Effective operations and monitoring of distributed energy resources

In a diverse energy landscape, monitoring and control of decentralized energy resources can be challenging. Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) offer a way to harness a wider range of energy resources and boost grid resilience, but they require advanced control and monitoring systems. Here, Stefan Hufnagl, Industry Expert for Energy at automation software supplier COPA-DATA, explores how digital technologies can offer a solution.

The modern energy mix is more diverse than ever. Accelerated growth and innovation have resulted in a new generation of energy technologies to harness power from natural resources at various locations and scales, from individual microgeneration systems through to gigawatt-scale installations. DERs allow energy to be generated from these natural resources closer to where it will be used and create a more diverse range of generation sources, but this greater variability brings unique challenges for monitoring and control.

Large-scale DER installations are undoubtedly a positive addition to the energy network, but their integration and management is more complex than that of individual, smaller scale DERs. A rooftop solar panel, for example, is typically relatively simple to both install and run — they usually do not require complicated control mechanisms to function and to connect to the grid, and all components are often from a single vendor. When scaling up to large-scale DERs, operations immediately become less straightforward.

 

Challenges of scale

A utility-scale DER operation comprises vast amounts of equipment in addition to the energy capture assets. A typical installation will require large inverters, combiner boxes, trackers, weather stations or power switching equipment. As an example, a solar plant with a 500 MW (megawatt) capacity may use hundreds of inverters and thousands of trackers in its day-to-day operation. This equipment may come from different manufacturers and vendors with varying IT (information technology) and OT (operational technology) standards and requirements. All these assets need to be integrated to provide a holistic overview of the plant’s state and performance for effective operation and monitoring.

What’s more, these utility-scale DERs are often connected directly to the grid. This connection requires the operation to function correctly and consistently to ensure accurate grid frequency and voltage. This relies on automated plant controllers and the transmission of telemetry data to the distribution network to maintain overall grid balance and stability.

 

Digital solutions

For efficient and effective operation of DERs, digital solutions are an invaluable tool.  Renewable energy projects must be safe and reliable in the context of specific electrical parameters. The system must operate in line with defined rules in order maintain internal integrity and to help maintain the grid stability. The monitoring and flexible management of diverse generation assets can only be achieved with digital technology.

Digital technology on the OT side enables the monitoring and flexible orchestration of generation assets. Immediate, automatic responses are crucial for certain situations, including identifying and isolating malfunctions, instructing service teams and ensuring rapid problem resolution. Effective control of extensive systems like solar, wind, or battery farms rely on digital communication, advanced software visualization and intelligent algorithms for protection and automation.

Optimizing profitability within specified constraints is paramount. Detecting and correcting inefficiencies, adjusting to environmental conditions and coordinating system maintenance with production schedules are essential tasks. Additionally, participating in energy trading pools demands reliable digital information regarding production schedules and generative capacities. Successful operation within these parameters requires a holistic approach, leveraging digital technologies and intelligent algorithms for both stability and economic efficiency.

COPA-DATA’s zenon software platform offers connectivity to many of the important components in large scale DER installations, including substation control and communication with regional and national control centres. Based on this, zenon can manage high volumes of data, and provide advanced visualization, control and analytics to optimally manage the facility. The system can be completely tailored to the needs of the respective users.

The integrated platform offers a variety of functions for robust networking, real-time data processing and flexible visualization both on site and remotely. It also has features ideal for supporting DER operation, for example, specialist cloud services such as weather forecasting or operational optimization for dedicated generation processes, based on machine learning and AI.

Utility-scale DERs represent an emission-free solution to generate energy and to diversify the overall energy mix, but they pose a challenge for both operators and the distribution grid.

Open, independent and future-proof solutions are essential in achieving safe, effective and economic operation of large-scale DERs. zenon offers an unparalleled mix of industry-proven functionality and IT and IoT based technologies, in order to achieve the perfect balance between robust system operation and innovative DER operation and monitoring.

 

Find out more about how using zenon can create a smarter, more connected DER operation here.


About COPA-DATA

COPA-DATA is an independent software manufacturer that specializes in digitalization for the manufacturing industry and energy sector. Its zenon® software platform enables users worldwide to automate, manage, monitor, integrate and optimize machines, equipment, buildings and power grids. COPA-DATA combines decades of experience in automation with the potential of digital transformation. In this way, the company supports its customers to achieve their objectives more easily, faster and more efficiently. The family-owned business was founded by Thomas Punzenberger in 1987 in Salzburg, Austria. In 2022, with more than 350 employees worldwide, it generated revenue of EUR 69 million.

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