Distributed Energy Resources and the Value of the Grid

by Mike Beehler on April 24, 2015

Distributed Energy Resources and the Value of the GridOur power grid, more than a century old, is the largest interconnected machine on Earth. According to the National Academy of Engineering, widespread electrification — supported by the grid — is the greatest engineering achievement of the 20th century.

Our legacy grid serves us well. Demands on the grid are more intense than ever, yet the reliability rate for the typical U.S. utility consumer is estimated at better than 99.97 percent. Augmented by distributed energy resources (DER), only our legacy grid can continue to provide the dependable flow of electricity residents have come to rely on.

As defined by the Electric Power Research Institute, DER are smaller power sources — such as solar photovoltaic, landfill gas, biomass, wind turbines, hydropower and fuel cells — that can be aggregated to provide the power necessary to meet regular demand. These storage and renewable technologies support the transition to a smarter, more integrated grid.

Grid Maximizes Access to New Sources of Power

Electricity customers have high expectations. They want clean, reliable and affordable energy. They also want access to more sustainable options.

The legacy grid, augmented with DER, allows access to the least expensive sources of electricity available. It allows utilities and other entities to capitalize on new DER opportunities. And only the legacy grid can enable the public policy initiatives many states have put forward for a cleaner and more reliable electric system.

Benefits of Grid to DER

The continuing value of the grid was a major point of discussion in my recent webinar with Kenneth Bowes, engineering vice president at Connecticut Light & Power. Overall, the estimated value of the grid’s operational and economic benefits average $51 per month for residential customers.

The economic benefits come through efficiency, optimum sizing of equipment, ability to deliver excess and receive necessary energy, and capacity on demand. The operational benefits of DER include reliability, load-following capabilities, startup power, voltage regulation, balancing real and reactive power, harmonic distortion, and frequency regulation.

Understanding how to integrate renewables into the grid is often new ground for utilities. Recently, utility Arizona Public Service introduced a plan that would require new solar customers to pay additional charges. In a move that caused great controversy, the utility proposed a $55 a month charge for the average solar rooftop, net-metered customer who opts to go solar. Their regulator, the Arizona Corporation Commission, ultimately reduced that charge to $5 monthly.

Changes and Opportunities

Changes are required to accommodate the greater influx of electricity from DER sources. Who supports those investments — utility, customer or otherwise — is still a matter of discussion, as the Arizona case illustrates.

Operational changes are necessary as well. System configuration must be known and factored into normal grid switching and operating protocols to ensure the safety of customers and utility employees. Because system disturbances can also affect DER, backup generation may be required. This is part of the utility company’s distribution protection system of fast-start dispatch to quickly to clear disturbances, or faults, which may be noticeable to consumers as brief power sags.

Technical and operational standards must also account for unintentional and intentional islanding of the facility served by DER. The standards should establish the protocol for recovery from these events without adversely affecting other power customers.

New Business Opportunities

With change comes opportunity, and modernizing the grid brings plenty of both. Developing a smarter, more resilient and more integrated grid requires action on a number of fronts, from hardening assets against weather damage to safeguarding equipment from physical and cyber threats.

The value of the grid is fundamental to the direction of our industry. Both customer choices and technology changes ahead require a thoughtful evolution. As the grid changes, our priority should remain the same: safe, reliable and cost-effective electricity for all.

What do you think are the industry’s biggest challenges as we work to modernize the grid and integrate DER? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Mike Beehler is a vice president at Burns & McDonnell. He often writes on the subjects of program management, industry megatrends, transactive energy and the integrated grid. Connect with Mike on LinkedIn.


OneTouchPM for airport construction projectsManaging an airport is a complex business in the best of times. The sheer volume of passengers passing through, traffic in the air, and the constant pace of activity on the ground make it a bustling beehive of activity. A construction project can bring all this action a short step away from chaos — unless there’s a strong project management system in place.

An Airport Can’t Close for Renovations

Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) is the 26th largest airport in the world, serving the fifth largest U.S. metropolitan area. It’s a major hub for flights to Europe, the Caribbean and across North America. It’s also a perfect example of an airport where construction can’t impede the flow of travel.

In 2012 alone:

  • Approximately 30 million passengers passed through PHL’s seven terminals.
  • Planes made a staggering 443,236 takeoffs and landings.
  • More than 141,000 people were employed by the airport itself.
  • Two hundred businesses — and their employees — set up shop daily.

Any construction project taking place amid this flurry of activity will inevitably be complex. That’s where a program like our proprietary project management operating system, OneTouchPMTM, comes into play. As PHL continues to modernize the its oldest terminals over the next few years, this project management technology will provide a thorough overview of each project component in real time, ensuring that everyone involved is up to date.

OneTouchPMTM Builds on Systems That Already Work

In the early 1990s, we managed the Lambert-St. Louis Airport Development Program and used that experience to design OneTouchPMTM. It was really all about creating a project management system that could help manage complex construction programs and simplify life for everyone involved — and make projects and communication throughout the team more efficient and effective. More recent projects, like the Kansas City International Airport Terminal Improvement Program in the early 2000s, have benefited from this innovative system.

OneTouchPMTM pairs contract management software with Google Earth, integrating data from numerous sources into one information system. It provides decision makers with an accurate overview of a project and enables them to make more effective decisions based on real-time data.

Through the length of a construction project, this system efficiently delivers essential information — including schedule, cost and progress reporting — to project stakeholders.  It’s ideal for airport-wide projects like asset management, pavement evaluations and renovations of terminals or other facilities. What’s more, reports are easily customized to suit individual needs.

Mobile Is No Longer a Perk

Mobile devices are ubiquitous, and construction sites are no exception; people are constantly on the move and aren’t always an arm’s reach from a desktop computer. OneTouchPMTM integrates mobile solutions, including web-based information access and an iPad interface. This mobile access enables real-time information uploads like material specifications and changes, photographs, design updates and subcontractor notes.

Building the Data for Future Use

An incredible amount of data is generated during a construction project, and OneTouchPM TM integrates existing data into its platform. That database then becomes a valuable resource that can inform other aspects of airport operations, security and maintenance.

Functionality and Features: Here’s How It Works

OneTouchPMTM easily integrates into almost any operating system at an airport — or any other business, for that matter.  It compiles information and reports it in a way that isn’t available when various management systems can’t communicate; it’s a common dashboard, so users can find the information they need to make informed business decisions.

Key data and tools that are integrated into the system include:

  • Design data CAD and BIM design information
  • GIS data — File-based data and enterprise GIS geodatabase systems
  • Project controls data — Project scheduling and status tracking tools, such as Oracle’s Primavera
  • Asset and maintenance management data — Software systems such as Hansen, InforEAM and Maximo, which are used in facility operations and maintenance
  • Mobile data tools Tools that enable access to key data, with the ability to modify while in the field, and allow use even without a live Internet connection.
  • Controls system data — Facility control data from SCADA systems, such as access control systems, fire alarms and security camera systems

There’s a lot of talk today about big data, but to us, the little data is what matters. And all the little data from projects, key pieces of information collected every step of the way that each member of a project team can access at any time, in real-time, are what help deliver projects on budget and on time.

What do you think about project management operating systems for large construction projects? Have you used any that you’ve really liked or had great experiences with? If you want more information on OneTouchPMTM, don’t hesitate to reach out to me on LinkedIn or send me an email — I never get tired of talking about how awesome it is and how much value it can add to construction projects.

Bret Pilney is vice president of Burns & McDonnell’s Aviation Group. He has more than 30 years of experience working with aviation-related projects ranging from airfield development to terminal and facility improvements.

Other resources on this topic:

Airspace Awareness Tool, Making Complicated Airspace Easier for Developers

Technology: Making Environmental Compliance Monitoring Easier and More Effective

Technology Helps Tame the Tiger


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