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Energy Systems Integration Newsletter

Reshaping Cyber, Virtually Planning a Zero-Energy City, and Supporting California with Synthetic Inertia

May 2018

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Expanding Resilient Systems and Cybersecurity for Tomorrow’s Grid

“When we’re talking about cybersecurity, it’s important to look at things from a systems perspective,” said NREL’s Juan Torres during a video interview when asked about his vision for cybersecurity research at the lab. “I think many people are focused on securing today’s grid. We’re going to be focused on understanding that but taking that to design the grid of the future—the grid that’s going to be more resilient so that we’re not in the same position that we are today.”

Torres—NREL’s associate laboratory director of Energy Systems Integration and a cybersecurity specialist—is leading the expansion of NREL’s cybersecurity program. Since it was established in 2015, much of the work in this area has been centered on site security assessments for utilities and business partners in the energy space while building out a flexible cybersecurity test bed.

Now, under Torres’s direction, NREL’s work is expanding to provide security expertise for new energy devices, microgrids, and hardware for distributed energy resources, including solar, wind, buildings, electric vehicles, and hydrogen. The research will leverage NREL’s deep expertise in power systems and renewable energy technologies to address the challenges the grid faces as it evolves—from weather-related outages to cyberattacks.

Some of the projects underway in cybersecurity include encryption for distributed energy resources and operational technology networks, moving target defense against false data injection attacks to secure high-penetration solar energy systems, and evaluating the security of control systems for utility and vendor partners. Additionally, NREL and Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) are performing research and development to support the testing and harmonization of cybersecurity standards for PV and DER integration. The two national laboratories are drafting consensus-based testing procedures to verify and validate the security of data and communication of DERs for the solar industry. NREL and SNL are also leading working groups to build consensus among utilities, aggregators, vendors, stakeholders, and different standards developing organizations. 

By leveraging a whole-systems, long-term, and all-hazards approach to cybersecurity, Torres sees NREL paving the way to secure new grid technologies for renewable energy resources. Learn more about NREL’s growing research in cybersecurity.

Interactive Visualization at the ESIF Guides Smart City Development

Peña Station NEXT is a 382-acre mixed-use development—an unparalleled vision for a clean, affordable, and scalable smart city—to be built in Denver, Colorado. But creating the United States' largest net-zero energy district will require an equally innovative approach to planning.

Researchers in the ESIF have crafted an immersive visualization environment to help developers and energy planners understand Peña Station NEXT's complex power system dynamics. Watch how users can interact with the virtual city, and learn more about the vizualization environment.

Another Success for Startups at the ESIF

Go Electric, a cleantech company that develops behind-the-meter grid technology, is the latest in a string of startups whose technology has been successfully validated at the ESIF through the Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator program.

Go Electric’s LYNC DR system, unique for its uninterruptible power supply that instantly synchronizes with the grid, sustained extensive testing at the ESIF to confirm that the technology can provide resilient power without interruptions during a grid outage and from any energy resources. Read the press release to learn more about Go Electric’s validation testing.

NREL Supports California Utility with Synthetic Inertia Research

In California, utilities are straining to keep pace with customers’ rapid adoption of renewable energy resources, and a new challenge is approaching: the large mechanical gears of traditional power plants are disappearing, and with them goes the reliable ability to rebalance grid frequency.

Pacific Gas and Electric is collaborating with NREL to understand how the utility can re-create that balancing act with synthetic inertia. Read about PG&E’s use of a unique California fund and NREL’s unparalleled simulation and modeling to anticipate a new feature of future grids.

NREL Engineer Offers Technical Guidance on Distributed Solar in Nepal

Last month, NREL Principal Electrical Engineer Michael Coddington was invited by the World Bank to provide technical expertise on scaling large amounts of distributed solar to policymakers, utilities, and technical stakeholders in Nepal.

Coddington, along with the founder and director of E3 Analytics, Toby Couture, met with the region’s stakeholders for three days in Kathmandu. During the meeting, discussions and presentations covered a range of both policy and technical topics. Coddington provided technical input, and Couture offered policy and financial analysis. Because Nepal’s grid is relatively isolated and tied only to the northern India grid system, stability was a topic that resonated among meeting participants.

“Participants were very interested in modeling and understanding the total amount of photovoltaic and inverter-based distributed energy resources that can be installed to integrate with their mostly hydro-based generation in the country,” described Coddington. “They were also seeking a means to avoid the problem of shedding load during afternoon peaks, a common situation in Nepal.”

Other questions that were addressed included voltage and frequency operating ranges for Nepal’s grid, methods of inverter disconnection, and the need for listing and labeling inverters and other PV system components. Coddington discussed solutions to potential distribution problems, referencing much of NREL’s work on interoperability standards. He also recommended performing a more detailed analysis of the Nepal distribution systems to better understand Nepal’s grid—and how to best support it during abnormal conditions or when there might be high levels of PV on the system. Coddington hopes to further this collaboration and help expand distributed energy systems in Nepal.

NREL Releases Open-Source Model for Microgrid Evaluation

NREL has set the standard for microgrid evaluation with the release of the Grid Hardware Open-Source Test Bed (GHOST).

GHOST is the highest fidelity evaluation model available today. GHOST enables users to test a microgrid controller’s performance across eight key performance parameters, such as economic operation and resiliency and reliability. Users can also evaluate control strategies that involve trade-offs among parameters—an improvement on previous models that assign simple pass/fail evaluations to single contingencies.

GHOST is the product of NREL’s Microgrid Controller Procurement Program, which used GHOST’s test sequences to select a top-performing microgrid controller for the laboratory’s expanded microgrid test bed. The model will be discussed in an upcoming live Q&A session with NREL and the awardee of this procurement program, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories. To be included on the webinar invitation, email

GHOST is now available at with user access. Learn more about NREL’s microgrid research capabilities.

NREL Examines Impact of August 2017 Solar Eclipse on Grid Performance          

The August 21, 2017, solar eclipse cast a shadow from Oregon to South Carolina, completely concealing the sun along a 70-mile-wide path. It provided an unusual opportunity for NREL researchers to study the impact of wide-area events on the western U.S. electric grid.

For a new study, “Evaluating the Impact of the 2017 Solar Eclipse on U.S. Western Interconnection Operations,” NREL authors partnered with Peak Reliability, reliability coordinator for the Western Interconnection, to examine the impact of the August 2017 eclipse. Peak Reliability provided load and generation data from the day of the eclipse and other days before and after for comparison, which NREL analyzed.

On a typical day, utility-scale solar power plants in the Western Interconnection generate more than 12 GW. During the eclipse, the plants lost an estimated 4 GW of production. Rooftop solar, which typically produces about 8 GW, lost 1.9 GW during the eclipse. Despite the temporary drop in solar power, the stability and reliability of the grid was unaffected, with hydroelectric, natural gas, and coal-powered plants easily meeting the difference in energy demand. The study also considered production costs involved when PV is not available and found the increase in costs of complementary energy sources to be minimal.

“The focus of this study is to develop the framework and the tools for understanding the impact of wide-area phenomena like a storm, or even another eclipse, on PV output and grid reliability,” said Santosh Veda, a research engineer at NREL and coauthor of the report. “These tools will become increasingly important as the PV penetration continues to grow so we can plan to reduce the effects of these events on the grid.”

NREL Authors Selected for Best Papers at IEEE Power & Energy Society Event

Two conference papers submitted by researchers with NREL’s Power Systems Engineering Center were selected to receive best paper awards at the upcoming IEEE Power & Energy Society General Meeting.

Visiting Ph.D. student Bing Huang and engineers Venkat Krishnan and Bri-Mathias Hodge submitted one of the papers, “Analyzing the Impacts of Variable Renewable Resources on California Net-Load Ramp Events,” which evaluated the interactions between variable renewable resource ramps and load ramps in California. The team found that although overall frequency and uncertainty in net-load ramps increased, there was a decrease in net-load ramps during certain events, such as early morning or evening. The team concluded that there is a need for more research on the integration of variable renewable ramp forecasts into market operations and planning tools for increased efficiency and economic use of ramping capabilities on the grid.

The second paper, “Potential of Wind Power to Provide Flexible Ramping Products and Operating Reserve,” was written by NREL engineers Xin Fan, Bri-Mathias Hodge, Venkat Krishnan, and Professor Fanxing Li of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. With increasing levels of variable renewable energy resources on the grid, the team proposed a need for more flexible resources that can provide fast-response ramping capabilities to counter the variability and uncertainty associated with renewable generation. Using a security-constrained unit commitment model, researchers simulated and demonstrated how wind power has significant potential to provide flexible ramping products in the electricity market.

The teams will be recognized for their achievements during a best papers award session at the meeting. Learn more about NREL’s work in power systems design and studies.

ESIF User Access Updates

The ESIF is accepting applications for the Visiting Scholars User Call, inviting faculty and students to conduct research in the facility’s state-of-the-art laboratories at NREL. Research projects must align with the goals of one of the following areas:

1.      U.S. Department of Energy Grid Modernization Initiative

2.      Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy  

3.      Energy systems integration, which addresses important points of integration among the electric power system and infrastructures such as water, thermal energy systems, and fuel systems.

By immersing in the ESIF ecosystem, visiting researchers will carry valuable insights and new capabilities back to their home institutions. Applications for the ESIF Visiting Scholars User Call are being accepted throughout the year. Learn more about this program and register for an informational webinar.

Additionally, the deadline for the ESIF Call for High-Impact Integrated Projects has been extended to June 15, 2018. Funding requirements for the call have also been updated.

NREL Researchers to Introduce New Energy Modeling Tool at VERGE Hawaii

The 10th anniversary of the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative in January marked Hawaii’s remarkable progress toward its goal of 100% renewable electricity by 2045. Yet for energy planners in Hawaii and elsewhere, navigating the uncharted waters of an energy transformation remains a challenging endeavor fraught with risk.

Obtaining the hard data needed to understand and communicate the impacts of transitioning to clean energy can be a long and circuitous journey. Often the energy planner’s only option is to rely on studies conducted by stakeholders who might have different priorities. With the goal of making energy planning more broadly accessible, NREL researchers Rob Spencer and Tom Harris will present a new capacity planning and economic dispatch model at VERGE Hawaii on June 13. With support from DOE, NREL developed the tool to help energy planners answer relevant questions, validate complex decisions, and gain the buy-in they need to move full-sail ahead toward their goals.

For more information about the tool’s current and potential functionality and applications, visit the Island Energy Tools and Trainings web page.

NREL to Host Workshop on Cybersecurity for Distributed Energy Resources

Distributed energy resources (DER) are becoming more active in grid operation—they support grid stability and frequency regulation, demand response, arbitrage, and other advanced functions. The unrelenting increase in DER deployment, as well as their importance to grid operation, places new emphasis on the security of such devices against cyber attacks.

To address future efforts on DER cybersecurity, NREL and Sandia National Laboratories are hosting a workshop on July 17 at NREL. The two national laboratories plan to engage industry vendors, utility owners and operators, academia and other national laboratories to gather feedback on DER security.

The workshop will feature thought leaders in DER technology, and will include a tour of the ESIF. You can visit here to register for the event.