Energy technology innovation brings smart, data-driven efficiencies to the New Zealand Electricity Market

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EnerNOC is a leading provider of demand response solutions, using loads in ancillary services to maintain grid stability and security. EnerNOC partnered with Theta to develop a new platform for their Interruptible Load aggregation portfolio in New Zealand.

EnerNOC New Zealand’s Interruptible Load programme is one of the most sophisticated demand response programmes in the world. EnerNOC automatically reduces capacity across one hundred industrial sites when there is an under-frequency event on the national grid. Participating companies earn money by helping the grid manage these events. LORD (Load Offers Reserve Database) is the new technology platform, developed by EnerNOC and Theta, to manage and operate this programme. Michael Burlace, EnerNOC NZ’s Energy Markets Programme Manager explains:

“We’re working with manufacturers who have inherently unstable and variable loads. There’s a constant process of keeping things in balance. Good monitoring and the ability to aggregate uncertainty across the portfolio is essential.”

He adds:

“LORD gives us a clear visualization of what’s going on. We can break things down however we want, look at different scenarios and how much that changes the outcome. It supports traders making fast, data-driven decisions.”

Urgent need for new technology

Load aggregation has grown fast in New Zealand. Rapid growth means many more loads to aggregate, and many more customers to communicate with. Legacy systems used by EnerNOC analysts to calculate offers were reaching their limits by early 2015 in terms of usability and functionality. It was also getting harder to extract the data needed to meet compliance and reporting obligations. EnerNOC needed a technology solution that could scale and be far more flexible in the future. Says EnerNOC’s New Zealand Manager Stephen Drew:

“We had reached the limits of our existing technology. No-one else was doing this and an off-the-shelf product didn’t exist. We knew we had to innovate to continuously improve our processes and secure our future business.”

A team of energy and technology experts working in partnership

EnerNOC had a clear idea of what their new platform should be capable of. Says Phachara (Pat) Niumsawatt, manager of EnerNOC’s Energy Markets team in Australia and New Zealand.

“We knew what we needed the new system to do, but not necessarily how it could be built. What was great about working with Theta was that they had a clear vision for the how. So much more than just a team of developers, they spoke our language, worked collaboratively and in partnership, to deliver a complete solution.”

Stephen Drew adds:

“We were impressed with Theta’s track record in the New Zealand energy market. They have developed a wide range of energy business solutions since the late 90s, and collectively the Theta team of four we worked with had more than sixty years’ experience building energy trading systems. We knew our project was in experienced hands.”

The platform itself was built relatively quickly, over a period of 3 months, from September to December 2015 – an impressive feat considering the complexity involved. A fast turnaround was necessary because existing systems were already operating at their limits. And it was possible because of the extensive operational, market and technology development experience of the two parties.

“Everyone we have dealt with at Theta has been incredibly technically proficient. But they are more than just programmers. They helped us redefine requirements, presenting things back to us that were exactly what we had in mind but had struggled to articulate. Their experience was phenomenal, and it was great for us to see their genuine interest in our business.” Michael Burlace

The solution: a new load aggregation platform for the NZ market

The new load aggregation platform, LORD, gets its name from four elements of the system – loads, offers, reserve and database. It is used to build the offer for Interruptible Load (IL), which EnerNOC submits into the Instantaneous Reserves market. The IL provides a fast response if there is an under-frequency event on the grid – ie an electricity supply or transmission issue that causes the frequency to drop below 50Hz. IL complements the slower spinning reserve from hydro generators and adds competition to the market.

The IL offer is initially built in the application using forecasts from plant information - such as production schedules, planned outages, and historical energy usage data. This information is automatically loaded from EnerNOC’s customers, converted into an IL capacity for each customer, and using a series of rules a coarse IL offer from the aggregated portfolio is calculated.

Closer to “gate closure” - when all offers must be in -  the offer is fine-tuned using metering data automatically loaded from each of EnerNOC’s customers in near real time (every minute). The metering data shows the actual available load, as opposed to the production schedules, and a more accurate offer can be made.

EnerNOC’s operations team in New Zealand and Australia used the LORD platform for the first time in early 2016. Training and transition to EnerNOC’s global 24/7 real time operations team is complete and it’s now business as usual with Boston handing day to day operations using LORD.

Technical complexity and logistical challenges

Several aspects of EnerNOC’s load aggregation programme are unique – in New Zealand and around the world. This can present challenges:

“Nobody else in the New Zealand industry has built anything like this application before. It is totally unique, with innovative design elements that push the technology platform. All internal functions must be completed within the one-minute refresh rate of load information cycle time. This is indeed impressive.” Ashley Wall, Electricity Risk Solutions, Project Manager for project LORD 
“One of the unique things about this system is that it’s real time. That means we’re dealing with huge volumes of data, all the time. LORD has to receive data from more than 200 different meters, and transform that into meaningful information, every minute, every hour, every day.” Paul Casey, Senior Consultant, Theta 

There can be a lot of noise when there’s so much data. A key requirement for LORD was to make sense of that noise. Michael Burlace comments:

“It was important that the system presented enough information without being cluttered. We have a huge volume of data to work with. LORD has been really effective in making it meaningful information. It doesn’t show traders everything we have, just the useful stuff, but they can drill down if they need to.”

Doing business better – the benefits

Smart, data-driven and designed for the future, the platform has already had a significant business impact. It is easier for operators to use.

“It’s not an exaggeration to describe the difference between what we had before and LORD as like night and day… You see displays changing as conditions change. It’s no longer an abstract process.” Sam Hartnett, EnerNOC operations analyst.

LORD also equips EnerNOC to respond to changing market conditions.

“LORD gives us more flexibility in how we manage interruptible load, in the face of upcoming changes in the market.” Sam Hartnett

And while the load aggregation system has been developed to meet New Zealand market conditions, its inherent flexibility means that it’s also export-ready. EnerNOC in Boston is already considering how to apply some of the innovations of this system to other markets:

“LORD has features that we are looking at replicating across other programmes within the company.” Michael Burlace

The new system is delivering increased revenue – for EnerNOC and their customers.

“Increased granularity means that we can optimise our offers in the market – making the best possible offer in confidence. Ultimately this means we can optimize our revenue and offer more competitive returns for our customers. Everybody wins.” Sam Hartnett

And importantly, the new system allows EnerNOC in NZ and Australia to focus on business development and other strategic work.

“LORD has helped us transition real time operations to our dedicated NOC in Boston. Before, we used unwieldy spreadsheets and Java-based tools that required a high level of attention and weren’t really able to scale. A huge burden has been lifted from the local team. We have a system that allows us to use the dedicated 24/7 team and infrastructure EnerNOC already has in Boston. This frees up a third to a half of our time to focus on more strategic work.”

Technology stack

  • Postgres 9.4 database hosted in the Enernoc Boston data centre
  • Java user interfaces
  • Splunk logging
  • Web service and SFTP feeds from third party data suppliers including for example
    • EDMI
    • EnerNOC NZ customers
    • NZX Energy
    • NZ Met service

 

Photo credit: Ivor Whibley