A question we often hear from utilities is: “What makes an effective distributed energy resource (DER) program management solution over the long-term?” The question is often rooted in concern for making the best choice between developing an in-house solution or purchasing a third-party software application.
After more than 20 years working closely with utilities, we’ve identified three key considerations to achieve DER program management excellence: independence, adaptability and flexibility. We’ll take a closer look at how each of these can make or break a DER program’s success.
Does a DER program management solution boost in-house development productivity and reduce the need to hire third-party development resources?
In-house development teams have limited resources and hiring third-party developers can be expensive. And yet, some utilities lean toward a hard-coded or custom DER program management solution. This decision may be based on the desire to meet internal brand goals or a desire to “own” the solution to save money. Utilities that invest in custom solutions may exchange the short-term benefit of control and, perhaps, perceived savings for mid- and long-term financial and programmatic risk.
Utilities that invest in a custom-built DER program management solution are committing long-term to in-house or third-party developers that may be limited in terms of time and resources. In an increasingly dynamic market in which there is a proliferation of DERs and new and evolving regulatory requirements, the ability to quickly adapt program management tools is key. While development resources may be available to support changes in custom-solutions in the near-term, that could change over time. In the future, these resources may have conflicting priorities, or the utility may not have operational budget to make needed changes.
Simply put, custom solutions—whether developed by in-house development staff or a third party—are not a one-and-done solution. Needs change over time and sometimes, as is the case with DERs, needs can change drastically and quickly. To ensure DER programs are not put at risk, a holistic DER program management solution will reduce dependence on in-house or third-party development resources.
Is a prospective DER program management solution adaptable to changing needs at all levels of the utility?
Related to solution “independence” is adaptability. Adaptability is a relative term that means the solution can:
- Adapt to changing market conditions
- Enable utility managers to change workflows necessary for their jobs
- Ensure that IT does not lose control
DER technologies and programs are rapidly evolving. This necessitates flexibility and adaptability within a DER program management software solution. A strong solution will provide a level of adaptability that allows program administrators to make changes to their workflows. The solution should be able to manage the breadth of changes—major or mundane—without requiring expensive and scarce IT (or third party) development resources.
Program administrators need the ability to remain agile to changing conditions, and if they are reliant on IT to make necessary changes, the program’s effectiveness may be negatively impacted. Simultaneously, IT teams need to have confidence that they can maintain necessary control, at a pre-defined level, restricting some elements of a solution to authorized personnel only.
Does the solution enable the utility to access legacy data immediately and enable deep enterprise integration today or in the future?
Utilities have valuable data in a number of enterprise applications and data repositories. When selecting a DER program management solution, it’s critical that a utility can access legacy data as well as plan for future data integration needs.
Data connections to the DER program management solution should make legacy data available immediately and in such a manner that the solution enables extensive automation, better decision-making and improved accuracy in DER processes. Likewise, it’s challenging to anticipate future data needs. However, failure to anticipate data integration needs is not the primary problem: adapting to these changing data needs is the primary challenge.
The best DER program management solution is flexible and capable of adapting to changing data integration requirements and processes. What’s needed is an adaptive solution that prevents information from becoming siloed or inaccessible, and requires few requirements for IT or third-party developer time and resources.
PowerClerk®: The industry’s #1 DER program management software solution
PowerClerk is the leading DER program management solution for utilities. PowerClerk provides round-the-clock, cloud-based program automation. Not only does PowerClerk simplify interaction with human users, it actively processes information and integrates with utility, regulatory and third-party systems. Built from the ground-up for utility-specific applications, PowerClerk provides the independence, adaptability and flexibility utilities need to manage energy programs today and into the future.
Independence – PowerClerk is a secure, software as a service (SaaS) DER program management solution that continues to evolve based on the needs of the 50+ U.S. utilities using it today. Energy programs built in PowerClerk can be customized without the help of a utility’s internal IT staff. New programs can be enabled in a matter of a few weeks, not months. With PowerClerk, utility program managers can take control of their launch timing without being reliant on other groups to achieve their milestones.
Adaptability – PowerClerk is designed with administrative and design agility in mind. PowerClerk enables non-IT utility administrators to make functional program changes to forms, workflows, dashboards, program views and more. All modifications are managed through a Test Environment that allows utilities to test changes before committing them to production. As Sam Molina, Renewable Energy Program Coordinator at Tucson Electric Power puts it:
“The PowerClerk solution is a lot easier to set-up and run. With our previous systems, we had to submit requests to make changes. Now we have all the access we need into the actual workflows and forms to make changes related to new processes, such as creating new workflows, adding new fields or updating communications. Everything is so much more at our hands than it ever was before with our old systems…”
Flexibility – PowerClerk enables users to create rich, dynamic, connections between PowerClerk and critical utility systems. PowerClerk has a secure, standards-based API and well-documented web adapters that connect to everything from distribution engineering and customer information systems, to billing systems.
The ability to integrate with other utility systems makes it possible to improve data integrity and streamline workflows. In fact, today there are more than 40 web adapters in production with over 18,000 API calls made per day.
For distribution engineering/hosting capacity, PowerClerk has partner integrations with DNV GL, Synergi Electric and EPRI DRIVE. PowerClerk also has an integration with ESRI ArcGIS for graphic information system (GIS) applications. Our partner list is growing, with new integrations developed based on customer feedback.
Achieving program management excellence
Over the years, utilities have shared with us the many challenges they face when starting or evolving their DER programs. Utilizing a DER program management solution that is independent, adaptable and flexible is critical to the long-term success of DER programs.