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ESIF Gaining National and International Interest

An aerial photo of the NREL Golden campus with arrows pointing to the ESIF building.

The Energy Systems Integration Facility on the NREL campus in Golden, Colorado.
Aerial photo taken 6/2012 by Sincere/Duncan Studios courtesy of JE Dunn Construction.

As the October 2012 substantial completion of NREL's new Energy Systems Integration Facility approaches, interest in the facility is gaining momentum. Universities such as Stanford and MIT, as well as corporations such as Ingersoll-Rand and IBM, have already gotten a first look at the facility during its construction. In addition, international organizations such as E-Energy (Germany), Suzlon (India), and NEDO (Japan) are considering how they can partner with NREL to test renewable technologies on a megawatt scale.

News organizations and trade publications are also taking notice. Smart Grid News, Photovoltaics International, Denver Business Journal, and Transmission & Distribution World are just a few of those getting excited about the ground-breaking facility.

In this Issue

Feature Articles

Energy Systems Integration

Energy systems once designed for bulk production of electricity and fuels are becoming much more distributed and interconnected. As new technologies are integrated into the energy system infrastructure, the pathways between production and end use are becoming more complex and interrelationships are forming between electrical, thermal, and fuel systems.

Energy Systems Integration (ESI) R&D is unique at NREL in that it applies a system of systems approach to obtaining a higher degree of performance optimization, robustness, and reliability from energy systems than would be possible with the traditional system view. While traditional systems engineering seeks to optimize an individual system, a system of systems approach seeks to optimize the design and performance of multiple systems.

At NREL, ESI R&D focuses on design and performance of energy systems that are optimized at different, but interrelated scales, ranging from individual homes and businesses to communities and cities to regional and national infrastructures, and can be aggregated to optimize energy pathways at any scale.

By considering the relationships among transportation and fuel production systems, the built environment, electricity generation systems, and integrated energy systems, we can accelerate an energy system transformation.

NREL's Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF)

The Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF), NREL's newest facility for energy systems research is scheduled for substantial completion late this fall. Research at ESIF will have a particular focus on electric, thermal, and fuel systems. The goal is to foster collaboration across a variety of technical disciplines. One area where NREL will work with entrepreneurs and industry is ESIF's Smart Power Laboratory. For example — if a manufacturer builds a new inverter, it can be tested and validated at NREL before the manufacturer takes the system for certification. This will greatly reduce the risk of failure for the manufacturer during the certification testing.

ESIF's Research Electrical Distribution Bus

An architectural rendering of 2 floors of a building.

The REDB is the electrical back bone interconnecting many of the laboratories at NREL's ESIF.
Photo Credit: Rendering courtesy of SmithGroupJJR

NREL is building electrically interconnected laboratories as part of its Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF) where research partners can plug in and test new energy technology, on real and simulated power systems, before hooking it up to the grid.

This plug-n-play adaptability is possible because of the Research Electrical Distribution Bus (REDB) at ESIF, which will function as a power integration circuit capable of connecting multiple sources of energy, interconnecting laboratories and experiments. All of this will allow NREL and its partners to test and simulate what happens when components like solar inverters are connected to the grid. Made up of four ring buses — two for AC current and two for DC current — the REDB will be the backbone for all of NREL's energy systems integration testing.

"You can think of the ESIF and the REDB as a place where you can bring your equipment and with our real time simulation tools, we can make your equipment think that is connected electrically to another piece of equipment, a utility distribution feeder, or even the grid," Group Manager for Distributed Energy Systems Integration Bill Kramer said.

Running parallel with the REDB is a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system, which will serve as the computer control system for the REDB. Using the SCADA in the control room, researchers will be able to:

  • Safely turn component power on and off
  • Interconnect a component with another component or laboratory
  • Watch the experiment in real time
  • Track the data flowing during an experiment
  • Access and share experiment data with partners from secure servers.

If you are interested in learning more about the REDB, or any of the other state-of-the-art laboratories and technology planned for the ESIF, please contact Bill Kramer or visit NREL's ESIF webpage.

Featured ESIF Lab

NREL's 182,500 sq. ft. Energy Systems Integration Facility will house 15 fully equipped state-of-the-art laboratories and several outdoor test areas. In each issue of NREL's Energy Systems Integration eNewsletter we will feature one or two laboratories to familiarize you with some of the capabilities the ESIF has to offer.

Smart Power Laboratory

NREL's 5,300 square foot Smart Power Laboratory will focus on two key areas:

  • Development and testing of power electronics systems and controls
  • Implementation of newer control approaches for smart energy management devices and systems.
An architectural rendering of a cross section of a building floor.

Architectural rendering of the ESIF Smart Power Laboratory.
Courtesy of SmithGroup, LLC.

The lab will feature three power electronics test bays with sound abatement walls and a 96 square foot walk-in fume hood for testing early prototype systems that have a higher risk of failure. There will also be four smart grid test bays capable of testing a variety of household appliances and systems.

"A part of the research in the Smart Power Laboratory will focus on the integration of distributed energy resources using power electronics; we want to develop a new generation of power electronic systems that will provide advanced functionalities to the consumers and utilities, and will lead to more efficient integration of renewable energy into the smarter electric grid," NREL Research Engineer Sudipta Chakraborty said. "The present work being done at NREL is on a smaller scale because we are constrained by the size and infrastructure of our current lab. The lab in ESIF will greatly enhance our ability to develop and test bigger power electronics systems."

The Smart Power Laboratory will allow NREL to perform equipment testing for industry. For example — if a manufacturer builds a new inverter, it can be tested and validated at NREL before the manufacturer takes the system for certification. This will greatly reduce the risk of failure for the manufacturer during the certification testing.

"We've found that a large number of manufacturers don't have all of the necessary equipment to do the required testing — like having a grid simulator to see how their inverter behaves if there is a disturbance in the grid frequency," Chakraborty said. "ESIF will have equipment that can test this type of power electronics systems and thanks to our large grid simulators, load banks and DC sources, connected through the Research Electrical Distribution Bus (REDB), we can be a test bed for even bigger inverters, which is the current trend in the market."

In addition to the power electronics research, the Smart Power Laboratory's smart grid test bays will be used to develop newer grid monitoring equipment, and test smart appliances, home automation, HVAC and energy management systems. The hardware-in-the-loop system and the capability of real-time control of megawatt-scale power equipment will enable NREL to simulate integrated system responses such as the household loads and generation as seen by the utility and will ultimately lead to development of better energy management algorithms.

"People are really looking at the whole integration of these energy systems," Chakraborty said. "At the residential level, you'll have your house with a photovoltaic system on the roof, with smart appliances inside, and we'll look at the data to see how those systems work together. The utility companies are interested in seeing how they can control those appliances to offset loads and make the peak power demands more stable. To do that, all of these pieces have to work together, which they don't do today."

Some of the major equipment in the Smart Power Laboratory include:

  • Various mechanical utilities in each test areas such as process cooling water, process heating water, research cooling water (chilled water), dedicated exhaust
  • Various facility power outlets in each test area such as three-phase 480/277 Vac, 208 / 120 Vac, 240 split-phase Vac and 120V single-phase Vac
  • Inverter HIL
  • Grid simulator
  • AC load banks
  • Bidirectional DC supplies
  • Electronic load banks
  • Research chiller
  • Research boiler
  • Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system
  • PV simulator.

If you are interested in learning more about the Smart Power Laboratory, or any of the other state-of-the-art laboratories planned for the ESIF, please contact Carolyn Elam or visit NREL's ESIF webpage.

Construction Update

As of June 2012

  • Total number of man hours on the job: 381,150
  • Manpower currently onsite: 272
  • Substantial completion on schedule for October 2012
  • 82% waste diversion onsite to date
  • All AC and DC REDB switchgear has been installed.