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Counties Energy successfully delivers major DSO programme milestone to enable ‘active energy orchestration’ for customers

Counties Energy has completed a major milestone in its programme to demonstrate an end-to-end operating model capable of active capacity and flexibility management with granular smart meter and low voltage (LV) electricity network data, with the aim of accelerating the company’s customer-centric transition to a distributed system operator (DSO).

The DSO milestone, believed to be the first of its kind in New Zealand, studied over 500 customer ICPs on Counties Energy’s LV network in Karaka Harbourside, near Papakura. The project is a collaboration between Counties Energy, OpenLoop, Europe-based Plexigrid and Ara Ake.

Since 2022, Counties Energy has completed extensive research, working with international industry experts to understand the emerging DSO operating models from around the world. The aim of this milestone was to develop and demonstrate how different technology platforms, like granular smart metering, electric vehicle (EV) charging control and LV network intelligence can integrate, and seamlessly deliver the DSO operating model in a New Zealand context.

This milestone has utilised Plexigrid’s platform to take granular voltage, frequency and electricity consumption data from Counties Energy’s smart meters and LV network data, data that is collected every five minutes – near real-time data – and sent to the Data Lake part of the DSO platform, generating fast and accurate insights, analytics and reporting. This level of speed, granularity, accuracy and reliability of data has been possible through Counties Energy’s relationship with smart meter and energy data provider Intellihub, and its commitment to support advanced network operations.

The data is then available to specialist DSO engineers to simulate different network and active orchestration scenarios such as power quality issues, impact of hot water load and heat-pump management, EV-charging and solar PV uptake. High-quality granular data paired with a powerful intelligence engine on the LV network will enable customers to accelerate their decarbonisation journey in New Zealand.

The programme’s next milestone will go further to use the intelligent DSO platform in an in-field pilot later this year, the core of which is based on learnings from South Australia Power Network’s (SAPN’s) and their implementation of Dynamic Operating Envelopes (DOEs) using the IEEE 2030.5 protocol. Post trial, Counties Energy plans to offer DSO services via distributed energy resource (DER) aggregators and use flexibility management as an effective energy orchestration solution.

Counties Energy Group Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer Moonis Vegdani says that the successful trial of 500 households changes the game in New Zealand in terms of understanding how to actively orchestrate energy on a distribution network.

“The 5-minute smart metering and granular LV network data, together with the energy orchestration DSO operating model is the next generation of electricity distribution services. These capabilities will be hugely important in understanding how people use electricity in their homes and actively managing infrastructure capacity in near real-time, ultimately resulting in achieving greater efficiency in the system. It will also enable us to determine how we can incorporate greater electricity demands from EV charging, bi-directional charging and roof-top solar generation.”

“The ultimate goal is to deliver ‘flex and stretch on the network’ through active orchestration, enabling shared value with customers and ensuring it all happens safely within the available infrastructure capacity.”

The milestone demonstrates the culmination of strategic relationships between a Distribution Network Operator (DNO) and a neutral DSO to work towards using an ‘orchestration first’ approach to managing network operations.

Plexigrid co-founder and CEO, Alberto Mendez Rebollo says that the successful demonstration of its technology will help Counties Energy to operate its distribution network in a far more intelligent, economic and sustainable manner.

“Distribution networks are rapidly evolving as we work towards carbon zero with technological advancements and the exponential increase in DERs across distribution grids. Worldwide, innovative electricity distributors are transitioning to a distributed systems operator model, working to create an electrical ecosystem of cost-effective shared energy systems where consumers and prosumers of electricity can contribute not only to the stability of the system but to integrate more renewables. This is the future of energy and we’re working alongside Counties Energy and Ara Ake at the forefront of this evolution. As a New Zealand electricity distributor, Counties Energy is a frontrunner in developing distribution systems that will make the best, most efficient use of their assets,” he says.

Ara Ake Chief Executive, Dr Cristiano Marantes says that it’s great to see progress being made, as the Counties Energy and Plexigrid project came out of the Ara Ake Electricity Distribution Business Challenge.

“We’re delighted to partner and support Counties Energy and Plexigrid as they tackle the challenges associated with implementing innovative demand response systems. We are pleased to see the successful completion of this first milestone, and we look forward to working closely with Counties Energy on their journey to offer greater value to their customers through better orchestration of their network operations.”

The trial is just one example of the work Counties Energy is doing to progress its transition to a DSO. Additional projects include a soon-to-be-launched berm battery utilising second-life electric vehicle batteries, electric vehicle fast charging solutions, smart vehicle-to-grid technology and EEA’s Flextalk project. The next milestone of the programme will commence in April, and will see Counties Energy continue with its implementation of Plexigrid’s platform together with its EV charging service provider, OpenLoop. This will be a live end-to-end demonstration of the DSO operating model using DOEs, together with a DER aggregator and its customers.

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