Helping the Grid Accommodate More Renewable Energy

July 16, 2015 by Jeff Shepard

The Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) announces five new partnerships that will award up to $6.5 million in federal funds to technical teams throughout the country. The cost-shared projects with industry, universities, and other stakeholders will address the challenge of enabling the nation's electric grid to handle increasing amounts of renewable energy. NREL is managing the Integrated Network Testbed for Energy Grid Research and Technology Experimentation (INTEGRATE) and all of the teams will test their technologies in NREL's unique megawatt-scale Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF).

"Advanced control systems, smart consumer devices, energy storage, and emerging communications technologies will combine to help the grid run more reliably and efficiently," NREL's Associate Director for Energy Systems Integration Bryan Hannegan said. "Working together, NREL and our INTEGRATE partners can use ESIF's capabilities to help accelerate this modernization of our electric grid and enable a clean, affordable, and reliable energy future."

Sponsored by the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the objective of the INTEGRATE project is to provide grid services in a holistic manner using an open-source, interoperable platform that would allow renewable energy systems and other clean energy technologies to be connected to a "smart" power grid in a "plug and play" manner, similar to how computers allow users to plug in new devices and connect automatically to the device. Smart power grids include communication technologies to make the grid easier to monitor and control.

One of the companies, OMNETRIC Group, will design an open-source based interoperable platform at the distribution scale. OMNETRIC Group, a joint venture between Siemens and Accenture, along with partners Duke Energy, CPS Energy, and the University of Texas San Antonio, will leverage these organizations' expertise in the energy sector to develop a distributed control hierarchy, based on an open field message bus architecture that gets away from the traditional centralized control concept, allowing decisions to be made at the edge of the grid with more timely response to changing conditions.

Under another INTEGRATE project, Smarter Grid Solutions will deploy and demonstrate an integrated, flexible plug-and-play grid management solution, using Active Network Management (ANM) to enhance the capacity of the grid to host renewable energy resources. The ANM solution has the ability to manage and maintain the distribution grid within operating limits through the autonomous management, coordination and control of distributed energy resources (DER) in real-time to more fully utilize existing network assets. The project includes an Industry Project Advisory Board that will help inform the uses case requirements and includes members from Pecan Street Inc. (also partnering to deliver DER datasets), NRG Energy, SolarCity, New York State Smart Grid Consortium, Con Edison, National Grid, Iberdrola USA, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) and SIMARD SG.

A third effort, led by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), will advance intelligent control of connected devices by demonstrating an end-to-end framework of communication and control technologies, integrating operation of different domains within distribution systems (including distribution management systems, demand response services, and residential appliance scheduling) through open source software tools. The framework includes an enterprise integration test environment, commercial, Advanced Distribution Management System (ADMS), open software platforms, open Home Energy Management System (HEMS) platform, communication modules, and applications. This project incorporates open standards in a mixed standard environment, where multiple communication protocols will co-exist, much as they might at an electric utility in the near future.

Under a separate partnership, EPRI will examine exactly how and how many grid-connected electronic devices-that is, devices that can communicate with and respond to the grid-can help increase the grid's ability to accept power from renewable energy systems. The EPRI team will evaluate thermostats, pool pumps, electric vehicle chargers, PV inverters, and community battery energy storage devices as part of the project. The EPRI project will also study how small-scale consumer equipment and large-scale utility equipment can work together. Under the project, all of the smart devices will be installed in the ESIF and tested for their ability to provide grid services.

The fifth effort, led by the University of Delaware, will test how electric vehicles can provide energy storage support to the power grid. This "vehicle-to-grid" (V2G) technology shows great promise because it allows owners of electric vehicles to get extra utility out of the vehicle's battery pack, essentially using it as a supplemental power supply. When coordinated with a smart grid, utilities can leverage V2G-equipped electric vehicles to help regulate the local power grid. The University of Delaware developed the concept of V2G in 1997, and has been conducting research and development on V2G technologies since then.

"Technologies such as smart appliances and electric vehicles are changing how we think about and operate the electrical grid," Hannegan said. "As these technologies are commercialized and adopted by consumers, our grid of the future must be able to draw on a wide range of resources to maintain a stable power supply and deliver clean, reliable energy to consumers. The INTEGRATE project is a key step toward achieving that future."