by Jeff St. John
August 28, 2020

Damian Sciano, director of distribution planning and distributed resource integration for New York utility Consolidated Edison, has a complicated job: preparing the 3.4-million-customer utility for a future that’s going to rely on clean electricity to meet almost all of its energy needs. 

After a decade of investing in modernizing its largely underground, networked New York City grid and outlying overhead distribution system, Con Edison has built a strong foundation for integrating distributed energy resources (DERs) such as rooftop solar, behind-the-meter batteries, electric vehicle chargers and fast-acting demand response into its grid operations. 

It’s also been modernizing the IT systems to put its new grid infrastructure to work, with complex load flow modeling, outage restoration and grid restoration systems, demand response management platforms, and, after Hurricane Sandy, a big focus on resiliency, Sciano said. 

The 2015 launch of the New York Reforming the Energy Vision initiative, an ambitious statewide plan to incorporate DERs into day-to-day utility operations, boosted Con Edison’s DER ambitions. Under the REV program, Con Edison and the state’s other investor-owned utilities are tasked with creating a sprawling distribution system integration plan outlining their range of efforts, as well as a distributed system platform to harness the value of customer-owned and operated DERs and reward them for their contributions. 

New York REV has also driven Con Edison’s work on “non-wires solutions” to replace or postpone expensive grid investments with the capacity and flexibility of DERs. Its flagship effort, the Brooklyn Queens Demand Management project, is deferring a $1 billion distribution substation upgrade with roughly half that amount of money spent to install grid-scale batteries and procure demand response, energy efficiency and other customer-sited resources. 

But last year’s passage of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act has brought added urgency to these efforts. “Nothing we did was directionally wrong — but [the legislation necessitated] a dramatic change in how we’re going to get there,” Sciano said. While New York REV set a goal of 50 percent renewables by 2030, CLCPA "not only [mandates] 100 percent renewables by 2040, but also the electrification...of vehicles...and heating systems” for its customers as natural gas is phased out. 

New York’s goal to build 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind to power by 2035 means that “a lot of transmission build [will happen] right off the bat," Sciano said. Con Edison's investments into grid modernization will help the utility integrate this massive new influx of offshore wind power, but the state still faces an unprecedented build-out of transmission capacity to bring that power onshore and to downstate markets.

Electrifying transportation will add much more daily electricity demand. New York’s recent approval of a $700 million EV charger rollout — about half of that amount aimed at Con Edison — will be only the start of a major build-out of infrastructure to support the state’s goals on that front. 

Meanwhile, the push to electrify heating loads means “we could go from a summer peaking load of 13,000 megawatts to a winter peaking load of two to three times that amount if the forecasts play out,” Sciano said. 

From smart meters to systemwide DERMS 

Smart meters are a vital source of data for any utility seeking to gain insight into the edges of its grid. Con Edison’s $1.3 billion smart meter deployment began in 2016. While the COVID-19 pandemic forced installations to a halt for several months, the deployment is now 65 percent complete and on track for full rollout by mid-2022. 

“AMI is one of our foundational investments,” Sciano said. First of all, it will offer customers “opportunities for critical peak pricing or different tariff rates they can select to save energy or manage their bill better.” Con Edison is implementing Green Button Connect, a national standard for energy data-sharing that’s enabling third parties to offer meter-equipped customers access to demand response programs and other energy services. 

Beyond customer-facing benefits, smart meters will improve Con Edison’s outage reporting and tracking system, inform its load flow models, and feed into its conservation voltage optimization and volt/VAR optimization schemes to manage distribution grid voltages for more efficiency. “That’s going to be a treasure trove” of data, expanding its data sources from its more than 30,000 supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) nodes to more than 3.3 million endpoints. 

Conservation voltage optimization saves energy by reducing over-voltages; it is now in operation across 28 networks in Westchester, Staten Island, Brooklyn and Manhattan. Volt/VAR optimization takes that control a step further to mitigate voltage disruptions from supply-load imbalances, backfeeding solar systems or other conditions. Smart meters play an important role in providing data on where voltages might be dropping too low, or where the system needs upgrades.  

All of these improvements will, in turn, play a role in Con Edison’s broader goals to implement a distributed energy resources management system, or DERMS, Sciano said. While the term "DERMS" is sometimes used to denote customer DER aggregation platforms, Con Edison’s concept involves a full integration with its advanced distribution management system and “specifically interfacing with DERs on the system,” whether customer-owned or utility-controlled. 

When it comes to implementing DERMS, “there’s nothing you can buy off the shelf that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to customize,” Sciano said. “We needed both of those foundational investments to get that going, and the legitimate experience of it.” 

Con Edison doesn’t have the levels of rooftop PV seen in California, Hawaii, Arizona or other vanguard solar states, but it has 293 megawatts of distribution-connected solar across about 30,000 sites. One of the first goals of a DERMS platform is simply to locate where this behind-the-meter generation is affecting local circuits by integrating its interconnection system of record, as well as to develop hosting capacity maps of its distribution system, similar to those being provided by California’s three big investor-owned utilities.

Con Edison’s DERMS will also communicate with the smart inverters connecting solar PV, batteries and other DERs to the grid. Advanced inverters can do a lot of things, including informing the utility of where DERs are generating power and how much is flowing back onto its circuits, or adjusting output and reactive power to balance voltage disruptions that can emerge when local generation exceeds local demand. 

That’s less of a challenge on the networked distribution system in metropolitan New York, but in Westchester County and other regions with overhead power lines, “there are a lot of cul de sacs, so voltage control becomes a problem.”

Con Edison has conducted a proof-of-concept test of a DERMS platform in Westchester that indicates that inverter controls can help solve the problems it’s experiencing on this front, he said. 

Works in progress: VDER tariffs, behind-the-meter batteries

All of these improvements will help inform how Con Edison meets the state’s demands to shift from its traditional methods of valuing behind-the-meter energy resources, such as net metering tariffs for solar and demand response programs for load-shifting, toward a construct known as VDER, or the value of distributed energy resources.

“We’re certainly pushing to value the DERs and get it done the right way,” Sciano said. But Con Edison and the rest of New York’s utilities haven’t yet completed their smart meter deployments. Until that’s complete, utilities lack the granular customer-level data needed to fully implement VDER tariffs, putting a hold on expanding them beyond the community solar and larger commercial and industrial customers now using them.

Con Edison has been using meter collar attachments from startup ConnectDER as an alternative to smart meters for some DER-equipped customers. That’s a useful technology for integrating individual sites with DERs like behind-the-meter batteries — although at present those systems are limited to locales outside the boundaries of New York City. 

That's because customer-sited lithium-ion batteries have largely been banned within city limits under fire department safety regulations. That's put a hold on some of Con Edison’s earlier efforts to integrate them into its distribution grid plans. Its 2016 plan for a virtual power plant using behind-the-meter batteries was postponed in 2017 because of this restriction, and while Con Edison subsidiary Orange & Rockland has recently tapped Sunrun for a 300-home battery aggregation, that’s being done outside city borders.

Con Edison has worked around this restriction by finding ways to connect batteries on utility-owned property. As of this year, the utility has about 11 megawatts of distribution-connected energy storage, including the 2-megawatt Ozone Park system and a 7.5-megawatt development at Fox Hills, Sciano said. It’s also in the midst of a large-scale energy storage procurement, starting with a proposal for a 316-megawatt battery installation to help replace peaking capacity at its Ravenswood power plant. 

Customer-owned batteries have been slower to emerge, given the restrictions on installing them inside buildings. But Con Edison has made progress on some projects, including a system from Shell-owned GI Energy, which now has half of its 4 megawatt-hour capacity interconnected, and the 4.8-megawatt/16.4-megawatt-hour system built by Enel X

Not being able to integrate batteries into buildings has largely barred third-party energy storage developers from using them to reduce customer demand charges, the main driver for most commercial storage projects today. Instead, the projects being installed are built around a non-wires solution paradigm, with Con Edison allowed by state regulators to treat their capacity to defer system upgrades as a regulatory asset. 

New models that allow batteries to earn money for their services are emerging as state grid operator NYISO moves ahead with its program to allow energy storage to earn capacity revenue, Sciano noted. The GI Energy project is the earliest test of that proposition, working under NYISO’s “dual participation” model to switch between earning wholesale capacity market revenue and serving as a resource for Con Edison’s grid operators to reduce stress on the Staten Island network. 

Opening multiple revenue streams for batteries will be critical to boosting their deployment within New York City, Sciano said. Being able to tap NYISO revenue-generating opportunities will also be an important step, as will progress on rules for safely installing and operating in-building batteries from the Fire Department of New York. 

Energy storage is a key component for Con Edison’s plans for balancing the rising electric load within the city with the increasingly intermittent renewable supplies it will be managing under the CLCPA’s clean energy plans, he noted.

“We want to have a broader perspective than energy efficiency, demand response and rooftop solar, because a lot of our system peaks at night,” Sciano said.