New Software Helps Utilities Adapt to Rapid DER Adoption

March 21, 2024 by Shannon Cuthrell

Siemens recently released two software programs to help utilities model the impact of distributed energy resources on their networks.

Utilities recognize the technical value of leveraging distributed energy resources (DER) like residential solar panels and electric vehicle (EV) chargers to help manage peak demand and improve system resilience across their distribution networks. However, with millions of small-scale DERs joining the grid annually, rapid growth has presented practical challenges in fully exploiting that opportunity. 


American Electric Power uses Siemens’ grid software to manage its network.

American Electric Power uses Siemens’ grid software to manage its network. Image used courtesy of AEP and Siemens 


Wood Mackenzie expects U.S. DER capacity to nearly double by 2027. The grid will add more than 260 GW of DER and demand flexibility capacity—almost as much as the projected 272 GW of new utility-scale installations. DER adoption is outpacing system operators’ ability to interconnect variable renewables like wind and solar. Facing a shortfall in capacity, utilities are turning to DER management systems (DERMS) to tap existing distributed assets to optimize capacity and gain more insight into behind-the-meter data on DER consumption.

German tech conglomerate Siemens recently unveiled two software platforms under its Gridscale X umbrella to address this high demand. One application offers visibility into the location and behavior of DERs connected to distribution networks. The other increases coordination and efficiency across network management operations. Both products can easily integrate into existing IT and operational systems. 


DER Adoption Outpacing Grid Digitalization

Distribution system operators can leverage individual DER owners to relieve distribution congestion, maximize their hosting capacity, and unlock additional generation when needed during peak demand events and weather-related outages. For example, states like California and Texas allow utilities to use virtual power plants (VPP) to connect DER aggregations and respond to demand signals for added flexibility. VPPs can manage various DER assets, from smart thermostats and direct load control systems to in-home batteries, rooftop solar panels, and EV chargers. 


Gridscale X DER Insights connects multiple components of distribution grid operations

Gridscale X DER Insights connects multiple components of distribution grid operations. Image used courtesy of Siemens


In a recent whitepaper, Siemens projected a sevenfold increase in DERs joining the power system annually through 2030, growing from 5 million assets in 2020 to 35 million. To help distribution networks capitalize on this trend, the company has released a software suite meeting critical DER needs.


Gridscale X DER Insights

In a recent survey of 100 industry decision-makers, Siemens found that many utilities have little visibility into behind-the-meter data from customers’ DERs. Without data to model DER impacts, utilities face voltage and control gaps, problems with protection and control, and overloading among distribution transformers and conductors. 

Gridscale X DER Insights addresses these challenges with data on DER locations and behavior. With a behind-the-meter view into how DERs affect grid equipment, utilities can enhance their distribution grid models, prioritize equipment upgrades, and take advantage of DERs’ flexibility and capacity-boosting advantages. The platform can also identify areas for demand-response programs.

The software uses load disaggregation algorithms to identify behind-the-meter solar, EV charging, and battery storage systems at the distribution transformer level. It then aggregates them to the feeder and substation transformer, supplying 15-minute power profiles and average energy values, among other insights. 


The grid impact (left) and model-builder (right) tools in Gridscale X DER Insights.

The grid impact (left) and model-builder (right) tools in Gridscale X DER Insights. Images used courtesy of Siemens


Siemens claims Gridscale X DER Insights can double capacity utilization across existing assets. It also offers 50% savings by reducing time-consuming model updates and tests. The software’s grid model builder automates portions of this process by creating a digital version of the medium-voltage grid, including service delivery points, smart meters, and more connections. 

The software also draws on smart meter data to give utilities a grid impact score considering the count, frequency, and duration of voltage and capacity failures. By prioritizing upgrades based on equipment degradation and outages, utilities can cut 75% of transformer upgrade costs. For example, DER Insights can pinpoint which distribution transformers are at risk of failure or overloaded by backflow. 

Siemens worked with leading DERMS provider EnergyHub to incorporate DER Insights into the widely used Mercury DER Management platform. EnergyHub has more than 1 million DERs under management.


Gridscale X Network Model Manager

Siemens’ second Gridscale X release is Network Model Manager, a software platform and data repository that improves grid planning, operations, and maintenance efficiency.


The project planning interface in Gridscale X Network Model Manager.

The project planning interface in Gridscale X Network Model Manager. Image used courtesy of Siemens


Siemens developed the software with leading transmission system operators (TSOs) and independent system operators (ISOs). The platform includes a digital twin to help TSOs and ISOs visualize grid operations. 

By allowing all master data elements to be used many times but only created once, Gridscale X Network Model Manager aims to make model maintenance more efficient, freeing up staff time for engineering and network analysis. 


Collaboration features in Network Model Manager.

Collaboration features in Network Model Manager. Image used courtesy of Siemens


Like DER Insights, Network Model Manager ensures continuity by supporting companies’ existing network file repositories. The software also offers unlimited workflows and models for projects across teams. 

Keywords: Siemens, grid, distributed energy resources, distributed energy resources management systems, DERMS, DER