Managing energy storage with GEMS Advanced Energy Storage Software

An interview with John Jung of Greensmith
Managing energy storage with GEMS Advanced Energy Storage Software

Greensmith is a company specialising in software and control solutions for the operation and management of Distributed Energy Storage Systems (DESS) for utility-scale, C&I or Microgrid projects, often utilising renewable energy systems. The company recently announced that it delivered over one-third of all energy storage capacity installed in the US in 2014, using its fourth generation software platform, GEMS4. This was used to integrate and manage five grid-scale and behind-the-meter energy storage systems, including the single largest battery-based power system deployed globally in 2014, providing 24x7 frequency regulation services. It also integrated four new battery technologies including lithium-ion, flow and aqueous-ion – bringing the company's total to twelve battery types integrated since inception.

REM talked to the company’s CEO, John Jung, to find out more about GEMS4 and what the company is doing more generally.

Tell me a bit more about Greensmith and what it does?

Greensmith is an energy storage software and solutions company, not a battery company.

We started in 2008 with three key beliefs regarding the future of energy storage. First, we believe that many energy storage issues can be solved with software, process and other improvements separate from battery hardware. Second, we believe that a lot of people underestimate the importance of energy storage system design. Third, we believe that it is important to look at the continuum of energy storage control and optimisation from initial system commissioning to long-term operation and maintenance.

These three beliefs led us to concentrate on developing the most advanced energy storage software on the market, and to approach energy storage by looking at these systems more as distributed computers rather than batteries in a box. It has also resulted in us developing sophisticated modelling and simulation applications for our software, so we can determine how energy storage systems are going to operate both before they go online and over the long-term. Finally, it has led us to adopt a hardware agnostic philosophy, ensuring that we are not biased regarding any particular energy storage battery or other hardware technology or component.

This strategy– and our focus on grid-scale projects – enabled us to deliver over a third of the total energy storage in the US last year. To date, we have delivered 50 systems in total, and we are working on adding 80

MW of additional systems over the next few years. Our reputation for having the best energy storage software on the market, and for bringing projects successfully online, on-time and on-budget, is leading more and more utilities, energy service providers and other energy industry companies to seek to work with us and license our software.

Tell me about the GEMS software platform?

GEMS is our core technology, and in it is embedded much of the experience and knowledge we have gleaned working on energy storage projects for the past seven years. It is currently in its fourth generation.

However, to fully understand it, you have to understand that it has three different layers.

The first layer is the application layer. This layer features seven different applications, including frequency regulation, ramp rate control, renewables smoothing, capacity shifting and black start. Users can also use multiple applications at the same time, helping them to tap into multiple energy storage revenue streams and therefore increase system return on investment.

The second layer is the computational platform which performs the main operational functions of the storage system, and also conducts operation scheduling, peer-to-peer group control, and real-time equipment control. It also features a local human-machine interface.

The third layer is the physical connectivity system. This layer consists of various adaptors for batteries, inverters, and balance of plant components such as fire suppression systems and HVAC systems. In addition to physically connecting the equipment to the overall software system, this layer helps ensure that the energy storage system operates safely.

If you don’t have the right software for your energy storage system, you risk deploying a system that performs at a sub-optimal level or even fails. There have been some catastrophic energy storage system failures over the years, which can result in significant reputational damage to the owners and operators. You need software that can reduce the risk of failure, while at the same time optimising your system’s performance so that it can work for 5, 10 or 20 years or more.

Who are your main customers at present and are you considering expansion into other areas?

Our customers fall into three basic categories. First, there are utilities. Greensmith’s customers include several very large utilities in the US, Canada and Australia. Second there are power companies. In this category Greensmith has signed contracts with some of the biggest Independent Power Producers (IPPs) in North America. These IPPs see energy storage as a key part of their strategy moving forward. The third category of customers includes an eclectic mix of building and facility managers who are developing microgrids and behind-the-meter applications. In this category we are working on 7-10 projects in geographies ranging from Puerto Rico to Ohio.

Since its inception, Greensmith has developed a wide range of projects, and we are not very concerned about embarking on an unusual project as long as we believe there will be a successful outcome.

What advantages does your energy storage software have over others?

To put it simply, GEMS is the most advanced energy storage management software available. We developed the first version of GEMS in 2008, and since then we have been constantly adding to its capabilities in order to ensure that it delivers our customers the highest possible energy storage performance at the lowest possible price. For example, we have built the software’s frequency response application so that it can quickly and accurately respond to frequency regulations signals, maximizing frequency regulation revenue without degrading the battery.

The software is also very versatile. GEMS currently manages energy storage systems utilizing a dozen battery models of various chemistries, including aqueous sodium-ion batteries, zinc redox flow batteries and lithium-ion batteries.

Moreover, in addition to being a software company, Greensmith has years of experience developing and delivering turn-key grid-scale energy storage systems, and connecting these systems to the grid. This experience provides us with a deep level of knowledge on how the grid works, and how you integrate energy storage into the grid.

How was the software developed?

GEMS was developed in-house by our computer, telecomm and power equipment engineers. In addition to employing engineers with diverse backgrounds to develop the software, we have also incorporated technologies from industries outside the power industry. This approach has helped us solve energy storage problems that have bedevilled utilities and others in the power industry.

Are any of the storage systems you are involved with turning to vanadium? How large a market do you anticipate this will be and when?

We have not developed a system with a vanadium flow-battery yet, though last year we developed a system that used redox flow batteries. We believe that flow-battery technology is very compelling, but we would also note that lithium ion is very cost-competitive with this technology, and also has significant advantages over flow-batteries when it comes to scalability.

In addition, it is important to keep in mind that you cannot view battery technology in a vacuum. It’s not enough to have an interesting battery technology, but you also have to have a robust supply chain and industrial complex that can support that technology for the long-term.

We are battery and hardware agnostic and don’t rely on any single battery or other hardware technology for our systems. This neutrality enables us to focus on developing systems that are optimized to meet our customers’ specific use-case requirements, while also allowing us to tap into new battery and other hardware innovations as they become available.

What are the benefits of using your software in terms of cost?

Batteries and inverters represent the vast majority of the costs associated with an energy storage system. On a cost basis, our GEMS software represents a relatively small piece of the system’s total cost. However, despite this fact, software is an essential component in any system, because it optimizes system performance, supports complex applications and future-proofs energy storage systems against technological changes. GEMS improves system ROI and lowers risk, enabling system owners to squeeze every possible dollar out of their energy storage systems.

What are your ambitions for the future?

We plan to continue to develop more advanced and innovative software that grows our business, while growing the overall market energy storage at the same time. We are seeing more and larger grid-scale energy storage projects being planned and deployed in not just the United States, but in the UK and Germany as well. We feel if we maintain our dominant leadership position in the energy storage software sector we can benefit from energy storage’s growth in these markets, as well as its growth in other countries in Western Europe and Asia. The industry is quickly realizing that, as we distribute energy resources to the grid edge, we need to also locate computing power at the grid-edge if we hope to optimize grid performance.

It’s a very exciting time, with a lot of customers seeking to use our GEMS software to place computing intelligence at the grid-edge, while also maximizing their energy storage systems’ performance and ROI.

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