Market Insights

Coordinating Energy Resources Could Increase Grid Reliability

August 10, 2023 by Claire Turvill

Coordinating the operation of energy resources in preparation for greater electricity demand may decrease the strain on transmission and distribution infrastructure, saving billions in grid upgrades.

Electricity demand is expected to surge in the coming decades, largely due to its environmental advantage over fossil fuels and the anticipated growth in global accessibility and adoption of electrified home systems. 

Electric grids will face significant challenges in accommodating larger loads due to the growth of electrification. Infrastructure upgrades will be necessary to support these loads and maintain reliability unless a solution to reduce demand can be implemented.


transmission and distribution

Image used courtesy of Unsplash

A Stanford University study led by Ram Rajagopal and Abbas El Gamal considers introducing software to homes and businesses to coordinate customer usage to reduce demand. Effective coordination of demand not only enhances the reliability of the electric grid but aids in reducing peak loads, especially during severe weather conditions. 

By implementing widespread coordination, utility companies and their customers could save billions of dollars that would otherwise be spent on grid infrastructure upgrades.


Electrification Changes Peak Loads

The number of households and businesses with access to smart appliances, renewable energy systems, and electric vehicles is quickly growing within the United States. Although this increase in electrification is promising for the environment, it adds a lot of stress to the grid and could change seasonal load peaks if not addressed appropriately.

According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the shift toward using electricity, rather than on-site fossil fuels, for building heat will result in several regions needing to accommodate higher electricity demand during the winter. While, historically, many areas in the U.S. experience maximum loads on hot summer days, some parts are already experiencing peak loads during winter. 

An example is the Northwest, where electric heating loads and relatively modest summer cooling demands lead to winter peaks. However, with the growing popularity of rooftop solar installations, the region also witnesses reduced grid demand during hot sunny days, helping to balance the load.

According to Stanford researchers, the other good news is that many of the electric smart appliances – such as EV chargers, space and water heaters, and AC units – can be controlled to reduce system demand. 


It’s All in the Cloud

Currently, appliances and energy resources in homes and businesses operate independently, with each consumer making individual decisions regarding heating, cooling, storage of excess solar energy, and charging electric vehicles based on personal preferences and needs. As a result, these resources have minimal coordination across different consumers.

However, through the Internet of Things (IoT), many next-generation devices are interconnected and can coordinate their operations. 

The Stanford research team examined how much coordination among distributed energy resources and smart appliances could enhance grid reliability. The study revealed that the advantages of such coordination could be remarkably significant, and the best part is that it can be achieved solely through software implementation. 

Introducing coordination options would limit the need for new infrastructure or replacing distribution lines; everything can be accomplished using existing computer clouds.


transmission and distribution

Image used courtesy of Unsplash

Separate from the Stanford study, there have been suggestions for flexible electric vehicle charging to reduce nighttime peak loads. Users can set their schedules through an app to ensure the vehicle is fully charged when it’s time to leave in the morning but may have a slower or delayed charge to reduce grid demand. 

The Standford team’s work adds to the charging concept to include coordinating all home or business appliances.  


Coordinating Thermal Loads

The team employed models of distribution networks with diverse sizes, combinations of residential and commercial properties, and representing various climates across the United States. They integrated recent forecasts of electrification growth and distributed energy resource adoption scenarios, extending their analysis to 2050.

A particularly noteworthy discovery was the immense value of coordinating thermal loads. It proved even more significant than battery storage and flexible scheduling of electric vehicle charging. 

Thermal loads encompass all electricity-driven temperature adjustments, from residential heating and cooling to industrial processes like aluminum production. To facilitate further exploration, the team is making the software openly accessible, enabling anyone to calculate the potential benefits of load coordination for their grids using their specific assumptions.

In addition to the impacts on grid reliability, the Stanford team also found the coordination methods helped reduce peak load by up to 17 percent, adding the benefit of reduced electricity costs. 

The upcoming stages involve devising a coordination scheme encompassing a substantial number of homes and businesses. This will be followed by launching a pilot program and initiating a more extensive rollout upon successful validation. To ensure widespread adoption, consumers will receive incentives to install the required software, creating a critical mass that can unlock significant rewards.