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As distributed energy resource (DER) capacity and installation continues, the large influx of new power into the grid presents a complicated problem for utilities and ISOs that have to manage and upgrade grid infrastructure to handle the increase of these resources. Currently, network operation centers (NOCs) from these overseeing bodies monitor the production of these resources and issue commands in order to ramp down or ramp up plants as a reaction to demand.

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and automation are the foundational pieces of this future grid

For more complex grids, such as that in Hawaii, many projects have zero-export requirements, in which they are not able to backfeed any energy into the grid. As these resources continue to scale up, the necessity for a smart and intelligent grid continues to grow, as it becomes more important to keep up with these changes. Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and automation are the foundational pieces of this future grid.

These ‘smart grids’ require advanced control and automation so that operators and controllers can get the real-time response they need to deal with fluctuating demand. Adding in energy forecasting procedures around likely weather patterns, these grid systems will be able to implement automated responses, hours before overall changes in power production even occur. Without such advanced controls in place, an exceptional amount of manual analysis and intervention is required, slowing down response time and creating inefficiencies. The more pieces of grid control that are automated, the more quickly plant operators can respond to different demands.

Much-needed policies

Up until this point, adoption of these advanced grid control requirements have been dictated by the regional ISOs or Utilities. In the US some areas have already begun requiring that certain applications are put into place in preparation for building and maintaining a more intelligent grid. Rule 21 in California is an example of this, and is similar to policies that already exist in Europe. The rest of the nation is beginning to catch on to these needed policies.

Some examples of advanced controls include plant curtailment, zero export, Volt/VAr control, and frequency control. Companies, such as Locus Energy, that provide SCADA and automation hardware and programming are changing the landscape of how these control and automation based systems are implemented. As Locus Energy continues to scale up on the Utility side of the business, they are finding unique ways to offer efficient, cost-effective solutions. However, in addition to the advanced controls for Utility-scale projects, Locus is finding that more basic SCADA and automation are also desired on smaller-scale projects, especially remote tripping capability.

Why are remote capabilities important?

Having remote control capabilities in place can help prevent truck rolls, thus saving cost and increasing PV system uptime. The larger the site, the more money that is saved with these capabilities.

When an on-site event such as a voltage spike occurs, the main site breaker can trip and prevent the site from exporting to the grid, thus causing costly, and unplanned downtime. . With the addition of low-cost UPS and battery backup to Locus hardware that allow for systems to remain up when grid power is lost, PV plant operators can analyze the event, ensure that the site is safe to reenergize, and close these breakers remotely through Locus’ Human Machine Interface (HMI) or by issuing commands through Telemetry. Locus’ HMI provides a visual layer for plant operators to easily apply control commands from a remote location or NOC center. These actions can all be taken in a matter of minutes, allowing the plant to come back online quickly, minimizing downtime and thus securing more revenue.

Turnkey SCADA solutions

As the grid continues to be upgraded to handle the volume of new DERs, having a low-cost, turnkey solution for control is vital. Locus’ LControl solution, which includes pre-programmed automation equipment, provides this at a highly competitive cost. Looking at more future-thinking regions, such as California-ISO (CAISO) and specific California Utilities, Locus is already seeing control requirements becoming a standard. Locus has experience dealing with these control and Telemetry requirements, and can interface with and procure the different hardware stacks required for these complex projects. 

Locus’ LGate Control is an end-to-end SCADA hardware solution for power plant control and grid services. As the central hub of performance management for utility and industrial-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, the LGate Control delivers real-time data collection, control, automated logic, and telemetry services to meet the most stringent requirements for security, precision, and reliability. The combination of Locus’ SolarNOC web platform and SCADA capabilities provides a full data management solution for large, complex systems. In addition, the API allows plant operators, asset managers, operations and maintenance groups, and network operation centers to pull system data at rapid rates, allowing them to build additional intelligent layers on top of the overall Locus solution. Apart from typical system data, Locus also outputs performance and proprietary data, such as Locus’ Virtual Irradiance (VI) via their API, enabling these groups to run complex analysis on their portfolio of systems. Their ability to combine custom alarm data with control capabilities allows for rapid response to on-site issues.

As the domestic and international landscape continues to pass through policies and mandates favoring renewable energy, such as the ITC Extension in the and COP21 in Paris, the scale at which DERs are connected to grid will only continue to grow. 

Photo: MGM Mandalay Bay Resort 6.4 MWdc rooftop solar installation in Las Vegas, Nevada. Owner: NRG Renew. Installer: Sunora Energy

Written by Zachary Livingston, Director of Account Management, Commercial & Utility, Locus Energy

Labels: Distributed energy resource,DER,SCADA,automation,energy grid,utilities,policy,Locus

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