Distributed energy resource management systems (DERMS) vendors play a critical role in helping utilities achieve energy security and mitigate climate risks. A 2020 study found that proactively managing distributed energy resources (DERs) like EVs can reduce the curtailment of renewable energy by up to 40%.
Supply chain disruptions are impacting the rollout of large-scale renewable energy projects. Still, leading utilities are investing in automating individual and aggregated DERs to increase clean energy supply. DERMS and virtual power plant software play a critical role in empowering energy providers with tools to forecast energy needs and deploy the right assets at the right time.
With transportation electrification policies set to make electric vehicles the new norm, communicating with EVs is and will continue to be an important component for DERMS providers to integrate into their programs.
According to SEPA’s 2023 Utility Transformation Profile, 52% of respondents are engaging with external partners to increase EV charging deployment to manage demand in their service area.
Last summer, Rolling Energy Resources (RER), helped utilities across 16 states in the US run 30 demand response events. Powered by Smartcar’s API, they can efficiently communicate with EVs to detect when and where vehicles charge and how much energy is consumed while charging. They can also automatically start and stop charging select EV brands and models.
In this guide, we explore how a connected car API platform can help the best DERMS vendors:
- Retrieve up-to-date information from EVs during home and away charging
- Remotely control EV charging to balance demand and supply on the grid
- Accommodate a majority of EVs in a service territory
- Provide easy opt-in for residents
What is a Distributed Energy Resource Management System (DERMS)?
A distributed energy resource management system is a platform that manages distributed energy resources, which are small energy-generating appliances that customers can use to reduce dependency on central power grids. These DERs include wind turbines, solar panels, battery storage systems, and customer-owned devices like solar inverters, smart thermostats, smart heaters, and more.
DERMS software centralizes these distributed energy resources into a power source that utilities can tap into to balance power supply and demand. Regulators are working to maximize distributed energy resources to scale grid capacity and build grid resilience in the coming decade. For example, Order 2222 in the United States requires regional transmission organizations and independent system operators to allow DERs to participate in wholesale energy markets.
DERMS software plays a crucial role in helping utilities bridge the gap between distributed energy resource assets, DER device owners, and energy markets.
Leveraging DERMS software as a powerful smart grid solution
In the United States, the Department of Energy announced in October 2023 a $3.5 billion grant to expand renewable energy capacity, integrate batteries and electric vehicles into power infrastructure, and build microgrids. DERMS software gives energy providers a smart grid solution they can use to:
- Lower the cost of upgrading grid infrastructure: Building a carbon-free grid could cost between $330 billion to $740 billion without optimizations. Flexible integrations with renewable energy resources and DER assets help grids manage power supply and demand without rehauling existing power infrastructure.
- Improve grid resilience and efficiency: DERMS software can optimize DER deployment based on market prices and energy demand, maximizing how DERs can contribute to the grid and become an attractive incentive for end-users to use these assets.
- Increase the usage of renewable energy sources: The duck curve is a prevalent problem that holds grids back from fully maximizing available energy resources. Grids can use DERMS software to forecast loads, get real-time visibility into renewable energy generation, and automate workflows that control how and when customers can tap into these energy sources.
As we’ve discussed above, electric vehicles are an important asset for distributed energy resource management that utilities are prioritizing. We see this in conversations with DERMS and virtual power plant software that helps utilities optimize customer enrollment for EV programs. Let’s explore how connected car APIs help DERMS software boost grid stability and reduce friction.
Why integrate DERMS software with an EV API platform?
Utilities can communicate with EVs using Level 2 chargers, but only 35% of households with EVs have these chargers installed. This introduces some points of friction:
- Limits control over EVs and the quality of data to when the car is plugged in
- Complex installations and longer wait times on the customer’s end
- Inaccessibility for renters and residents of multi-unit housing
97% of EVs are connected vehicles, giving utilities the perfect opportunity to leverage software-based integrations.
Hardware-agnostic connectivity is more agile, cost-effective, and user-friendly at scale. But the time and headcount investment for building and maintaining this data infrastructure is comparable to establishing an entirely separate team or organization.
This is because the reliability of your EV integrations depends on your ability to manage fragmented proprietary APIs, standardize large volumes of vehicle data, and meet enterprise-grade security compliance standards.
This is what it takes to build a single vehicle integration from scratch:
Here are four reasons why working with a connected car API platform — directly or through a partner — can equip your DERMS software with stable EV API integrations and expertise.
Scalable data collection across EV makes and models
EV industry statistics signal heavy investment and rapid growth in the production of EV models across brands with varying price points and capabilities — with researchers expecting 400 new EV models from 2018 through the end of 2023.
Each brand has unique data that has to be standardized to be actionable and useful. Doing this at scale is impossible without a team of developers solely focused on sorting this data out. A connected car API platform takes this off your plate so you can use a single integration to communicate with a majority of EVs without being held back by brand-specific nuances.
“If we had not partnered with Smartcar, we would have had to invest fully in a development team,” said RER’s CEO and co-founder, Scott Dimetrosky. “With Smartcar, we have immediate, reliable access to nearly every EV on the road today.”
Actionable integrations for load management
Beyond collecting EV data like battery capacity and state of charge, car APIs also power event-based action. Utilities can automate active load management across EV brands that support the capability to remotely start and stop charging.
Optiwatt, an EV charging mobile app, uses this API functionality to give customers a “set it and forget it” charging schedule that automatically kicks in when energy is less in demand and costs are lower.
Smartcar also gives utilities and utility partners standardized resources to leverage brand-specific capabilities to actively manage EV charging. For brands like Tesla, Chevrolet, and Cadillac, you can use our SDKs and APIs to set a vehicle’s charge limit during charging sessions.
Easier opt-in and onboarding for customers
EV telematics reduces friction in customer enrollment by omitting the need to install compatible smart charging hardware. Residents simply need to connect their vehicle to DERMS software by logging in to their connected services account — which most EV drivers access regularly.
This shorter onboarding and learning curve means fewer roadblocks for expansion and more opportunities for utilities to scale marketing efforts and provide better customer education on the benefits of new offerings.
RER has seen success with this software-driven onboarding process (you can also watch Scott walk through this in the video below):
- Utility partners invite residents to join the program
- Residents enter their email and first name
- Residents are brought through Smartcar Connect to log in to their connected services account
- Residents view a list of EV data requested by RER
- Residents click “Allow” to consent to that data being shared
Real-time visibility into API errors and service interruptions
To give residents a reliable EV integration, you need a dedicated team to monitor and address API irregularities immediately to avoid downtime. It’s important to note that OEM APIs are also continuously evolving. The integration you’ve built today will look different in the next six months because of API changes made by automakers every month or so.
“Our team was challenged with the task of managing, standardizing, and maintaining 3rd party APIs. If any of our supported vehicles had a change in API or authentication, our team had to switch focus to patch the issues,” said Casey Donahue, founder at Optiwatt.
The Optiwatt team wanted an established EV API provider to take this workload off their plate. By working with Smartcar, they get the additional support of an engineering team that focuses solely on keeping track of unannounced API changes. Our engineering cycles include dedicated blocks of time to identify and debug API irregularities as soon as they happen.
5 leading DERMS and energy management software
The following top DERMS vendors are committed to enhancing grid reliability with software-based EV integrations.
Rolling Energy Resources
Rolling Energy Resources is an energy efficiency and demand response consulting firm that partners with utilities across 16 states in the US. This allows them to serve one of the largest geographic footprints of any load management company in the country. RER provides demand response, time-of-use assistance, and EV monitoring services to utilities in the United States. Using Smartcar’s API, their software-based solution can connect to 95% of EVs on the road today.
Bidgely is an energy intelligence platform that uses AI to turn smart meter data into actionable utility strategies for better customer engagement and optimal grid outcomes. It uses smart meter disaggregation to accurately identify and detect which of their customers have EVs, eliminating customer self-reporting and additional hardware installations are required. Bidgely uses Smartcar EV API endpoints to allow drivers to automate charging proactively during recommended times.
Amp X, the technology arm of Amp Energy, is a grid-edge technology platform created to address energy transition challenges like voltage instability, infrastructure costs, and grid resilience. Amp X’s solutions include smart transformers, asset management for front-of-the-meter and back-of-the-meter assets, and an energy management system with smart charging capabilities. The platform uses Smartcar’s API to view an EV’s battery status and capacity, charge status, location, and to remotely start and stop charging.
AutoGrid’s DERMS software helps utilities connect to and manage DERs like smart inverters, storage, combined heat and power units (CHPs), electric vehicles, and more. The vendor-neutral platform gives energy organizations the flexibility to integrate new and third-party DERs while avoiding vendor lock-in. AutoGrid also has more than a decade’s worth of experience in EV management, giving utilities a seamless experience onboarding drivers, optimizing EV services, and incorporating consumer preferences.
EnergyHub is known to be one of the largest ecosystems for DER partners. This DERMS software pioneered the bring-your-own-device model for DERs, allowing utilities to easily manage customer-owned devices like electric vehicles, smart thermostats, and battery storage systems. EnergyHub’s EV solution connects utilities to all leading EV brands and EVSEs. Utilities can also leverage various marketing channels — like OEM apps, email, and their ChargingRewards app — to enroll more customers and forecast EV loads accurately.
How do DERMS software communicate with EVs using a car API?
Smartcar’s platform for EV APIs gives utilities and utility partners a centralized set of integrations that allow applications to talk to over 100 EV models. Here’s a quick breakdown of what that looks like:
Step 1: Standardization
Smartcar’s platform does the heavy lifting of standardizing the APIs of over 30 brands so developers can work with consistent error codes, SDKs, documentation, and data quality validation. For more granular data on select brands, we also provide an extended list of brand-specific endpoints.
Step 2: Authorization
All requests made to Smartcar require an access token. The access token gives apps a secure way to make the API request, authorize connectivity to a vehicle, and then interact with that vehicle. Token management is another area apps don’t have to worry about, as it’s built into our API platform.
Step 3: Authentication
Before vehicle owners share data, they’re brought through our OAuth2 authentication flow, Smartcar Connect.
Smartcar Connect is the only touchpoint a vehicle owner has with Smartcar — but it’s an incredibly important one. A customer may drop off a managed charging program’s onboarding process if they are unsure about their vehicle’s connectivity, are concerned about data privacy, or if onboarding instructions are difficult to understand.
Smartcar’s user authentication flow was designed to mitigate this with three simple steps:
- Select a car brand
- Sign in to a connected services account
- View and consent data
Step 4: Collection
A vehicle owner only needs to sign in once, and they’re good to go!
Apps can automate data retrieval at regular intervals through our event webhooks, giving utilities and program participants peace of mind to optimize charging with less manual work.
What to look for in an EV API platform
Kristin White, Chief Operating Officer at Intelligent Transportation Society of America, says in an episode of The Mobility Podcast that there’s a “huge disconnect between design thinking, Silicon Valley innovators, researchers, and implementers on the vehicle and infrastructure side.”
Vehicle-to-grid communication for DERMS or virtual power plant software is only one part of the grid modernization conversation. Still, even so, utilities and their partners face challenges in designing programs that are cost-efficient, accessible, and include both home and away charging.
In a webinar on smart charging hosted by Smartcar, we found that more than 40% of our attendees were monetizing smart charging programs. When asked about the biggest challenge to implementing a smart charging program, integrating with electric vehicles and finding a reliable technology partner came out on top.
If you’re a utility or DERMS provider evaluating a car API platform for your EV program, download our vendor assessment checklist to see how Smartcar stacks up.