At the heart of what we do is the notion that the flexible capacity from grid-connected distributed energy resources (DER) that can be ramped up or down needs to be optimized to support an efficient, decarbonized grid.
By Shane O’Quinn
December 12, 2017
Please tell us a bit about AutoGrid and its role in the alternative energy industry.
At AutoGrid, we’re working to accelerate the world’s transition to a clean, affordable and reliable energy system. Our founder Amit Narayan’s vision is to use the technologies that had revolutionized computing and apply them to the electrical grid. Why not look at the microprocessor chip, with its circuits carrying billions of bits of data and energy at blazing speeds, as a model to optimize the electric grid? Starting in 2011, Amit assembled a team of world-class software, data science and energy experts to create a new category of software focused on flexibility management in the energy industry.
At the heart of what we do is the notion that the flexible capacity from grid-connected distributed energy resources (DER) that can be ramped up or down needs to be optimized to support an efficient, decarbonized grid. Aggregating , optimizing , and dispatching flexible resources in real time and at scale helps bring a lot more renewable power onto the grid. And it also provides a host of other benefits to make the grid more reliable, fully monetize distributed energy resources, and enable energy companies to increase customer satisfaction.
That’s exactly what AutoGrid has done with its flexibility management platform.
AutoGrid has more than 2,500 megawatts of flexible capacity from distributed generation, storage and demand response (DR) resources under contract. More than 30 of the world’s leading energy companies, including National Grid, Florida Power & Light, Eneco, Portland General Electric, CPS Energy, New Hampshire Electric Cooperative, and NextEra Energy use AutoGrid’s solutions to balance supply and demand in real time, increase grid reliability, integrate renewables and drive deeper customer engagement.
AutoGrid has been recognized with prestigious industry awards including Greentech Media’s Grid Edge Award 2016, Bloomberg New Energy Pioneer 2016, World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer 2015, Red Herring Top 100 North America 2015-2017, Cleantech Global 100 from 2014 to 2017, and the NA Industrial Innovation Company of the Year 2014 by the Cleantech Group.
What is flexibility management software?
Flexibility Management software leverages data science, machine learning and high-performance computing to monitor, predict, optimize and control flexible capacity from any type of grid-connected DER and DR resource in real time and at scale.
What’s different about our flexibility management approach is its all-in or all-of-the-above scope. Whereas there are plenty of point solutions out there which support a single asset type—a storage program here, a DR program there—the AutoGrid flexibility management approach is asset agnostic. A utility can use it to control any and all distributed energy resources and do it at unprecedented scale.
Managing flexible capacity from distributed assets across vast energy networks allows energy companies to balance supply and demand in real time, integrate renewable energy into the grid, co-optimize large portfolios of distributed assets, monetize flexible capacity from DERs by bidding it into markets, manage the grid more efficiently, and deliver new energy services to customers in regulated and deregulated markets.
AutoGrid’s integrated suite of applications is built on a single platform and leverages its patented Predictive Controls™ technology. The company’s flagship applications, AutoGrid Flex and AutoGrid Engage, provide out-of-the-box DR, DER, virtual power plant (VPP) and energy storage management solutions for residential, commercial and industrial utility customers.
Who uses flexibility management software and why?
Flexibility management software is used by regulated energy companies, distribution system operators, and deregulated energy service providers to take advantage of a range of operational, market and economic benefits enabled by today’s increasingly decentralized energy grid which often includes customer-owned behind the meter assets.
Utilities and grid operators, for example, can use our flexibility management platform to aggregate flexible capacity from DERs and DR to integrate more renewable energy into the grid, deploy non-wires alternatives to defer capital investments in system upgrades, and develop new sources of ancillary services to maintain grid reliability. Energy trading teams can use the software’s VPP capabilities to aggregate and monetize the latent value in DERs and DR to bid into capacity markets. Groups responsible for demand response and demand-side programs can use the software to increase customer enrollment and participation in DR during peak energy events, and to optimize load reduction where needed. Marketing, customer engagement and new product groups can use flexibility management to test and launch new services that maximize the value of behind-the-meter assets and deliver new revenue streams to their customers.
What type of flexible resources can flexibility management software manage?
Our platform can manage any type of grid-connected flexible resource. Flexible assets include distributed energy resources such as batteries, solar systems, smart thermostats and electric vehicles as well as some centralized resources that can be aggregated with behind-the-meter assets. Broadly speaking, various flavors of traditional demand response programs also qualify as flexible assets. For these programs, instead of generating electricity, DR programs provide capacity by controlling smart devices to reduce electric load surgically when and where needed.
How can utilities benefit from flexibility management software?
As distributed energy resources proliferate, balancing supply and demand in real time across a dynamic and multi-directional network is becoming more complex. The AutoGrid flexibility management platform leverages the vast amounts of data arising from grid-connected assets, as well as smart meter and weather data, to provide control and visibility to utilities. It allows them to monitor, predict, optimize and control flexible DERs. Our flexibility management software can be used to balance supply and demand in real time, increase grid reliability, incorporate more renewables onto the grid, increase the productivity and utilization of all types of distributed energy assets and generate new revenue streams, whether the distributed assets are owned by a utility, an energy service provider, an electricity retailer, an energy project developer, or a commercial or residential customer.
Where have energy companies already seen success from leveraging flexibility management software and how it will improve in the next five years?
Utilities worldwide are using AutoGrid flexibility management software to monitor, predict, optimize and control flexible resources in real time and at scale. We are seeing rapid adoption of flexibility management across entire grid ecosystems as utilities see positive results from their own and other successful pilot projects. We have experienced 350 percent annual growth rates for the past three years.
Here are some notable recent examples:
National Grid, a leading electricity and natural gas company serving over seven million customers across New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, works with AutoGrid to unify management of its demand response (DR) and distributed energy resource (DER) programs across its service area in North America. These programs are expected to enroll over 400 megawatts (MW) of DR and other DERs over a three-year timeframe. National Grid expects these programs will deliver significant cost savings to participating businesses while helping the utility reduce operational expenses and investments in transmission and distribution infrastructure, which will lower costs for all National Grid customers. National Grid also recently extended the use of our platform to manage an innovative gas DR program.
The AutoGrid flexibility management platform is helping leading European energy producer and supplier Eneco to build and deploy one of the industry’s first virtual power plants using DERs. AutoGrid VPP™ technology enables Eneco to integrate alternative flexible energy resources and a larger amount of intermittent renewables into its portfolio without incurring imbalance costs, helping its customers reduce their energy costs and helping Eneco earn a higher return on its renewable assets.
NextEra Energy Services wanted to help its commercial and industrial customers lower their energy costs during periods of energy peaks or high wholesale electricity prices. The company teamed with AutoGrid to offer demand response programs to its customers within the PJM interconnection region. Two programs enable NextEra customers to develop intelligent curtailment plans, allowing them to monetize flexible capacity without disrupting their operations.
Do you think it is likely we will get to 100 percent renewable energy in the United States?
The possibility of a 100 percent renewables future is the subject of intense debate and research. A convergence of trends points to the inevitability of a decarbonized grid not only in the United States but across the globe. In our view, it’s not a question of if but when it will happen. A host of major signs point in this direction. One, global climate change demands action. Two, relentless technological advancements continue to improve the efficiency and lower the cost of solar, wind and storage relative to fossil fuels as well as to transform the electrical grid into an intelligent, multi-directional, digital system. Three, increased global competition means more energy markets are opening up for deregulation and choice. Whether we get to 99 percent or 100 percent renewables, we believe the world needs to get as close to it as soon as possible.
What existing policies are accelerating/slowing mass adoption of renewable energy sources?
In many respects, the mass adoption of renewable energy is being driven by market forces. As renewables become cheaper than large, centralized fossil- and nuclear-fueled generation, they become even more irresistible. However, markets alone can’t do the heavy lifting of speeding this transformation. Economics aside, the development of markets for renewable energy have unquestionably been served by policy and regulatory support. Chief among these have been statewide renewable portfolio standards. Other positive influences have come from solar net energy metering and feed-in tariffs, investment and production tax credits and other financial incentives, statewide climate change and air pollution reduction targets, community solar programs, competitive markets for DERs and DR (e.g., the California Demand Response Auction Mechanism), public benefits funds for renewable energy, property-assessed clean energy financing, government mandates for self-purchasing of renewable power, and market deregulation.
How can flexibility management software increase the adoption rate?
Managing flexible capacity from distributed assets allows energy companies to integrate more intermittent sources of energy, such as wind and solar, into the grid. It also allows utilities and energy service companies to optimize and fully monetize distributed energy resources such as rooftop solar, batteries, smart thermostats, thermal energy storage, smart plugs and electric vehicles. As utilities realize the potential for unlocking the latent value in distributed energy and demand response resources, and regulatory and policy structures recognize those values, utilities will be able to bring more and more renewable energy resources online. They will also be able to operate the entire energy system more efficiently, cost-effectively and smartly.
About Shane O’Quinn
Shane O’Quinn is the senior director for strategic accounts at AutoGrid Systems. Prior to AutoGrid, O’Quinn was vice president of business development for Enbala Power Networks and spent 14 years at Ventyx (now part of ABB). Before entering the energy sector, he worked in management consulting and software firms including Ernst & Young.