The annual DistribuTech conference mixes a lot of very public announcements and technology demonstrations with a lot of business being done behind the scenes -- or, in some cases, hidden in plain sight.
That was certainly the case at last week’s DistribuTech in Orlando, Florida. During the massive trade show, we managed to stumble upon a few news items that weren’t quite ready for public consumption -- including a virtual demonstration of startup Enbala's early-stage work in Hawaii and California and the newly merged grid software team of General Electric and Alstom making a pitch to trend-setting utility Southern California Edison.
Vancouver, Canada-based Enbala has built a software platform to control pumps, refrigerators and other devices in ways that can turn them into fast-responding grid assets, and has aggregated megawatts of resources for grid markets in Canada and the eastern United States. But the demonstration of Enbala’s new Symphony software featured some new settings and new end loads for the company, starting with the Hawaiian island of Oahu.
Product manager Andy Gassner demonstrated how Enbala is pulling power grid data from Enphase’s networked rooftop solar microinverters and combining behind-the-meter batteries with larger-scale industrial loads like wastewater plant pumps and cold storage facility chillers, to manage grid conditions for utility Hawaiian Electric.
The goal is twofold, Gassner said -- to smooth the intermittency of solar generation and to provide relief to a utility substation. That lines up with some of the work HECO has underway to manage grid disruptions from solar power, but it’s not yet officially named Enbala as a partner in that work.
The second was in the territory of utility Southern California Edison, where Enbala is tapping about two dozen industrial-commercial sites and battery installations. This demo also has two goals: to provide peak demand reduction to control customers’ utility bills and to provide up to four hours per day of reduction in grid power consumption. These, of course, are the same features being demanded of the short list of companies awarded contracts under SCE’s local capacity requirement (LCR) procurement in late 2014.
Gassner wouldn’t say much about the on-the-ground work behind these virtual demos, beyond noting that they involve real sites and real data, but aren’t operational yet. Enbala CEO Bud Vos also declined to say much about the projects, beyond noting that they aren’t public yet. But it fits in with Enbala’s plan to provide its technology to utilities and energy service providers, which is what Symphony’s new front-end visualization and cloud-to-device connectivity is meant to support.
Speaking of Southern California Edison, the utility made waves at DistribuTech with the unveiling of its plans for a new grid management system -- a “system of systems” to enable it to incorporate distributed energy resources into every aspect of its operations.
This will be a massive effort, involving the potential for hundreds of millions of dollars in utility investment, which makes it an important target for the world’s major grid software vendors. That includes GE Grid Solutions, the company formed through the multibillion-dollar acquisition of Alstom Power and Grid by General Electric last year.
The day after SCE’s big announcement, I walked over to a conference room to learn more about the new GE-Alstom grid software behemoth. Arriving about 15 minutes early, I decided to check out some software demos and plug in my laptop, while trying not to disturb the slideshow-meeting happening in the other half of the room.
A few minutes later, I noticed that the meeting involved GE Grid Solutions making a presentation to Southern California Edison executives, in what appeared to be a pitch for the combined companies to meet the utility’s needs for a grid management system.
Shortly after I noticed what was going on, I was ushered out by a GE media relations rep, and introduced to Laurent Schmitt, GE Grid Solutions’ smart grid strategy leader. Schmitt wouldn’t comment on what GE Grid Solutions might be working on with SCE.
But he did describe how the new company is combining the strengths of both companies: GE’s asset management system, geographic information system and mobile workforce management platforms, along with its data analytics and industrial internet of things platform, and Alstom’s e-terra energy management system and integrated distribution management system.
He also highlighted how it’s working on a distributed energy resource management system built on the work it’s been doing with Duke Energy’s Coalition of the Willing, and in particular, the Nice Grid project in southern France. That project with French utility ERDF is combining solar power, batteries, and microgrid and distribution grid control systems, with communications and software “that is real-time, down to data getting out into the smart meters and inverters, into SCADA, and into the control room,” he said.
“We think that platform is a good fit for new developments like New York REV and in California -- hence our discussions with SCE,” he said.