For utilities, getting to an integrated DER interconnection workflow may seem complicated. Our latest whitepaper – Resolving the Conflict Between Distribution Planning and Interconnection Processes – provides a road map for the journey. In fact, thinking about that journey as a road trip can help guide utilities along the way.

In the past, a good road trip always started with a quick visit to AAA to pick up local, statewide, or regional maps. Paper maps ruled, at least until the next trip when you couldn’t find your old, torn versions with their hand-written notes. Eventually, GIS technology matured into Google Maps, and early adopters could go online and print their own maps and directions.

Similarly, for many years utilities relied on paper forms and manual processes to manage their interconnection process. Volumes were low and the process was reliable, but operators often spent hours looking for specifications of past projects.

As Distributed Energy Resources (DER) became more prevalent, leading utilities began to automate the DER interconnection application journey. Online application portals replaced paper forms, manual processes, and spreadsheets. Workflow automation tools managed data validation, routing, approvals, and communications.

Early adopters of online application processing tools achieved major reductions in processing time. For example, Southern California Edison launched PowerClerk® from Clean Power Research and made several process improvements in early 2015. Soon after, they reported a reduction in average time to interconnect from several weeks to just a few days.

As utilities move to an online application process, they are realizing additional benefits by integrating with existing applications such as GIS and CIS to further streamline workflows.

“In 200 Feet, turn left at the light.”

Returning to our road trip story, the next generation of navigation systems offers driving directions via voice. Drivers input their destination into their mobile device and then get automated directions. For the driver, these voice instructions allow them to focus on the road instead of the map.

Likewise, the next step for utilities is to automate some of the initial technical screens to further speed the interconnection process. This has the added benefit of freeing up scarce engineering resources to work on high-impact special cases that do not pass the initial screens.

For example, New York’s Standard Interconnection Requirements (SIR) specify 5 preliminary screens and 3 optional supplemental screens for projects over 50kVA.

One preliminary screen ensures that an installation uses certified equipment. PowerClerk can directly evaluate this screen based on the DER specifications in the application.

Supplemental screens determine the need for relay protection and the impact of voltage variations. These screens are best solved by passing the DER system specs from PowerClerk to the utility’s distribution planning software for analysis.

How much of this process a utility automates depends on the size and complexity of the DER installation as well as the utility’s own business processes. In any case, Clean Power Research has designed PowerClerk to enable integration to the utility’s existing and future analysis applications.

“Avoid Congestion by taking Route 51 at the next exit.”

The next step in the evolution of the road trip is community-based traffic and navigation applications (such as Waze.) These apps use big data and analytics to determine optimal routing given current conditions.

Much like these applications are guiding drivers to less congested routes, applications like the Flexible Interconnection Capacity Solution (FICS) from Smarter Grid Solutions are starting to provide utilities and DER project developers alternatives to the traditional “yes”, “no”, or “upgrade required” answers to interconnection.

The FICS establishes a process for the project developer and utility to come to an agreement that maintains the viability of the project. For example, the customer may agree to have the utility dispatch the generation at something less than maximum capacity when constraints hit the local grid.

Using PowerClerk as a DER interconnection hub, the utility can collect the necessary information from the project developer up front, and present options identified in the FICS back to the developer for consideration.

This flexible process reduces incremental grid costs and allows the grid to accommodate more DER traffic.

Next up: Autonomous Cars?

Autonomous cars are the next big innovation impacting the road trip. Features like self-parking, adaptive cruise control, and automated braking are becoming more commonplace. However, most of us are not yet ready to make the leap to self-driving cars where the steering wheel disappears completely.

Likewise, complex DER interconnection scenarios still require detailed engineering work that can’t yet be fully automated. Download the whitepaper – Resolving the Conflict Between Distribution Planning and Interconnection Processes – for a vision of the future coupled with today’s proven technology.

Get the Whitepaper, Integrated DER Interconnection