Distributed Energy Resources – Australian Perspective

Distributed energy resources (DERs) are electricity producing resources or controllable loads that are connected to a local distribution system or connected to a host facility within the local distribution system.

DERs can include solar panels, combined heat and power plants, electricity storage, small natural gas-fueled generators, electric vehicles and controllable loads, such as HVAC systems and electric water heaters.

Solar DER can be built at different scales. Even one small solar panel can provide energy. What we need is a reliable and secure energy grid. Two ways to ensure continuous electricity regardless of the weather and or an unforeseen event are by using distributed energy resources (DER) and microgrids. DER produce and supply electricity on a small scale and are spread out over a wide area. Rooftop solar panels, backup batteries, and emergency diesel generators are examples of DER and they are connected to the lower-voltage distribution grid, like residencies and businesses are.

The Distributed Energy Resource Roadmap

Solar DER can be built at different scales – even one small solar panel can provide energy. DER could fundamentally change the way the electric grid works. With DER, power is generated right where it is used and can be connected with other DER to optimize its use. Households with a solar system installation and other electricity consumers are also part-time producers, selling excess generation to the grid and to each other. Energy storage such as batteries, can also be used to ensure power sharing when solar or other DER don’t generate power. While the grid was designed to generate power at large facilities and move it through the transmission grid to the distribution grid for consumption, DER enable local generation and consumption of electricity.

DERs can be grouped into three categories

  • Distributed generation, mostly solar panels generating power, which can be locally used, fed into the distribution network, stored or potentially shared or traded with others.
  • Energy efficiency investments such as improved insulation, more efficient appliances, lighting, HVAC systems, better monitoring and energy management and control systems – basically anything that reduces consumption; and
  • Distributed energy storage systems, which can store some of the excess distributed generation for later use.

The Electricity System Transformation

Many Australian households generate their own electricity via rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, which can then be stored using home battery systems. Demand response and smart meters are changing the way we consume electricity, allowing users to reduce consumption during peak periods to help balance the grid.

DERs can include behind-the-meter renewable and non-renewable generation, energy storage, inverters, electric vehicles and other controlled loads. DER also comprises new technology like smart meters and data services.

DER penetration is growing every year. The Electricity Network Transformation Roadmap (ENTR), a joint publication by Energy Networks Australia and the CSIRO, projected that over 40 per cent of energy customers will use DER by 2027. By 2050, that figure will grow to more than 60 per cent.

The benefits DER brings to the grid

Affordability is one. Customers with access to DER assets can expect to pay less for electricity as they power back to the grid or are compensated for allowing their storage systems to help stabilise the grid.

Reduced network costs could also lead to a fall in the overall cost of energy. Investment in DER could reduce network expansion costs by nearly 60 per cent by 2050.

Reliability is another benefit. In areas where there is a high reliance on variable energy resources like wind and solar, DER can be deployed to help balance the grid and improve its reliability, either reducing demand or providing energy to help smooth out intermittent supply.

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