Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Five renewable energy partnerships to receive $6.5m NREL funding

Steve Rogerson
June 30, 2015
The US Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has announced five partnerships that will award up to $6.5m 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 & Technology Experimentation (Integrate) and all of teams will test their technologies in NREL's 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," said Bryan Hannegan, NREL's associate director for energy systems integration. "Working together, NREL and our Integrate partners can use ESIF's capabilities to help accelerate this modernisation of our electric grid and enable a clean, affordable and reliable energy future."
Sponsored by the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency & 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 communications 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. The joint venture between Siemens and Accenture, along with partners Duke Energy, CPS Energy and the University of Texas San Antonio, will leverage these organisations' 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 centralised control concept, allowing decisions to be made at the edge of the grid with more timely response to changing conditions.
Under another Integrate project, UK start-up Smarter Grid Solutions will deploy and demonstrate an integrated, flexible plug-and-play grid management system, using active network management (ANM) to enhance the capacity of the grid to host renewable energy resources. ANM has the ability to manage and maintain the distribution grid within operating limits through the autonomous management, coordination and control of distributed energy resources (DERs) in real time to use existing network assets more fully.
An industry project advisory board will help inform the uses case requirements and includes members from Pecan Street (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 communications 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, open software platforms, open home energy management platform, communications modules, and applications. This project incorporates open standards in a mixed standard environment, where multiple communications 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 team will evaluate thermostats, pool pumps, electric vehicle chargers, solar photovoltaic inverters and community battery energy storage devices as part of the project. Inverters are the devices that convert the direct-current power from photovoltaic systems into the alternating current used by the power grid.
The EPRI project will also study how small-scale consumer equipment and large-scale utility equipment can work together. Under the project, all 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 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 commercialised 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 towards achieving that future."
NREL is the US Department of Energy's primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for the Energy Department by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy.