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Powering Energy Innovation for a more sustainable future

When there is an electrical outage, it disrupts what we do and how we do it. Today, the energy industry itself is facing disruptions, from the adoption of aggressive environmental policies to regulatory reform to the effects of climate change on energy grids. One of the biggest disruptors is the evolution in the variety and ubiquity of renewable energy sources.

In the past, renewable energy generation was mostly delivered by large, discrete resources at remote locations, such as onshore and offshore windfarms. Today, with technology advances reducing the cost, distributed solar generation is becoming much more widespread. Along with this trend, other distributed energy resources (DERs), such as energy storage and electric vehicle charging facilities, are becoming more commonplace.

The term DER encompasses a wide range of physical and virtual assets that are usually located close to the loads they serve, both in front and behind the meter. These assets are deployed across the distribution grid and can be used by themselves or together to provide value to the grid, to the customer, or to both.1 DERs include assets such as rooftop solar panels, wind turbines, fuel cells, batteries, and electric vehicles.

With hourly forecasts, DERs can add granularity to forecasting demand to support accurate prediction of energy usage and optimization. Projecting demand overtime based on real data such as the hourly availability of DERs, resource planners will be able to integrate clean energy into overall energy availability and build a more resilient electric grid. Forecasters will plan for times when the grid is stressed and identify the best times to save energy. For example, structuring rates based on time of use will encourage users to shift energy usage to times when the grid is less stressed. DERs can bring cost savings, reliability improvements and environmental benefits to communities, but only if they are well-managed.

New Opportunities and Challenges

The energy grid is being transformed by the increased use of renewable power sources, the rise of self-generating communities, and the availability of huge volumes of data from edge technology, all of which are rapidly reshaping the industry and pushing the limits of its current capabilities. DERs hold great promise for the future, but they also present some challenges.

With thousands of these small, disparate, decentralized units scattered across their service area, utilities must adapt their traditional business operations to put these new assets to best use. They have to integrate DERs into their distribution grid in a manner that supports system reliability while ensuring personnel and public safety and keep consumer costs reasonable. Utilities need powerful, versatile tools to accurately evaluate the impacts of these DERs on the distribution grid. Policymakers also need such tools to help them drive sound policy and regulation decisions based on accurate data. Finally, DER project developers need accurate information to improve their access to suitable deployment locations.

A Collaborative Approach

Technology innovators across disciplines have been collaborating to provide tools to support communities, policymakers, and utilities as they navigate this new territory. They build on examples of workable energy innovations in places like California, a state that is leading in the adoption of renewable energy. Recent events in California provide an example of this approach to collaborative policymaking.

To support the integration of DERs, a team of researchers, engineers and subject matter experts was formed in 2018 to strengthen and streamline the U.S. Department of Energy’s modeling tool, GridLAB-D, with a set of robust, easy-to-use, open source tools. These tools will provide cost-effective modeling capabilities for stakeholders to evaluate key performance indicators (KPIs) relating to DER integration, including hosting capacity and locational net benefit analysis. These improvements will make it much easier for California to meet the requirements of California Senate Bill 100, passed in August 2018, which requires 100% of the state’s electricity to come from carbon-free sources by 2045.2 Already leading the nation in electricity generated from renewable resources such as solar, geothermal and biomass,3 California is seeking to fulfill its ambitious vision by, among other initiatives, committing to deploying DERs, but they need a new set of tools to help them meet this commitment.

The project team, funded by the California Energy Commission (CEC), formed a technical advisory committee consisting of key stakeholders such as the CEC and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC); major investor-owned utilities; leading DER vendors and out-of-state advisors. Their purpose is to ensure that the value of the tools will extend far beyond the borders of California and far into the future. As other countries and regions experience similar renewable integration trends, the efforts of this project will be available to benefit them as well.

The team developed three projects that will leverage high-performance computing, big data technologies, visualization tools, data translation capabilities, and intuitive user access to augment GridLAB-D. The goal of this effort is to make it easier for policymakers and utilities to evaluate the impacts of DERs on the distribution grid, thereby improving decision-making around DER technology adoption.

As a member of the development team, Hitachi brings its extensive experience and long history in both information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT). Combining technological development and social innovation, Hitachi focuses on technology for the betterment of all. Hitachi has a talented team and proven experience in global markets, and can address worldwide challenges in resources, energy and the environment. Joining this team to address a specific need, Hitachi is developing an intuitive collaboration workspace for GridLAB-D known as GLOW (GridLAB-D Open Workspace), which will make the GridLAB-D tool more accessible to a wider audience.

Energy Innovation in Action

When it becomes available, GLOW will enable greater reliability, lower costs and increased safety for DER technical evaluation. It will include an intuitive user interface, repeatable analysis workflows and robust software performance, and it will be highly available to the broad user community at no cost. It will benefit California electricity ratepayers by supporting the state’s ambitious energy goals, including integration of DERs, and planning for the grid of the future. The improved user interface of the GridLAB-D tool will also expand the scope of potential users to California utilities, local communities, developers, researchers, public agencies and other organizations interested in assessing DER integration into the distribution grid.

Energy innovation programs like this one take a step toward helping Policymakers achieve clean energy goals, reduce costs and bring new sustainability options to communities everywhere. Using tools such as GLOW will help to minimize service interruptions and create innovative ways to meet future energy needs. The development and implementation of GLOW in California provides a working example of innovation in action.

Tanuj Deora et al., “Distributed Energy Resources 101: Required Reading for a Modern Grid,” Advanced Energy Economy (blog post), February 13, 2017,
Ivan Penn, “California Lawmakers Set Goal for Carbon-Free Energy by 2045,” New York Times, August 28, 2018,
California State Profile and Energy Estimates: Analysis, U.S. Energy Information Administration, November 15, 2018,