• Resilience
  • Sustainability
  • Virtual Power Plant
  • DER Aggregators

Redefining Resilience and Sustainability in an Era of Digitalization

Peter Asmus
Jan 07, 2021

Guidehouse Insights

Two platforms that use digitalization to achieve sustainability and resiliency goals driving economic growth are microgrids and virtual power plants (VPPs). From rooftop solar PV and energy storage to EVs and demand response, these smaller and increasingly smarter distributed energy resources (DER) are emerging as the primary sources now populating power grids around the world. By the end of 2021, more DER capacity will come online compared with large centralized generation sources (nuclear or coal plants), according to recent Guidehouse Insights market forecasts. These diverse DER assets need to be aggregated and optimized into nimble systems capable of responding in real time to changing market and weather conditions—goals that Guidehouse defines as integrated DER (iDER).

Changing Strategies for Changing Times

A recent white paper sponsored by ABB articulates how digital platform provider ABB is changing its business strategy to offer new digital solution blocks for microgrids and VPPs directly to engineering, procurement, and construction companies and to integrators that interface directly with consumers. This new modular approach promises to reduce costs, speed up the development cycle, and increase the prospects for meeting society’s resiliency and sustainability needs.

The availability of 24/7 power is more important now than ever as the pandemic encourages telecommuting and limits the ability of traditional business practices such as in-person conferences and shared office spaces. Furthermore, the electrification of the transportation sector requires an even greater reliance on the electricity system, including new markets allowing these mobility assets to serve a dual purpose as clean grid assets. As a result, resiliency has risen to the top of concerns of companies and communities alike as extreme weather such as hurricanes and wildfires threaten the reliability of the incumbent electricity grid.

Modular Digital Platforms Vital to World’s Resiliency and Sustainability Goals

Modular Digital Platforms Vital to World’s Resiliency and Sustainability Goals

(Source: Guidehouse Insights, ABB)

Though ABB’s power grids division, which includes microgrid offerings, migrated over to a JV with Hitachi, a transaction finalized in summer 2020, ABB is still active in the DER digital platform space. The company is focused on using its circuit breakers and other digital devices embedded with distributed intelligence as the brains orchestrating microgrids and VPPs.

Digital Platforms in Action

Perhaps one of ABB’s biggest wins is in China. The state grid company Jibei Electric Power Company now controls diverse DER assets with the help of ABB technology. In operation since December 2019, 11 types of DER assets have been aggregated and optimized, representing 26.5 MW. The second phase of the project uses an Internet of Things (IoT) digital platform provided by ABB that will expand to incorporate another 226 MW of capacity. Once the second stage of the project is completed, the VPP will serve 12.4 million people in the cities of Zhangjiakou, Qinhuangdao, and Langfang.

This VPP is enabled through a combination of intelligent instrumentation and digital equipment, including state-of-the-art smart meters and switchgear for monitoring, protection, and control. Data on electrical and environmental parameters is all processed in real time to realize efficiency goals and to power peak shaving and creative load management. Distributed solar PV systems, air source heat pumps, residential and industrial air conditioning units, and EV charging stations are all used to balance variable solar and wind generation. This project serves as a demonstration use case to help articulate an International Electrotechnical Commission VPP standard. Merging IoT and VPP digital management sets the stage for further innovation in enabling real-time optimization between renewable generation and flexible load management.

What happens in China often becomes a blueprint for the rest of the world. ABB is alive and well, retooling itself to compete in the digital world that holds the key to the world’s resiliency and sustainability goals.