquired by the South Korean industrial giant when it bought Seattle-based 1Energy in 2016. 1Energy has deployed a set of battery-grid systems across the Pacific Northwest using a software platform built to standards from the Modular Energy Storage Architecture (MESA) Standards Alliance. 

Austin Energy is testing multiple communications pathways to see how they perform for different applications. It has until April 2019 to complete the project and report on results. The stakes for Austin Energy are high. Austin has set a goal of 65 percent renewable energy generation by 2027, along with local solar and energy storage goals. Austin Energy is working toward 10 megawatts of distributed storage and 55 percent renewable energy by 2025. 

Targeted demand response as non-wires alternative: Central Hudson and Itron (Comverge)

New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision initiative has spawned some of the most innovative grid edge projects in the country, as evidenced by the inclusion of three REV-enabled projects on this year’s Grid Edge Innovation Awards list. The first comes from utility Central Hudson and partner Comverge, the demand response provider acquired by Itron last year, making its projects part of Itron’s smart meter and grid networking portfolio. 

Starting in 2015, Central Hudson proposed and developed an innovative non-wires alternative project aimed at cost-effectively delaying millions of dollars of traditional capital infrastructure investments. Instead of reinforcing demand-stressed substations and circuits, the utility decided to seek out 16 megawatts of flexible demand at specific points on its distribution grid. 

To date, the results have been positive. Central Hudson has seen a 30 percent customer participation rate for demand response within six months. That’s an important metric for a program that’s seeking nearly 10 percent of the targeted region’s peak demand, compared to 1 to 2 percent share of peak load contributed by a typical demand response portfolio.

Streamlining the new energy customer experience: NYSE&G and RG&E (Iberdrola), EnergyHub and Simple Energy

Another New York REV project to make the list breaks new ground on customer connectivity, via an implementation of the REV-defined energy marketplace — an online platform for utility customers to purchase smart thermostats, energy-efficient light bulbs and appliances, and other third-party services.

Last fall, Iberdrola-owned New York State Electric and Gas Corporation (NYSEG) and Rochester Gas & Electric (RG&E) debuted a double offer for customers using its energy marketplace, built and managed by Simple Energy and EnergyHub. This platform allows customers to make purchases and take energy-efficiency actions that earn points for more purchases. Like other proposed energy marketplace platforms, the utility expects to earn revenue by creating leads for third-party energy providers.

The offer, launched on Black Friday 2017, was aimed at finding out whether offering two rebates at once — one for a new smart thermostat, and another to sign up for one of the utility’s demand response programs — might boost sales beyond the industry standard. The effort has been a success so far, with overall program enrollment up 25 percent. In addition, 68 percent of customers who bought a thermostat enrolled in the demand response program.

These new customers will be fed into the demand response portfolio being managed by EnergyHub’s Mercury DERMS, now in use by more than 30 U.S. utilities to manage demand response, energy efficiency, and DER management programs. EnergyHub reported in December that its first successful season of demand response for NYSEG and RG&E’s Smart Savings Rewards program had seen more than 5,000 customers enrolled to date. 

New York Power Authority's energy manager

Back in October 2016, we reported on the New York Power Authority's efforts to build an energy management system that spanned buildings, generators and grid networks, called the New York Energy Manager (NYEM). That vision is starting to become a reality. 

NYEM's first implementation was asset performance management software for natural-gas-fired peaker plants to predict failures, conduct preventative maintenance and fine-tune operations. On the building side of the equation, NYPA’s energy management center has built a living, growing database of tens of thousands of buildings across the state, with energy consumption data down to 15-minute intervals.

The next-generation NYEM platform will be launched by the end of 2018, providing a set of expanded services and third-party development tools to enable measurement and verification of efficiency projects, virtual energy audits, asset data collection and analytics, continuous commissioning, and programmable alarms and alerts.

Eventually, NYPA plans to integrate these platforms into its integrated smart operations center, a central command center for power plant and grid operations. This month it announced the first installment of a $55 million plan to install about 50,000 sensors for monitoring power plants and transmission lines. 

At-scale European DER flexibility portfolio: REstore (part of Centrica Business Solutions) 

REstore's first market entry in 2010 was building a flexible portfolio of 1.7 gigawatts of demand-side resources across Europe. In November, U.K.-based Centrica bought REstore for $81 million, adding demand management capabilities to its roster of companies targeting distributed energy opportunities in the U.S., Europe and abroad. 

REstore’s success was linked to unique capabilities in high-value reserve markets requiring fast response with sub-second response times. “REstore has a hybrid patented approach to demand response, putting its intelligence centrally and locally, whereas most vendors just choose one,” said Elta Kolo, a research manager at GTM. This allows it to participate in high-value reserve markets requiring fast response, along with capacity markets.

REstore currently provides its software solution FlexPond to over 150 of Europe’s largest energy users, in addition to utilities that make use of the product’s flexibility to provide grid services.

Electric bus fleet: City of Shenzhen

While other cities are starting to transition their bus fleets from fossil fuels to electricity, the city of Shenzhen, China has already completed the task. Since putting its first electric bus on the road in 2009, the city of 12.5 million people, which connects Hong Kong to the mainland, went all-electric with a fleet of 16,359 electric buses as of last year, taking the title of world’s largest electric bus fleet. 

Diesel-fueled buses make up a disproportionate share of vehicle air emissions in Chinese cities, making their replacement a top priority. According to the World Resources Institute, Shenzhen’s former diesel bus fleet made up only half a percent of its vehicle fleet, but about 20 percent of emissions. 

Electric buses are still at least twice as expensive as diesel-fueled buses, and require a charging infrastructure that can support long hours of driving along distant routes. State incentives of up to $150,000 per electric bus helped cover the costs of that transition, as did leasing arrangements between manufacturers and the city government, WRI noted. 

Shenzhen also benefited from being the headquarters of BYD, a massive electric vehicle and battery manufacturer that’s built most of the electric buses for the city’s new fleet. To facilitate the electric bus rollout, over 300 bus chargers that can charge a bus in 2 hours are deployed across the city — a network that could help support the city’s plan to transition to an all-electric fleet of cabs.

Aggregated storage for demand reduction in California: Stem

Stem is an energy storage developer and software vendor with an impressive footprint in the U.S. energy storage market. From early projects using batteries to smooth peaky demand at San Francisco hotels and Silicon Valley office buildings, Stem quickly grew to scale with an 85-megawatt capacity contract with utility Southern California Edison, as well as utility-backed projects in Hawaii, Texas and New York. The company had more than 200 megawatt-hours of behind-the-meter energy storage capacity under management as of January, when it announced an $80 million venture capital investment

This year’s award comes for Stem’s ability to dispatch a network of storage system across multiple utility territories in California over the summer of 2017, a period when air conditioning use drives big peaks in energy demand in the late afternoons and early evenings. Stem’s demand reduction capacity, bid into CAISO’s Proxy Demand Response mechanism, provided a rapid response service that’s a “key feature of the long-term viability of behind-the-meter storage,” GTM Research noted. “Stem's successful deployment and dispatch illustrates a real-world case of its effectiveness.”

Across its portfolio, Stem ran more than 600 successful virtual power plant dispatches in 2017, involving more than 100 systems participating in utility and ISO grid relief programs. Stem’s Athena platform — its artificial-intelligence-powered building and fleet management software — manages the balance of grid dispatches with demand charge reduction at each site. 

Stem recently made its first forays into international markets. In December, Tokyo Electric Power Co. picked Stem, along with California startup Sunverge, as partners for its behind-the-meter battery plans. And Stem CEO John Carrington noted in a January interview that Stem is deploying systems in Canada, in support of the interest of one of its new investors, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, in finding uses for behind-the-meter batteries to help manage the province’s wind and solar-inflected grid. 

Blockchain technology to manage network imbalances: TenneT and IBM

Blockchain is quickly becoming an important area of exploration for energy giants. This year’s blockchain-related award goes to European transmission system operator TenneT and partner IBM, which are using a permissioned platform, built on the Hyperledger framework, to test the use of blockchain for managing network imbalances. 

TenneT is harnessing the platform in the Netherlands to connect EVs owned by customers of energy supplier Vandebron for grid-balancing during peak demand. The blockchain enables real-time recording of each EV’s availability, as well as what actions they take in response to signals from TenneT. 

In Germany, storage storage startup Sonnen, also a registered supplier with TenneT, draws from a network of its residential solar batteries to provide flexibility to TenneT. The blockchain presents TenneT with a view of the available pool of flexibility and records the batteries' contributions and credits. 

Platform for EV charging research and innovation: University of California San Diego and partners

The University of California at San Diego has one of the country’s oldest and best-studied campus microgrids, with a combination of on-site generation, sophisticated building controls, and solar PV attached to a bevy of batteries for backup power, solar smoothing, and general energy storage research and development. 

UCSD’s microgrid is also serving as an epicenter for R&D on smart electric-vehicle charging, powered by the many professors, staff and students who happen to drive plug-in vehicles. UCSD’s award-winning project provides commercial EV charging companies with 166 electrical stub outs to test the latest equipment, standards and business models on more than 400 EV commuters. 

According to GTM Research, the university’s 18 partners have tested a variety of technical configurations and models, including V2G, DC fast charging with second-life stationary EV batteries, ISO 15118 for authentication, smart charging following price and AGC signals, and local demand charge reduction. UCSD is providing a necessary real-world test bed for innovative companies to test new technologies with real customers.

Charge the North: Canadian utilities and FleetCarma

Canada is the home of our next EV-related award-winning project. Dubbed Charge the North, the project includes 10 Canadian utilities and FleetCarma, a provider of fleet monitoring and logistics hardware and software. 

FleetCarma's devices have been collecting detailed EV charging and usage behavior, all approved by participating customers, to better manage agreements to give utilities control over charging to reduce strain on the grid and leverage load flexibility, while making sure that customers get the charge they need. 

The program is the largest of its kind in Canada, with 1,000 EVs participating, and is expected to help utilities plan to leverage EVs for grid benefits. AddEnergie, a Quebec-based EV charging infrastructure provider that operates FLO, Canada’s largest EV charging network, is participating as the network provider for the project. 

Honorable mention: Technology Application Center microgrid from Ameren and S&C Electric

Our honorable mention for real-world microgrid technology goes to utility Ameren Illinois, which is building a series of microgrids meant to test the boundaries of DER-utility interaction. Ameren’s two nested microgrids, built at the Technology Applications Center near the University of Illinois, support the center and 1 megawatt of nearby residential load — largely with its two 500-kilowatt Caterpillar generators, but also incorporating 100 kilowatts of Northern Power systems wind turbines and a 125-kilowatt Yingli solar array.  

This microgrid also has several unique characteristics, including adaptive protection, self-healing microgrid controls, seamless transitions, and layered cybersecurity. Chicago-based S&C Electric Company created a 50-kilowatt microgrid within the larger system, interconnected at 12 kilovolts, and added a 350-kilowatt, 500-kilowatt-hour battery system to serve as the backbone of the microgrid, allowing it to operate on 100 percent renewable generation. 

Honorable mention: Green Mountain Power fosters a partnership ecosystem to provide customer-centric solutions

Vermont utility Green Mountain Power has become a major advocate for DER business models. Enabled by a unique state regulatory structure that gives it more freedom than most investor-owned utilities, GMP has created lease and on-bill payment options for customers to buy Tesla Powerwall batteries, Aquanta grid-responsive water heaters, Nest thermostats, and no-cost electricity for charging electric vehicles during off-peak hours. Results have been mixed, but the utility continues to re-evaluate its offerings in order to scale faster.

Green Mountain Power also fosters and grows a partnership ecosystem through its InspireSpace, a co-working space and incubator. Several winners of the InspireSpace contest, including Virtual Peaker and Packetized Energy, are now working with Green Mountain Power and deploying home energy management solutions.