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Energy Systems Integration Newsletter April 2018

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 2018

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NREL and Hawaiian Electric Navigate Uncharted Waters of Energy Transformation

As the state with the highest penetrations of renewable energy, the largest percentage of citizens with rooftop solar, and the most ambitious energy goal—to reach 100% renewable energy by 2045—Hawaii is ahead of the curve in preparing for the evolution of energy systems. But with great renewable power comes great responsibility. To ensure that the islands’ six electric grids can continue to provide reliable service to electric customers, Hawaii is implementing emerging technologies and overcoming unprecedented grid integration challenges.

The state’s largest utility, the Hawaiian Electric Companies, partnered with NREL to help navigate these uncharted waters. This ongoing work is making a real-time impact, giving Hawaiian Electric the technical information and data it needs to make critical decisions as it charts a new course—one that other utilities, even in mainland states, will be able to follow as they embark on their own energy transformations.

Read the full story.

NREL Leadership Contributes to Revision of Key Energy Integration Standard, IEEE 1547

Technology standards development—which to some might just sound like a lot of paperwork and time—is no easy process. It requires an enormous amount of consensus building, listening to the perspectives of dozens of technical experts, evaluating results from a multitude of relevant studies, conducting meetings to review every detail related to the standard, and circulating and recirculating a document for public comments and reviews.

The recent publication of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)’s full revision of 1547, a key standard for the interconnection of distributed energy resources (DERs), is one example of this process. With leadership from NREL, the IEEE P1547 Working Group completed revisions to the standard in the fall of 2017 after four years of significant efforts put forth by researchers, industry experts, utilities, and DER equipment vendors.

“The leadership team, including the group leads, deserves a lot of credit for shepherding this standard along. It was like herding cats,” said Chase Sun, working group member and principal engineer with Pacific Gas and Electric. “The new functions provide for more flexibilities and may allow utilities to interconnect DERs at reduced costs. As the grid operating margin is depleted, we will have more challenges, and we need the new functions to help meet the new challenges.”

Read this article to get more details on this major achievement.

GreenBiz Calls NREL a “Secret Weapon” for Startups

A recent GreenBiz article about the Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator program, or IN2, describes how the company’s relationship with NREL is a secret weapon for the program’s success. From what started four years ago, the Denver-based program “has tripled in size, to $30 million, and is arguably one of the best launchpads for cleantech startups in the United States.”

IN2 was designed to help speed the path to commercialization for early adopters in the renewable energy sector. The companies that participate are invited to join based on referrals from partners, including other incubators, and offered a $250,000 grant. That amount offers the startups access to NREL’s world-class equipment, knowledge, and expert researchers without giving up any equity, a rare and valuable opportunity for startups.

Among IN2 projects, NREL provided technical support and validation for several technologies at the ESIF, including Whisker Labs’ peel-and-stick home energy management system, GO Electric’s renewable energy microgrid, and LiquidCool Solutions’ cooling technology for high-performance computing.

In addition to IN2, NREL’s upcoming Industry Growth Forum has been one of the nation’s premiere clean energy investment events for the past 20 years, showcasing innovative technologies and disruptive business solutions. NREL hosts the forum each year to foster a collaborative community of thought leaders and build relationships among NREL experts, cleantech startups, investors, accelerators, incubators, and other cleantech industry leaders. This year’s event will be held May 3–4.

API Now Available for NREL’s Popular REopt Lite Tool

NREL’s REopt Lite tool helps commercial building owners quickly determine the optimal size of a PV and/or battery storage system for their property. Using only a few, easy-to-gather inputs—such as location and type of building—the web-based model suggests a PV and/or battery system that will offer the best economic return and, if desired, resiliency in a power outage.

Now, the REopt Lite team has developed an API for the freely available tool, making it even easier for software developers to evaluate multiple sites and perform sensitivity analyses in an efficient manner. Check out the new API or explore the model itself.

Don’t Forget: The Call for High-Impact Collaborative Projects Closes May 7

Be sure to submit your proposal for the ESIF Call for High-Impact Integrated Projects by Monday, May 7. Through this call, the research community can access the ESIF's unique capabilities independently or alongside NREL researchers. Qualifying projects must satisfy the goals of the DOE Grid Modernization Initiative, which aims to develop the concepts, tools, and technologies needed to measure, analyze, predict, protect, and control the grid of the future.  

Learn more about this opportunity on the ESIF User Access Calls for Proposals page, where you can also view the solicitation, frequently asked questions, and an informational webinar. Questions can be directed to

NREL Researchers Debut Powerful Grid Mod Software

NREL researchers Bryan Palmintier and Dheepak Krishnamurthy are behind the recent debut of a powerful grid modernization software: the Hierarchical Engine for Large-scale Infrastructure CoSimulation (HELICS), a high-performance framework for linking cyber and physical domains of energy systems.

Modern energy systems are characterized by millions of interdependent energy resources. Simulating the full range of their interactions across scales, domains, and timescales is a complex problem for which no current off-the-shelf software is suitable. HELICS combines the collective experience of multiple national laboratories to offer a modeling framework for highly integrated energy system co-simulation.

HELICS is open-source, cross-platform, and is scalable from laptop to high-performance computing environments. It is capable of combining off-the-shelf simulation tools through co-simulation to act as a single unified model, exchanging data at each time step. This makes simulation possible for complex power system, end-use, and communication/control interactions at scales ranging from smart homes up to system-wide, transmission-distribution systems as large as the Western Interconnection. HELICS is a Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium project supported by DOE. To learn more about the project, visit the HELICS GitHub page.

Q&A with Research Fellow, Andy Walker

Andy Walker created and patented Renewable Energy Optimization (REO) nearly a decade ago. His invention has been transformed into one of NREL’s most used tools, REopt.

We sat down with Andy to discuss REO and his new role at NREL as a research fellow. Read our full conversation about the history of REO and REopt.

Quantifying the Value of Energy Resiliency 

Billions of dollars are lost each year in the United States from power outages that cause interruptions to businesses, government, and infrastructure. With the recent uptick in grid disturbances caused by severe weather events, planning for energy resiliency has become a priority in many cities across the country. Energy resiliency can include anything from burying transmission lines to creating microgrids with the ability to disconnect from the main grid and generate power for a surrounding community or hospital.

Quantifying the value of such investments, however, is hard to do. Luckily, researchers at NREL, the City University of New York, and KatRiskLLC recently published an article highlighting their research to address this issue. In a recent edition of Sustainability, the authors present a methodology for placing a monetary value on the resiliency that can be achieved by hybrid renewable energy systems that combine photovoltaics, energy storage, and generators.

“Our goal is to inform building owners, policymakers, insurance companies, and mortgage lenders about solutions that can incentivize energy resiliency and reduce costs associated with grid outages when disturbances occur,” said Kate Anderson, lead author and group manager of engineering and modeling with NREL’s Integrated Applications Center.

Considering a disaster on the level of Superstorm Sandy, the researchers demonstrated how renewable hybrid systems could replace traditional backup diesel generators and double the performance of energy distribution during a grid outage. They also found that insurance premium reductions could support up to 4% of the capital cost of renewable hybrid systems—with the potential payback of preventing up to $2.5 billion in business interruption losses.

ESIF Continues ISO 9001 Certification

The ESIF User Facility Research Operations scope was included in the recent site-wide ISO audits – specifically, the focus was on upgrading the ESIF’s ISO 9001 certification to the 2015 edition. ESIF Programs were recognized for strengths in engineering design process for research equipment. “These types of recognition support our efforts to increase the ESIF’s impact and stand out among our peers as a world-class organization,” said Research Operations Director, Chad Blake.

ESIF’s workflow processes continue to be recognized as strengths and best practices demonstrating an ongoing commitment to safety, quality, and customer service through continuous improvement as we work toward performance excellence.

Student Design Competition Race to Zero Wraps Up at NREL

Each year, hundreds of graduate and undergraduate students, representing dozens of collegiate institutions from a handful of countries, come to NREL to participate in the DOE Race to Zero Student Design Competition. This year’s event came to a successful conclusion this past month, with students demonstrating completely novel zero energy building designs and creative solutions to real-world design problems.

Members of NREL’s Integrated Applications Center helped facilitate the event, which took place on NREL’s Golden, Colorado, campus. The grand prize was awarded to a team from Prairie View A&M University for their design of an urban single-family home. They accepted the award with an important message: “It’s not just about the competition. It’s about creating things that can actually be built and helping the communities.”

Learn more about the event at the Race to Zero website.