Everybody is busy sorting out the paradigm shifts that COVID-19 has forced upon western civilization, and one of those impacts is already clear. In the US and elsewhere, patterns of electricity use have shifted dramatically. The new paradigm is actually good news for fans of renewable energy, because it has flattened the dreaded duck curve into more of a turtles-on-a-log curve.
Wait, What Is The Duck Curve?
The duck curve has been cited as one of the key factors slowing the pace of renewable energy integration. It’s actually not one line, it’s two lines, with the empty space between resembling the silhouette of a duck. It was coined back in 2013 to describe a pair of planning challenges for utilities with a high penetration of solar.
One problem is that solar production can exceed residential demand during the day, in which case utilities have to curtail it, which is inefficient. Then in the evening, solar production drops down but residential use jumps up, so utilities have to ramp up other sources of electricity very quickly, which is also inefficient.
The solutions include energy storage, improved coordination with other resources, tweaks to the transmission system, and demand response incentives. Microgrids, Internet-enabled devices, and distributed energy resources also come into play.
All of this is already happening, but it could happen a lot faster if only all these moving parts could talk to each other in the same language.
The LF Energy Renewable Energy Solution
So, how to step things up? Into this mix steps the open source experts at the legendary Linux Foundation. Last year they launched a new project called LF Energy, which is on a mission to digitize power systems on a collaborative platform.
“The digitalization of power systems enables a renewable and distributed energy future where wind, solar, batteries, and hydro provide the electrification capacity that enables humanity to address climate change, the transition to fossil-free transportation, and the urbanization of world populations,” explains LFE.
Among the various “pain points” LFE is tackling, one of particular interest in the renewable energy field is the “digital orchestration and management of distributed energy resources (DER), energy efficiency, and demand response peripheral devices.”
For those of you new to the topic, DER (or DERs) is a hot topic now that wind turbines and solar arrays are peppering the landscape in all shapes and sizes. Here in the US, the Energy Department is looking at DERs as part of it overall Grid Modernization Initiative, which focuses on the decentralization of power generation among other things related to reliability and resiliency.
So, it’s no surprise to find the agency’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory on the list of LFE associate members.
Among other familiar names on the list — and on the CleanTechnica radar — are Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Energy Economics and Energy System Technology, Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, the Alan Truing Institute, and Iowa State, Stanford, Vanderbilt, and Washington State universities.
Then there’s the corporate firepower assembled in support of the Linux Foundation and open source collaboration, but let’s move on.
The New Renewable Energy Paradigm
LFE’s Executive Director, Shuli Goodman, spoke to CleanTechnica last week and explained why the digital approach takes grid management to the next level. It takes lessons learned from the Internet and telecommunications to create a digital platform.
“There are ways you can game supply and demand, but digitalization allows you to network an electron, by providing metadata about the electron. It’s data about a thing — not the name or address but the quality of it,” she explained.
Goodman also noted that COVID-19 has somewhat smoothed out the mid-day dip and late-day spike of the conventional duck curve, so that weekday electricity usage now resembles weekend usage. That could help foster more renewable energy integration and distributed energy resources.
“Actually it might be easier to manage shelter-in-place duck curve than a typical duck curve, she said. “Distributed energy really opens up the notion of a paradigm shift. Instead of centralized power generation, it’s like ‘eat local.’ If you have a lot of people working from home you have the opportunity to accelerate a generate local – consume local model.”
About Those Renewable Energy Resources…
If LFE is beginning to look like a platform for accelerating the community solar trend, run right out and buy yourself a cigar.
For those of you new to that topic, community solar has several shades of meaning. NREL is a huge fan of community solar. The lab defines community solar in terms of local power generation that benefits local residents. In particular, the lab is focusing on low- and middle-income communities, which have been slow to solarize.
Getting more solar into these areas would be a huge, job-creating plus for the US solar industry. NREL estimates that, technically, LMI communities are home to 42% of all residential rooftop solar capacity in the nation. That’s a huge pie just sitting there cooling on the shelf.
Circling back around to distributed energy, then there’s the social justice aspect, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis.
“Distributed energy is essential for the democratization of energy. [In the US] we refer to it in terms of social justice. In Europe there’s an assumption that you just have to make that work,” Goodman explained. “We have an accelerating gap between the highest incomes, and now tens of millions who are unemployed. It is a social justice issue.”
There’s a lot more to LFE, including something Goodman calls “radical energy efficiency,” so stay tuned for more.
Better yet, join LFE! Find out more here.
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Image (screenshot) via LF Energy.
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