Across the United States, growing customer adoption of distributed energy resources (DER) like solar power, energy efficiency, and battery storage highlight that our current distribution grid and processes are not aligned or prepared for this growth. DER technologies and services operate almost entirely on the low-voltage distribution grid, the final stage of the distribution system that was typically not a central part of energy planning. The rise of DER technologies, matched with new DER and grid service market opportunities, provide an opportunity for aligning distribution grid and energy policies where customers benefit. States can produce more clean power that can increase capacity on the existing distribution system and potentially reduce the need for large centralized power plants. This, represents a “More than Smart” Framework.
MTS has developed a holistic approach for the development of state specific regulatory guidance for an integrated distribution grid. The scope includes distribution planning, market design and operations utilizing a stakeholder process led by an expert team. MTS is uniquely capable of assisting regulators and stakeholders to plan, design and develop their integrated distribution grid. Although no state’s energy system is the same, the More than Smart report below matched with working group materials on this site outline a framework for any state to see what is necessary to either initiate an integrated distribution grid planning process, or to dive deep into more advanced market and data sharing needs.
The MTS initiative was originally created (in partnership with Caltech’s Resnick Sustainability Institute and the California Governor’s Office) to provide an engineering/economic framework for state regulators to consider complex changes needed to electric distribution company operations, infrastructure planning and oversight with high expected DER. MTS’s goal is to upgrade state electricity distribution grids to enable more DER and to move towards a network grid infrastructure that increases the capacity of the existing distribution grid, reduces investments in polluting power plants, and converges with other public grids such as water and natural gas.
Through a series of papers and working group meetings, MTS outlined a process and framework in parternship with its members that was eventually published in the MTS report. This report is included in California’s Distribution Resource Plan proceeding. It includes three key steps any distribution grid planning effort can start with to develop a systematic, step-wise approach to enabling more DER and flexibility on their grid. These include:
- Planning: Distribution planning should start with a comprehensive, scenario driven, multi stakeholder planning process that standardizes data and methodologies to address locational benefits and costs of DER.
- Markets: Flexible DER can provide value today to optimize markets, grid operations and investments. California should expedite DER participation in wholesale markets and resource adequacy, unbundle distribution grid operations services, create a transparent process to monetize DER services and reduce unnecessary barriers for DER integration.
- Data: An open and transparent data platform is needed to share DER and distribution grid information that can enable distribution grid services and DER bundling to occur across wholesale and retail markets. In order for any state to initiate a comprehensive MTS approach, there are numerous landmines to overcome regarding timing, market development and overall system management. Complex and highly technical issues require a steady rudder, strong regulatory support and technical facilitators to enable a step-wise approach over reasonable timelines.
Tackling markets, planning and data issues together at the outset of any distribution grid upgrade effort risks alienating key stakeholders and building key decisions upon faulty or nonexistent data or necessary infrastructure that could thwart key infrastructure investments. In result, the MTS model has used a Walk/Jog/Run model as a straightforward approach to provide a practical roadmap to evolve distribution planning, markets and operations tailored to the specific situation in a state.
The MTS Walk/Jog/Run model (Figure 1 below) outlines key steps a state can advance as distribution peak loading of DER increases on the grid, as distribution grid benefits are enabled and the sophistication of analysis increases. This is based on the assumption that the distribution system will evolve in response to both top-down (public policy) and bottom-up (customer choices) drivers. Thus, each stage represents the effects of both a set of public policies and increasing customer adoption of DER. Each level also builds upon the previous, due to higher levels of DER penetration and more ambitious policy goals with each subsequent level requiring additional distribution system functionalities to create an increasingly complex system. Read more on the More Than Smart Walk/Jog/Run Framework
Figure 1: The MTS Walk/Jog/Run Framework
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