NAES fills reliability gap at the plant/grid interface

Last year, NAES Corp, well known to CCJ ONsite readers as a leading third-party plant O&M services provider, acquired Gridforce Energy Management LLC, extending NAES’ services into the transmission and distribution arena.

Gridforce’s genesis was at Duke Energy North America (DENA) back in the late 1990s when the industry was driving towards unbridled competition.  For almost 20 years, Gridforce has occupied a unique space in the deregulated part of the industry—a provider of control, dispatch, and reliability services, including “balancing authority” functions for individual plants in bilateral markets, those not participating in an ISO, and plants located in organized markets such as CAISO, MISO, or PJM.  

These services are most commonly provided by regulated utilities, munis, and cooperatives but Gridforce’s subject-matter expertise combined with a customer-service focus has enabled it to successfully compete and expand on these service offerings.

According to Gridforce’s President C J Ingersoll, the company runs an advanced energy management system from its control center in Houston, with custom code supporting reliability services throughout the US. Gridforce is not a trading entity and does not buy or sell power, enabling it to serve plants that are competitors in any market.

The company uses models supported with data scan rates of less than six seconds to monitor discrete operations on the grid, along with highly trained NERC-certified system operators to staff the control center 24 × 7. The operators manage such functions as plant dispatch, remote generator operations, frequency regulation, contingency reserves, outage coordination, and other grid reliability services including compliance with NERC reliability and cybersecurity standards. 

Obviously, NAES manages a huge fleet of plants which can immediately benefit from Gridforce services. Going forward, Ingersoll sees decentralized management of reliability services that blend end-use customers, fossil fuels, solar, wind, and storage, as expanding Gridforce’s role in the markets. 

However, these reliability services will continue to require close coordination with traditional grid operators that manage, plan, and operate the interconnected transmission system that Gridforce works with every day. For its part, NAES sees the acquisition as an opening into additional transmission-related services.

Tina Lee, executive VP of commercial operations for Recurve Energy Asset Management (formerly Star West Asset Management), notes that Gridforce manages, as examples, Recurve’s summer tolling power purchase agreements (PPAs) with several local utilities in real time and serves as its primary representative to the Southwest reserve-sharing group selling into CAISO.

The contracts with Gridforce date back to when the plants were under Star West before 2011.

Lee says Gridforce is very knowledgeable and responsive. “Recurve only has a dozen employees, and each plant only has around 25 staff, so we couldn’t do this on our own,” she says. With ever-changing policies and compliance rules in the various markets, Lee adds, “Gridforce handles the minutiae we couldn’t even begin to understand.”

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