Distributed energy resources (DER) are technologies that generate or manage the demand of electricity at different points of the grid, such as at homes and businesses, instead of exclusively at power plants. The New York State Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA) has an integrated data system that provides operational data on DERs installed in New York. According to NYSERDA “DERs can play a critical role in supporting Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). The CLCPA codifies Governor Cuomo’s nation-leading goals.” This post looks at the data available from NYSERDA.
NYSERDA has developed dashboards like their DER integrated data system on various energy and environmental topics. The main purpose, I think, is to publicize the results of their programs. While the idea to have a location where anyone can track information is understandable my experience with these systems is that these overview systems can also lead to misunderstandings and unintended uses for the data. As we shall see this is the case for this dashboard.
The NYSERDA website provides an overview of the DER resource. NYSERDA alleges that they “allow owners to reduce their facilities’ carbon footprints, rein in energy costs, and improve utility grid power-outage resiliency”. My intention was to use their data to check on these claimed benefits but it is not clear how useful the information presented is for this purpose. First here is what is available.
The Solar data provided includes performance data for 508 larger commercial and industrial solar installations. According to NYSERDA:
“DER Solar panels, which are made up of photovoltaic (PV) cells, convert sunlight into electricity without creating noise, air, or water pollution. Solar can be connected directly to the grid or connected behind the customer’s meter within the building. Either way, utilities offer compensation for electricity generated by solar but not used on-site.”
The website lists 418 Energy Storage projects but provides no summary performance data information.. According to NYSERDA:
“On-site energy storage, including batteries, allows facility owners to lower their costs by storing cheaper energy for use when electricity costs are high. This includes storing electricity purchased during periods of low demand to use during peak hours, or similarly storing energy generated by solar panels during the day for use later. They can also be used to shift the building’s demand, thereby allowing for savings on utility demand charges. Depending on how they are interconnected, energy storage systems can be used during grid outages to provide some resiliency to the building.”
The summary of resources describes Hybrid Systems but offers no information on such systems in New York. According to NYSERDA:
“Hybrid DER projects have two or more energy technologies installed at a site, working in synergy to provide more benefits than two separate projects. For example, solar projects combined with energy storage technologies can save excess energy generated from the solar panels during the middle of the day, which can be used in the late afternoon and evening.”
The website lists 208 Combined Heat and Power projects. According to NYSERDA:
“Combined heat and power (CHP), or cogeneration, simultaneously generates thermal and electrical energy from a single fuel source. By recycling valuable heat from the combustion process, CHP can result in greater overall efficiencies than centralized power generation, transmission and distribution. The recovered thermal energy from on-site CHP systems may be used for industrial processes, space heating, domestic hot water, or cooling through an absorption chiller. CHP is considered a viable and economical use of distributed generation (DG) when installed at or near the point of use. At the start of 2017, 4,395 commercial, industrial, healthcare, multi-family residential, and other energy use-intensive facilities in the United States had operational CHP systems, representing a combined electric generation capacity of 82,600 MW. 631 of these systems, totaling 5,500 MW, were in New York State.”
“Combined heat and power” is the current label for “co-generation”. Cogeneration has a bad reputation. The Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA) was intended to encourage:
- The conservation of electric energy,
- Increased efficiency in the use of facilities and resources by electric utilities,
- Equitable retail rates for electric consumers,
- Expeditious development of hydroelectric potential at existing small dams, and
- Conservation of natural gas while ensuring that rates to natural gas consumers are equitable
One of the ways PURPA tried to accomplish its goals was through the establishment of a new class of generating facilities which would receive special rate and regulatory treatment. Generating facilities in this group are known as qualifying facilities (QFs), and fall into two categories: qualifying small power production facilities and qualifying cogeneration facilities.
In 1981 New York regulators tried to enact energy policy that went beyond PURPA in the well-intended, but disastrous, legislation known as the “six-cent law,” that required utilities to purchase power from unregulated co-generators for a minimum of six cents when more often than not, the utility-owned generation made power at less than half that cost. The legislation estimated that the avoided cost of generation would be worth six cents but when the actual costs were much lower the feeding frenzy in the market overwhelmed the regulatory process and caused massive losses for the regulated utilities that were passed on to the consumers. The high mandated price prices coupled with “the ingenuity of new entrepreneurs who stormed into the market were enough to create a massive problem of excess capacity”. In 1992, New York amended its Public Service Law to eliminate the mandatory six-cent rate. There is no wonder that the co-generation label is avoided at all costs by New York regulatory agencies.
The website lists 38 Anaerobic Digester projects. According to NYSERDA:
“When organic materials such as manure, agricultural waste, food waste, and other wastes breakdown in the absence of oxygen—a process called anaerobic digestion—they produce an energy-rich gas called anaerobic digester gas (ADG) or biogas. Anaerobic digestion processes can reduce methane emissions from organic wastes in addition to producing renewable energy from ADG. Facilities with ADG systems can reduce their energy costs and emissions by generating and using electricity onsite or produce vehicle fuel from what would otherwise be waste.”
The website lists 41 Fuel Cells projects. According to NYSERDA:
“Fuel cells use an electrochemical process to convert a fuel’s energy to electricity without combustion. Fuel cell uses include portable power generation, stationary power generation, and power for transportation.”
NYSERDA tracks real-world performance data for over 1200 projects so I thought that I could use their information to project how these resources have operated to date. When I accessed the website on March 8, 2020 the total performance to date claim was 6,260 GWh of electricity have been produced. The data can be accessed for individual facilities or combined in a portfolio. I downloaded the performance data for portfolios composed of all the anerobic digesters, combined heat and power, fuel cell, and solar resources to get capacity factors, electric efficiency, and thermal efficiency. The NYSERDA Distributed Energy Resources Performance Data table lists the performance data by these resources. I found the first inconsistency in the data at this point. The GWh sum of the individual resources is 5,258 GWh.
I contacted NYSERDA about this issue and did get a response. According to staff, the DER data website ignores “unreliable” data which doesn’t meet quality control algorithms. In this instance I would expect that the total performance data would exclude unreliable data so that the dashboard total would be less than the total of the individual sources. So either NYSERDA or I misunderstood the other party.
The NYSERDA Distributed Energy Resources Characteristics Data Summary table lists data for the different types of resources. It lists the number of facilities for different sizes, the largest rated electric capacity within each type, the total capacity, and the number of facilities in the performance data and the characteristics data. As was the case with the performance data there was another inconsistency because the summary totals and the sum of the individual projects do not match.
In response to my question about this discrepancy NYSERDA responded that “The differences in counts (number of “facilities” not exactly matching number of “reporting entities”) could occur if a given site has two different systems on different electric services and thus different data collection/data reporting meters (one site, two data streams)”. This is an example of an unintended application for the dashboard. As an overview it is fine but if someone else has specific questions about a certain type or resource they will get as confused as I did.
There are 38 anerobic digesters in both the performance and characteristics data. The majority (29) of these digesters are located on dairy farms. Eight are at waste water treatment plants and one is located at the Saranac brewery. Note that the “system” rated electric generation is inconsistent with the “project” rated electric generation. I used the system values. Only three of these are greater than 3 MW and the majority are rated between 100 and 500 kW. As a result, they should be viewed as replacing the power they need from the grid rather than a potential source of significant supplemental dispatchable power.
Combined heat and power distributed energy resources include the highest electric capacity unit at 37.5 MW. The NYSERDA performance data says that there are 208 facilities but when I totaled the characteristic data, I only came up with 206. There are 158 facilities under 0.5 MW, 19 between 0.5 and 1 MW and 29 greater than 1 MW. These facilities have advantages for the system in that they are dispatchable, they are generally bigger than most other resources, and they provide over 200 MW of capacity. I think there is another huge advantage in that they are truly resilient. If they are using natural gas then their supply is underground and cannot be blown away by high winds. The problem is that they are fossil-fired so it is not clear how much of a contribution they can make in the CLCPA 2040 electric generation world when no electricity is supposed to be fossil-fired.
Energy storage systems resources did not include any performance data. Energy storage is a critical component for the CLCPA 2040 goal because there are times when the wind does not blow at night so there will be no renewable energy generation. I estimated that the amount of energy storage needed for a light-wind fifteen-hour period from January 3, 2018 at 1600 until January 4, 2018 at 0600 would total 134,545 MWh. The storage projects listed in here total 63.3 MW and have a storage capacity of 123.6 MWh. In addition, note that there were two projects where the storage capacity in kWh was less than the storage in kW, i.e., the data are wrong. According to NYSERDA there are 418 energy storage projects but 75 projects don’t have any discharge capacity levels listed so my table only lists 343 projects. Again, that means the data are incomplete or wrong. Most of the projects are small. In fact, there were 306 projects that were smaller than 25 kW. Another 30 are smaller than 1 MW which means that there were only seven projects greater than 1 MW. I doubt that energy storage below 1 MW will have value for the grid energy storage deficit reduction I predict will be needed.
Fuel cells are toys in my opinion. The data characteristic data has a total of 36 facilities and the performance data summary claims 41. Thirty-two facilities are less than 0.5 MW. Distributed energy resource purports to make the grid smarter by spreading the generation out but these facilities are so small that they will likely only provide power for the facility served. Very little generation could be provided to support the grid itself.
Solar PV is the largest distributed energy resource. The data characteristic data has a total of 485 facilities and the performance data summary claims 508. There is a total rated electrical capacity of 732 MW and the largest facility is 14.9 MW. Also note that there are 226 facilities that are rated for over one MW. Unfortunately, the solar PV resource is intermittent and diffuse. In order to support the grid you need energy storage and transmission to get the power from where it is produced to where it is needed.
I conclude that the NYSERDA integrated data system is an interesting source of distributed energy resource data and it can be used to determine how well the State’s programs are doing. At this time there is just over one GW of DER rated capacity in this system provided by over 1200 facilities. It is not clear to me whether the results presented are a cause for optimism or pessimism. On one hand there are quite a few projects but on the other the output is not all that impressive.
NYSERDA could use this information to do an analysis to determine just how effective these resources would be relative to the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act targets. For example, one question could b: if anerobic digesters were installed at all the municipal waste water plants how much power could be generated? Of course, it is more complicated because there are likely space constraints the preclude installation. The follow up question then becomes were the eight waste water treatment plant systems installed all that could be installed? I have argued that a study to determine the availability of wind and solar based on meteorological data is necessary and believe this shows that a study of other resource availability would also be appropriate.