What Is An Energy Network Operations Center

Posted on January 7th, 2011 by

A Network Operations Center, or NOC, is a central communications hub that controls a large network of equipment, information, or facilities. For many years, NOCs have been used to ensure that telecommunications, broadcast, and computer networks run smoothly and without interruption. Within the energy space, utilities might rely on a network operations center to keep tabs on multiple generation facilities, high-voltage power lines, and the availability of electricity from renewable sources. In addition, the NOC will often keep track of current and expected levels of electricity demand. More recently, energy management companies have taken this concept to another level, providing two-way communication between energy producers and energy end-users through a technology called demand response.

Essentially, demand response promotes stability across the grid by compensating electricity users for reducing their demand at key times. This need may occur when demand is particularly high or a transmission line trips out of service unexpectedly, for example. At Network Operations Centers, technicians remotely manage and reduce electricity consumption to prevent brownouts and blackouts in the area that they are monitoring. By making minor adjustments to non-essential electricity usage or taking advantage of existing on-site generation capacity, demand response providers can leverage their networks of commercial, institutional, and industrial customer sites to make energy available to grid operators and utilities when they need it most. The NOC stands at the center of this complex network, facilitating demand response participation and creating a safer and more efficient electricity grid.

Most Network Operations Centers are staffed 24/7/365 by analysts and engineers who constantly monitor levels of electricity supply and demand, as well as other factors including weather conditions, historical usage trends, and energy prices to proactively predict when demand response resources might be required. In addition, the NOC manages demand response dispatches, ensuring that resources show up where and when they’re needed. These facilities are usually comprised of multiple computer terminals facing a large, main screen that includes maps of network sites, current grid and weather conditions, among other key alerts. By installing a small gateway at a participating customer site, some demand response providers can receive information about energy usage in real time from each participating location across the country and use this information in the NOC to help meet the needs of the grid.

An example of a Network Operating Center (NOC).

When a grid operator or utility dispatches their demand response capacity, the NOC communicates directly with network sites to initiate pre-defined energy curtailment plans, report customer meter data, and continuously monitor customer performance. Though some sites choose to retain control over their facilities, others allow the NOC to manage their electricity usage remotely, shutting down non-essential load instantaneously and automatically. During events, if a site is not responding, the NOC is equipped with technology that enables analysts to manage by exception, ensuring that the company’s portfolio as a whole meets performance expectations and participating customers achieve maximum reduction levels – and therefore maximum compensation for their efforts.

When the demand response dispatch is over, the NOC receives a second signal from the utility or grid operator, notifies participating customers, and normal operations are restored at customer sites. The NOC then turns to analyzing dispatch performance, verifying its real-time data against data collected at the utility or grid operator level. This measurement and verification step is critical to ensuring that demand response functions as expected, which allows utilities to develop comprehensive resource plans incorporating demand response alongside its supply-side generation resources.

As the smart grid continues to develop, the energy network operations center will be essential to ensuring consistent and reliable access to electricity. NOCs enable utilities and grid operators to better integrate renewable sources of energy into their generation mix, as demand response can also serve as a balancing resource when wind or solar generation suddenly drops off. Demand response is changing the way utilities and energy users think about energy, and the NOC stands at the crossroads of this important change in the industry.

Written by Gregg Dixon, EnerNOC

Gregg Dixon is Senior Vice President of Marketing at EnerNOC, an award winning energy management applications and demand response provider.

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