January 30, 2018

The GridBright team was at Distributech 2018 to teach courses and share case studies on DERMS.

CTO Travis Rouillard shares his thoughts on the current DERMS software market.

I’ve been to enough industry conferences over the years to notice how software vendors all march in lockstep to the same technology hype cycles. Prior years have seen vendors rotate from demand response, to asset performance management, to big data analytics, and now shifting to storage and microgrids. This is the year for DERMS – Distributed Energy Resource Management Systems – to be in the spotlight, with almost every grid management software vendor claiming to have a DERMS solution.

But what does that really mean?

New and immature solution categories are always open to debate. Vendors would like the definition of DERMS to conveniently align with their product line. Utilities tend to use DERMS as a dumping ground for any operational gaps in their IT/OT landscape. Meanwhile, industry consortia groups like EPRI and SEPA are publishing their own view of DERMS requirements.

At GridBright, we see DERMS as more of a system-of-systems set of new capabilities. Our studies with CEATI and others suggest that DERs (solar, batteries, EVs, smart loads, etc) are having a widespread impact across utility operations in both IT and OT. Increasing DER penetration rates are forcing changes to long-term capacity planning, network modeling, asset management, load forecasting, energy trading, frequency regulation, switching, voltage management, field communications, protection schemes, outage restoration, metering, billing, and customer care. It’s impractical to think a single solution is going to magically solve all these emerging challenges.

That being said, the current solution ecosystem can be summarized in three broad segments –

  1. The large Network Management Solution vendors who consider DERMS as the latest functional module in their OT platforms – perhaps even the key differentiator between their newer ADMS solutions and older DMS or OMS offers
  2. Mostly startup vendors who have built DERMS solutions as standalone products or cloud-based services that can complement a utility’s existing OT systems – especially in limited scale demonstration projects, or to solve unique problems in isolated hot spots
  3. Complementary solutions or enhancement add-ons to IT systems outside the control room to fill urgent DER functionality gaps – e.g. study tools that can model DER growth impact, workflow tools to improve interconnections, forecasting tools with new algorithms for disaggregating load and solar, or a myriad of optimization tools for siting, sizing, and scheduling DERs. This is itself a huge and diverse segment.

It was also interesting to see that almost every Demand Response Management System (DRMS) vendor from prior years has now pivoted and repositioned their products as DERMS.  The actual product functionality hasn’t really changed much – since the vast majority of controllable assets are still just interruptible loads and backup generation – but the promise is there to eventually control fleets of smart inverters, batteries, and EVs as those populations grow.  That was always the vision for DRMS anyway, but the DERMS label is now more in vogue.

The key takeaway is that there is a DERMS option for almost every requirement and budget now.  The trick is knowing what you really need, and when.  GridBright is helping utilities navigate this journey.

Travis Rouillard, GridBright CTO


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