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Upgrade to REopt Tool Means a More Robust Resource

January 10, 2013

An excellent renewables screening tool used by NREL project developers just became even better.

During the last half of 2012, NREL experts worked to improve the lab's renewable energy optimization (REopt) tool, which is used to identify and prioritize renewable energy projects for clients who operate multiple properties. The tool uses renewable energy databases with standard client data such as site location, energy consumption, energy rates, and the space available for renewable energy projects to narrow down the best possible options for renewable energy projects that meet client goals.

Used in the early planning phases of a project, REopt is especially useful for organizations that have many different sites across multiple cities, states, or countries, each with its own energy requirements, resources, and constraints. Think of REopt as a renewable energy project screening tool—an analyst uses it to develop an ideal portfolio of renewable energy projects, which then helps an organization determine where to direct its limited resources.

During the upgrade, the REopt development team collaborated with NREL’s Strategic Energy Analysis Center (SEAC) to help resolve the challenges related to the development of a tool that requires a wide range of on-demand data to perform its analysis.

Making Improvements with SEAC
One of the biggest priorities for improving REopt was moving to different optimization software. The original tool was limited by software constraints, said NREL project lead Kate Anderson. After moving to new software, REopt is now a reliable tool with robust problem-solving capabilities, she said.

In order to accomplish that problem-solving analysis, REopt relies on a wide range of spatial data, both raw and analyzed, that is based on a geographic information system (GIS) database service SEAC developed and maintains. The database is critical for REopt, and data availability was one of the biggest challenges the SEAC team helped resolve.

“SEAC developed a series of spatial data provisions and data analysis services that receive a location and/or specified area and respond with the necessary resource information for REopt to perform its analysis,” said NREL GIS specialist Dan Getman.

Perhaps just as important as the technical assistance SEAC provided was the team’s willingness to share past experiences learned.

“One of the greatest benefits in working with SEAC is tapping into their knowledge of tool development,” said Anderson. “They’ve been doing this for a long time so they have a lot of lessons learned from their experiences.”

Using REopt to Meet Client Goals
While REopt is currently being used to perform analysis for the Marine Corps and the Army Energy Initiatives Task Force, its greatest success to date has been for the Navy. With 70 national and international installations, plus a goal of 50% of sites reaching net zero by 2020, the Navy hired NREL to screen all their sites for potential renewable energy project opportunities. From that analysis, the Navy chose the top installations and project prospects for further development.

“The REopt team’s analysis has been an invaluable part of the Navy’s process to evaluate renewable energy project opportunities,” said Navy project lead Mike Callahan.

The NREL team is now performing site visits and updating the assumptions in the model to reflect the new information gathered. By doing so, NREL is able to provide the Navy with more refined results and renewable energy technology recommendations at each potential site.

Next Steps for REopt
While REopt underwent major enhancements, Anderson doesn’t consider the tool complete. Next up is adding capabilities to incorporate batteries and backup diesel generation so the analysis can better evaluate energy security, which is an important factor for many organizations. Also in the future, the team hopes to add sensitivity analysis features around certain parameters; for example, being able to account for energy price fluctuations, and therefore, providing a more complete recommendation. And more validation regarding integrated renewable solutions and how they compare to real-world situations is always ongoing.

“We are excited about REopt’s possibilities,” said Anderson. “We can use REopt to efficiently prioritize hundreds of renewable energy project prospects. Successful project opportunities identified in REopt typically transition to additional project development and final execution work. It is a great way to identify potential projects.”