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Energy Systems Integration News

A monthly recap of the latest happenings at the Energy Systems Integration Facility and developments in energy systems integration (ESI) research at NREL and around the world.

April 2017

Read the latest ESI news from NREL.

Two people look at a 3D wind turbulence model in the ESIF.

Futch Discusses the ESIF's Collaborative Model with SEPA

NREL Global Business Development Leader Matthew Futch recently sat down with the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) to talk about the important work being done at NREL's ESIF to overcome the challenges related to integrating distributed energy resources, such as solar and wind, onto the grid. SEPA was particularly interested in walking through ESIF's collaborative model, so Futch described a typical NREL partnership involving the facility.

"We try to scope out some technical work that is based on the fundamental problem that they're trying to solve," he said. "We are interested in things that are difficult and challenging rather than focused on incremental improvements. We'll take them to all these different areas in the facility that allow them to see the type of work we're doing. We'll show them examples from other utilities and other vendors that we're working with, and then we'll have a long, detailed discussion on the technical or market problem that they're trying to solve, and then we'll scope out work with them based on that visit.

"The second step is to begin to break that scope of work into what I call three different potential buckets, and those buckets really go from the simplest, smallest, and easiest way to engage with us, all the way to really long-term, fundamental industry relationships that could span three to five years and could evolve into many individual projects.

"Bucket one is what we call a user agreement, where technology companies or utilities come in and use a particular piece of equipment that they may not have in their own facility or they may not have the funding for. They essentially rent out space or researchers' time for a very limited amount of time to test this specific set of issues that they're trying to resolve.

"The second bucket is what I call a technical services agreement, which is simply a larger version of the previous example, except for more challenging problems. It involves more researchers and maybe some counterparts on the company side. The company is paying for the time and the research to get their problem solved. It usually lasts anywhere from six months to a year, and they're just solving that one particular problem.

"The third bucket is what I call long-term research relationships, which allow companies to work with us for a longer period of time to solve more than one problem."

Futch noted that the greatest utility interest currently involves keeping the grid stable as the existing spinning reserves, which provide mechanical inertia to the grid, are gradually replaced by inverters. He said a lot of inverter manufacturers are now pushing their power electronics to enable some type of inertial response. See the full article on the SEPA website.

NREL to Cost-Share a Power-to-Gas Project with SoCalGas

NREL has selected Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) to receive up to $175,000 in cost-share support for a power-to-gas research and demonstration project at the ESIF. SoCalGas and NREL researchers will partner to advance power-to-gas technology, a cutting-edge method of storing excess renewable energy in the form of methane.

Power-to-gas technology takes excess renewable electricity—including any that would otherwise go to waste—and converts it to hydrogen in a water electrolyzer. The hydrogen is then combined with carbon dioxide and fed to a bioreactor where organisms produce renewable natural gas or RNG. The conversion of renewable electricity to RNG enables long-term, monthly, or seasonal storage of large amounts of carbon-free power, unlike batteries, which are prone to self-discharge. RNG can be used in everything from home appliances to industrial processes, engines, and power plants.

"This technology can significantly increase the amount of renewable energy integrated into the electrical supply and improve grid reliability."

"Power-to-gas technology has the potential to bridge the renewable energy supply-demand gap that has become more and more challenging," said Jeff Reed, director of business strategy and advanced technology at SoCalGas. "This technology can significantly increase the amount of renewable energy integrated into the electrical supply and improve grid reliability. By using our existing gas pipeline infrastructure to store large amounts of carbon-free power, we could really make a difference in California's clean-energy future."

"Once the renewable hydrogen or methane is produced, the gases can be stored indefinitely and used in a number of energy sectors, including electricity generation, transportation, fertilizer production, and upgrading oil and gas," said Kevin Harrison, senior engineer at NREL. "One of our goals is to demonstrate how the system can be operated in a highly dynamic mode to help stabilize the electrical grid to enable higher penetrations of renewable sources of electricity."

The ESIF research will seek to answer questions like whether the bioreactor can be operated efficiently and economically to follow solar- and wind-generated electricity profiles. The team will also examine the potential of power-to-gas technology to store large quantities of renewable energy in the form of pipeline-quality natural gas for an entire year, and how it compares in performance and cost to batteries and other forms of energy storage.

New Report Captures NREL's Grid Modernization Research in 2016

NREL published 47 journal and magazine articles in 2016 on grid modernization research. Find them all in one place and catch up on any you missed with this new report. Go to report

Industry Days Spotlight Unique Partner Technologies: Photo Gallery

In March, NREL hosted two Industry Day events that featured partner projects under the U.S. Department of Energy's Integrated Network Testbed for Energy Grid Research and Technology Experimentation (INTEGRATE) effort. Among these, partners from OMNETRIC Group, Siemens, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), and Schneider Electric demonstrated their unique communications, connected devices, and microgrid management system technologies at the ESIF. Attendees spanned the utility, academia, government, and device manufacturing space—and offered valuable insight on each project during the demonstrations and brainstorming sessions that followed.

Learn more about the projects by visiting our Industry Day workshops page and get an inside view of each demo by checking out our Industry Day photo gallery.

Spirae Microgrid Controller Evaluated at EDF Test Facility

NREL participated in and provided technical input at an evaluation stage of a microgrid controller at Électricité de France's (EDF's) Concept Grid test facility. The Concept Grid is a smart-grid test facility designed to anticipate and facilitate the transition from electricity distribution systems to smart grids. The project for which the testing was performed aims to develop microgrid controllers for resilient communities and is being led by the Electric Power Research Institute with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability. The EDF test setup included a 50-kW, 106-kWh battery with an inverter, 12-kW and 8-kW PV inverters, and controllable loads.

The EDF evaluation followed NREL hardware-in-the-loop simulations of the performance of the controller for a microgrid site on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. This was done by installing the controller in the ESIF and connecting it to a virtual model of a microgrid, embodied within a digital real-time simulator. The controller was also connected to a utility-scale battery inverter, which interacted with the virtual model through an AC power amplifier, adjusting its output to the simulated electrical grid demand. In those tests, the performance of the controller was compared to the functional requirements established by DOE. See the ESIF website for more information about this project.

NREL Researchers Host Energy Storage Association Conference Tours

On April 18, NREL researchers led more than 80 visitors from universities, other national labs, utility companies, and private industry on tours of NREL research facilities as part of the 27th Annual Energy Storage Association (ESA) Conference & Expo. Visitors were treated to a behind-the-scenes look at NREL's energy storage and integration laboratories in the ESIF and the Thermal Testing Facility, as well as at the National Wind Technology Center (NWTC). Speakers at the expo, which was held in downtown Denver, Colorado, included NREL Director Martin Keller and Principal Energy Analyst Paul Denholm, along with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and energy storage experts from Tesla, Inc. and Xcel Energy.

As part of the tour, NREL Research Engineer Bethany Sparn guided guests through the ESIF's System Performance Laboratory, which is able to connect appliances, homes, vehicles, and even communities in end-to-end energy ecosystems. ESI Researcher Brian Miller provided an inside look at the Power Systems Integrations Laboratory, which focuses on the development and analysis of large-scale distributed energy systems for grid-connected, standalone, and microgrid applications. Visitors also saw advanced system modeling visualizations come to life in the ESIF's Insight Center, which features 3-D visualization capabilities.

Acting Energy Storage Group Manager Matt Keyser led tours through the Thermal Test Facility. He explained how NREL's partnerships with the world's leading battery and electric vehicle manufacturers help improve thermal performance, capacity, longevity, and durability of energy storage systems. Keyser described the operation of NREL's R&D 100 Award-winning Isothermal Battery Calorimeters—the most accurate instruments of their kind—shared how different types of lithium-ion cells can be utilized, and discussed abuse tolerance.

At the NWTC, between 45 and 50 visitors toured a new Battery Energy Storage System being installed by RES America. The lithium-ion batteries will add 1 MW and 1 MWh of energy storage, which means they can provide their full capacity of 1 MW of electricity for one hour. A second tour stop featured an introduction to the NWTC's capabilities for grid integration research. NREL's Wind Grid Integration Lead David Corbus, Senior Engineer Robb Wallen, Chief Engineer Vahan Gevorgian, and Senior Project Leader Jim Green participated in the NWTC leg of the tour.

NREL ESI Researchers Share Their Knowledge at the IEEE Green Technologies Conference

The 9th Annual IEEE Green Technologies Conference was held in Denver, Colorado, on March 29–31, 2017, and NREL contributed significantly to the conference. NREL's Murali Baggu was the chair, and keynote sessions and panels involved both NREL Director Martin Keller and Benjamin Kroposki, director of NREL's Power Systems Engineering Center. In addition, ESI researchers led four of the five panel sessions, with Erfan Ibrahim, director of NREL's Cyber Physical Systems Security and Resilience center, leading a panel on grid security; ESI's Eduard Muljadi leading a panel on renewable power generation, transmission, and distribution; ESI's Emiliano Dall'Anese leading a panel on advances in optimization and control of sustainable distribution grids; and ESI's YC Zhang leading a panel on big data analytics for power systems. ESI's Andrey Bernstein also participated in a panel on advances in optimization and control of sustainable distribution grids.

In terms of paper sessions, NREL ESI researcher Santosh Veda chaired a session on energy management and power quality, Muljadi chaired a session on energy storage for distributed generation, and Kroposki chaired a session on advanced renewable energy power systems. While Veda, Muljadi, and Kroposki presented papers during their sessions, ESI's Peter Gotseff, Manohar Chamana, YC Zhang, and Jin Tan also presented papers during paper sessions. The conference had about 100 attendees and included a total of 13 technical sessions, as well as a tour of NREL and the ESIF.

Competitive Procurement Announced for Microgrid Controller Technology

NREL is conducting a dual-stage (letter of interest and request for proposals) competitive procurement for microgrid control technology where up to five respondents will compete on state-of-the-art testbeds at the ESIF between June and December, 2017. The top performer will have the opportunity for its microgrid controller to be purchased and made part of a permanent microgrid research testbed available to NREL researchers and other users of the ESIF. Visit our website to learn more. An informational webinar is being held May 5, 2017 at 11:30 AM Eastern time. Register for webinar.

In Case You Missed It: Webinar Hosted by NREL, CAISO, First Solar

More than 170 people attended the April 27 webinar hosted by NREL, CAISO, and First Solar discussing their recently released report, "Demonstration of Essential Reliability Services by a 300-MW Solar Photovoltaic Power Plant." If you missed it, you can download the slides, and check our website soon to view the full webinar.