For a network of connected distributed energy resources to work at peak efficiency owners of solar must make the most of their generation, writes carbonTRACK co-founder and CTO Shavaj Kallamkote.

Distributed energy resources, decentralised energy models, energy sharing, virtual power plants – these themes dominate current industry discussions and, in turn, programs at leading events such as this week’s All-Energy conference and Energy Efficiency Expo.

And rightly so. With every new home or commercial solar installation, the building blocks for our distributed energy future are stacking up. At face value this is great news, but you don’t have to dig deep to uncover that our outdated energy model and ageing grid infrastructure are simply not ready to handle the change.

There’s extensive analysis underway to find a solution, from government bodies and other interested parties. This can be of value, but we don’t need more data or detailed modelling of what might be.

The solution lies in making the most of solar we currently produce and giving energy market participants the visibility and control they need.

Sunshine is precious

One of the key challenges facing grid operators today is the volume of excess solar being pumped into the grid. The system designed for one-way electricity distribution is now required to cope with highly unpredictable influx of renewable power. Cracks are beginning to show, and regulators are limiting exports.

In other words, we are wasting big volumes of the sun’s free energy and drawing more from the grid – and so the “excess” we are curtailing isn’t excess at all.

The fact is that most households and businesses don’t have the tools to make the most of the solar they produce. And many solar ROI models are underpinned by the old, previously always-available and lucrative grid feed-in structures. But a robust distributed energy model is only possible where energy consumers/local solar producers maximise their solar self-consumption and store and/or export only the true excess power available.

Efficient energy ecosystems

What if we flipped the conversation when planning for our DER future? Rather than investing too much in top-down analysis and modelling we should look at helping energy consumers achieve highly efficient energy ecosystems and letting the DER model largely write itself.

This model can only be effective if the participants at the start of the chain – energy consumers – have the right tools to optimise the value of their distributed energy resources.

Imagine if energy users/local generators – or homes and businesses with solar power – could see the energy they use and produce and have the control mechanisms to maximise their solar self-consumption. This is possible today.

With the right tools, homeowners and business leaders can determine how much energy they need, how to make the most of the sun’s free energy and when to “top up” from the grid if they need to. Central to this is the ability to control individual appliances and circuit level loads, either directly or by setting their preferences and automating the process.

They can then decide how to best manage any excess so that others may also benefit. This can be a mix of storing energy for later use, exporting it and sharing/trading on peer-to-peer or centrally coordinated networks.

Key to the DER puzzle

Enabling homes and businesses with this advanced energy management capability will minimise wastage on a local level and drastically reduce reliance on the grid. Applied at scale, the same solution can be used by energy “supply managers” to predict local energy consumption and generation and act accordingly – eliminating the need for market hedging and frequent grid-level overproduction which occur today. They can also facilitate peer-to-peer energy sharing and reward mechanisms for various demand response programs.

Hence, starting with highly efficient energy ecosystems at a local level, we can start creating a robust DER model, from the ground up.

Shavaj Kallamkote is CTO and co-founder of energy management platform carbonTRACK.

He is speaking at the All-Energy Conference on Thursday October 24 between 2.50pm and 4.10pm, as part of the panel Energy Storage: Project Finance and Bankability. He is also speaking at the Energy Efficiency Expo on Wednesday October 23 between 2.45pm and 3.10pm on the theme Energy Management and the Smart Home.