Distributed power control

Results from distributed power control include integrating power users with power suppliers with Smart Grid technologies and storing energy for peak load shifting, and evening the load from renewable (non-baseload) power sources.

By Robert C. Corson, PE; Ronald R. Regan, PE; Scott C. Carlson February 16, 2015

Peak-load shifting mitigates the effects of large energy load blocks during a period of time by advancing or delaying their effects until the power supply system can readily accept additional load. If loads cannot be regulated, then energy storage systems (ESSs), which often charge in off-peak times, can shift the load profile. Load shifting has been implemented successfully by end users in industrial and large-scale commercial facilities to decrease electrical peak demand and associated energy costs, although it is receiving noteworthy attention, and for different reasons than in the past. Peak shaving or peak smoothing can mitigate utility bills. It also effectively shifts the impact of the load on the system, minimizing the generation capacity required.

Renewable energy sources—specifically wind and photovoltaics (PV), which have seen exponential growth recently—provide irregular power due to meteorological and atmospheric conditions. As these power sources come to provide an increasingly significant contribution to the load flow in the electrical grid, their effects become more pronounced on the power quality of that grid. The erratic fluctuations in power generated by these renewables can be detrimental to maintaining transient and dynamic stability in the system. Renewable energy power quality concerns include voltage transients, frequency deviation, and harmonics.

An ESS can turn the intermittent source into one with a relatively uniform and consistent output. As such, the large-scale deployment of renewable energy sources coupled with the Smart Grid relies greatly on energy storage systems for maximum effectiveness and optimization. 

Cost reductions

ESS benefits can vary with the price of peak electricity. For example, consider that ERCOT’s pricing on June 27, 2014, varied from approximately $35/MWh ($0.035/kWh) to approximately $1,000/MWh ($1.00/kWh) between 1 and 4 p.m. Each MWh consumed to charge batteries in off hours would save $965, to be discharged during peak hours. For large energy users, this could result in thousands of dollars in savings per day. 

Power quality, measurement, control

An ESS can increase the quality of power to a facility by maintaining nominal voltage and frequency values. Fast-acting energy storage devices, such as batteries or ultra-capacitors, can absorb or discharge power to account for transient fluctuations in the utility power to help accomplish this.

Renewable generation controls

As renewable energy expands, it becomes increasingly necessary to convert the variable and intermittent power output into a more steady and reliable source.

As PV power is generated intermittently between sunrise and sunset, it is possible that generation does not coincide with a grid’s peak power demands, necessitating that the utility have access to generation assets to supply high demand when cloud coverage restricts PV generation. As PV power grows to represent increased contribution to the grid, reliability issues could emerge, similar to the impact of wind power in states where wind has had much greater penetration.

ESS holds the promise of supporting end users in reducing their costs and allows generators access to a higher value of dispatchable generation through generation shifting.

Local energy storage can mitigate fluctuations in renewable generation output power by regulating ramp-up controls, absorbing power spikes, and responding to sudden sags by injecting power. This smoothing of the generation curve provides a more stable power source and reliable distribution grid. Some utility companies have requirements for grid connected generation, regulating power production waveforms by means of energy storage. 

Utility ESS use

ESS use helps utilities to postpone major baseload power plant upgrades or additions that could be exponentially more costly.

A wide variety of methods for storing energy are implemented today, depending on the specific application and nature of the system requiring it. Energy can be stored using electrical, mechanical, thermal, and chemical storage systems, each with benefits and appropriate applications. Electrical storage systems are the most ubiquitous, typically in the form of batteries or capacitors. These can range from small watch batteries, to data center storage with emerging lithium-variant batteries, to utility-scale storage systems. 

Advanced batteries

Battery energy storage systems have a response time that permits load flow and dynamic contribution for voltage control and frequency regulation, a critical element in coupling energy storage with renewable generation and maintaining grid stability.

For ESS, in contrast to lead-acid batteries, Li-ion batteries provide increased energy density and efficiency, and have more than double the life span of a typical lead-acid system. Li-ion battery systems require a management system to monitor the batteries for proper charging, discharging, and internal voltage regulation. Thermally unstable electrodes in the battery could undergo thermal runaway. 

Smart Grid monitoring, controls

The Smart Grid is considered by many to be the future of the power grid, and energy storage plays an essential role in generation, transmission, and distribution systems. As demand for energy increases, constraints can exist in each system. Smart Grid methodologies and approaches can complement existing systems to improve the reliability and operation of the overall grid while meeting growth expectations.

The Smart Grid can help supplement centralized resources with decentralized options. The Smart Grid supports the central power plant configuration with the integration of renewable energy sources in the power network, from utility scale generation that can occupy hundreds of acres to small residential power sources. A control and automation center monitors and reacts to system events, from regulating generation and load flow to isolating power outages.

To create the Smart Grid, utility and renewable generators require flexible technologies that can quickly respond to transient and dynamic power fluctuations. Consumers also are likely to be encouraged to have an ESS to shift peak loads and mitigate demand fluctuations to the grid, requiring additional monitoring, controls, and integration.

As the Smart Grid develops and renewables increase in the percentage of generation, the use of energy storage system technology will mature to accommodate these demands. As battery and other energy shifting technology systems improve the quality and efficiency of our distribution systems, users will experience greater reliability and superior voltage and frequency stability, at lower costs.

– Robert C. Corson, PE, is a senior electrical engineer at Triad Consulting Engineers Inc. and an adjunct professor at New York University. Ronald R. Regan, PE, and Scott C. Carlson are staff engineers, both at Triad Consulting Engineers Inc. Edited from a peer-reviewed article in the Winter 2014 issue of Pure Power, a supplement to Consulting-Specifying Engineer by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, mhoske@cfemedia.com.


Integrating commercial buildings, utilities with the Smart Grid (includes more questions and answers about Smart Grid, lighting controls, building automation systems, codes and standards, financial incentives, and building system integration)

Implementing energy storage for peak-load shifting (includes recommended codes and standards for ESS from National Electric Code and from IEEE and other information)

Key concepts

  • Control and monitoring technologies are helping with distributed power and Smart Grid technology implementations.
  • Energy storage systems (ESSs), which often charge in off-peak times, can shift the load profile, saving costs.
  • Smart Grid technologies will continue to advance electrical generation, transmission, and distribution.

Consider this

Are you measuring metrics related to power use to better control costs? 

Learn more about what Smart Grid experts had to say about the future of the industry and what the changes will mean for engineers.

Controls and monitoring capabilities in the Smart Grid will help with customer and renewable and baseload integration

Knowing where and how much power is needed allows the Smart Grid to adjust power distribution in real time. The agility of matching power demand with power production minimizes the amount of power that generating facilities must dump, and keeps base-load plants running at minimum capacity. The distributed power relationship among utilities, the Smart Grid, and commercial buildings continues to change. In a recent Consulting-Specifying Engineer roundtable discussion, Jack Smith, managing editor; and Amara Rozgus, editor-in-chief asked Smart Grid industry experts about what engineers expect to see in the near future.

Steven Collier, director, Smart Grid strategies, Milsoft Utility Solutions, Abilene, Texas: Most buildings have traditionally been passive consumers of electric power and energy generated by some 7,000 utility-owned power plants, and delivered to them through high-voltage transmission lines and local distribution systems. Now, however, buildings are becoming an important component of the grid itself as they increasingly deploy their own generation, storage, and energy management systems. They are doing this for a variety of reasons, including economy, reliability, security, sustainability, and independence. And, perhaps most importantly, they do it to maximize the benefits for themselves, not to help their utility solve its problems. This trend will not only continue, but it will accelerate. Smart buildings will not just be served by the Smart Grid, they will become an integral part of it.

John Cooper, business development manager, business transformation services, Siemens Power Technologies International, Schenectady, N.Y.: Traditionally, commercial buildings managed their energy largely independently of their electric utility grid, focused primarily on minimizing their electricity bill via conservation, energy efficiency, and minimizing usage during high-cost periods. Starting in the 1980s, electric utilities began to offer financial incentives to customers who would allow them to control some portion of their load to maximize operating economy and defer the need to build expensive new generators. Over the past decade, utilities more aggressively sought to engage customers in demand response programs wherein customers would change when they used electricity to mitigate utilities’ growing problems with grid economy, reliability, and sustainability. Commercial building owner/operators are becoming increasingly less satisfied with the economy, reliability, security, service quality, and sustainability of the legacy grid. As a result, as Steve observed, they are putting in their own energy production, storage, and management systems.

Chris Edward, PE; electrical engineer, KJWW, Indianapolis: Commercial buildings are starting to have a need to communicate directly with the utility grid. Utility companies have been using Smart Grid technologies to modernize their systems and provide greater reliability, often with the use of grants or agreements with their local regulators. We are still moving toward a system of dynamic or real-time pricing where utilities and independent system operators will see the benefit of charging consumers based on the actual cost of generation throughout the day. When commercial buildings start seeing a high cost of energy at peak usage times, there will be an incentive for two-way communication with Smart Grids to avoid high costs, and the relationship with the utility will change. The trend toward this type of relationship has started in some parts of the country and will likely expand as energy codes and state regulators adopt related requirements.

Kevin Krause, PE, LEED AP; principal, Affiliated Engineers Inc., Madison, Wis.: The two primary drivers for … Smart Grid implementation relate directly to improved distribution system reliability and enhanced power delivery efficiency. The improved electrical reliability is derived from the significantly improved communication directly from consumer meters that can alert utilities of outages, low voltage, and poor power quality for each consumer. Such system anomalies can readily be identified and isolated via utility supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, thus limiting the overall outage exposure to the rest of the distribution system. As the digital metering equipment continues to evolve along with the communication systems, overall improved system stability and reliability will result.

The system efficiency essentially is related to demand-side controls implemented within the consumer’s own facilities. Smart Grids allow consumers to monitor their own demand levels and establish internal controls to diminish their own demand and energy consumption. Whether it is time-of-day automated controls or the education of employees regarding manual switching of electrical loads, the consumer has the impetus to institute these policies and obtain the subsequent economic benefit. The utilities realize improved load factors, which allow existing distribution systems to operate more efficiently and preclude the need to increase capital expenditures by not requiring more power generation or more transmission lines and their associated substations.

These elements are key to Smart Grid success and can be realized almost immediately with the benefits being shared by the consumer and the utility.

ONLINE extra

Linked below, read the two, much longer, articles on energy storage and Smart Grid from which this was summarized.