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The country, and the world, needs an “Integrated Grid,” which is the Electric Power Research Institute’s (EPRI) term for a grid connected with distributed energy resources (DER).  A new report from EPRI outlines the urgent need for DER to be more fully assimilated into the power grid for reliability, security, and efficiency.

Distributed energy resources are defined by the EPRI as “smaller power sources that can be aggregated to provide power necessary to meet regular demand.”  Demand response actually qualifies as a DER under this definition, because electricity curtailed at critical times is equivalent to electricity generated — as far as the power grid is concerned.  Demand response is a technology that must evolve along with onsite generation such as solar installations, gas powered generators, and energy storage.

The EPRI stresses the importance of consumer engagement in the integrated grid by emphasizing, “the potential for customers to become more active participants in the power system.  Such information can support . . . integration of DER to enable energy efficiency, more responsive demand, and the management of variable generation such as wind and solar.”

An illustration of “the integrated grid” by the EPRI: the grid is a connected web of different utility and distributed energy resources.

An illustration of “the integrated grid” by the EPRI: the grid is a connected web of different utility and distributed energy resources.

Demand side management, such as demand response, will clearly be a big component of the integrated grid.  Smart grid technology will empower consumers, including large energy users like industrial facilities and commercial buildings, to control their energy consumption in order to benefit the stability of the power grid, and the price they pay for electricity.  In some demand side management tactics, utilities will lower electricity prices during off-peak hours to give incentive for consumers to shift their energy intensive processes to off-peak times.  This is referred to as economic demand response, and requires smart meters and real-time pricing from utilities.

The EPRI’s illustration of the integrated grid clearly shows all methods of electric generation in use, including customer-owned distributed generation like rooftop solar panels.  Energy storage and wireless communications also play a role.  Instead of a linear model where electricity is generated by utilities and delivered to end-users, the integrated grid is a web of both utility generated and distributed energy resources.

Distributed energy resources will put consumers in charge of their energy use and generation.  This will mean a lot of changes in the way we use energy, and much of it will be for the better.  Renewable energy generation will continue to rise, and demand response capability will grow with better notification and communication technology.  Distributed energy shifts some control of the electric power system to end-users.  Demand response is sure to increase in importance as a DER going forward, because it is reliable, lucrative, and requires no installation of on-site generation.  Facilities should look at this as a viable option for distributed energy as the integrated grid continues to take shape.

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