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Energy Systems Integration Newsletter

ESIF Turns 5, Shell and NREL Launch Clean Tech Incubator, and Utility-Scale Tech Enhances Grid Research at National Wind Technology Center



Views of the ESIF: Five Years Back, Five Years Forward

It has been five years since the dedication of the ESIF. Hundreds of partners and thousands of projects later, the facility's role in energy systems is becoming clear: a global hub for advancing the integration of clean energy technologies. Looking ahead, new capabilities, new partnerships, and innovative research will carry the ESIF into its next 5 years.

Read the reflections and perspectives from four of ESIF's key staff members about what was and what's next. 

NREL Partners with Shell to Jumpstart Clean Tech for the Future Grid

For startups, it’s often a perilous path to get a new technology from concept to market. Investors don’t want to put money behind a concept that isn’t proven but validating the technology can be a big upfront cost that startups aren’t able to shoulder. The unfortunate result is that many promising ideas don’t make it across.

Enter the Shell GameChanger Accelerator Powered by NREL—or GCxN. This multiyear, multimillion-dollar collaboration between Shell and NREL builds on the successful model established by the Wells Fargo Invitation Incubator (IN²), another NREL collaboration.

GCxN’s focus is on discovering and advancing emerging clean energy technologies. Its first call for participants will target technologies that will enable the grid of the future through long-term energy storage and controls.

Read the full story for more details on this initiative, and learn why GreenBiz Calls NREL a “Secret Weapon” for Startups.

Video: Get a First Glimpse of Eagle, NREL’s Newest High-Performance Computer

Eagle is being installed right now at the ESIF and will go to work in January 2019. This 8-petaflop HPC will more than triple the computing power of NREL’s current HPC. Beyond its impressive computational muscle, NREL’s HPC data center is also highly energy- and water-efficient, with an annualized average power usage effectiveness rating of 1.034 in 2017.

Stay tuned for more details on Eagle and its highly efficient data center coming soon. In the meantime, watch this video to get the first look. 

New Methods, Measurements for Nation’s Largest Solar Dataset

In its 23 years of existence, the National Solar Radiation Data Base (NSRDB) has remained a central resource to its ever-growing group of users in research and industry. In the most recent release of the NSRDB, scientists at NREL have improved the dataset’s accuracy and resolution by integrating new computing capabilities and high-quality data.

The new release applies a physical model to compute solar radiation from satellite data. Cloud, aerosol, and other meteorological properties are now quickly integrated through the NREL-developed FARMS method to simulate all-sky solar radiation at land surfaces. The availability of satellite and ground-based sensor data has also been expanded, improving the dataset's accuracy.

Last month, contributing NREL scientists hosted a free webinar explaining the updates. Additionally, a review of the NREL-hosted NSRDB and a summary of its recent updates has been published in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews.

Bri-Mathias Hodge Offers Approachable Explanation of Energy Systems in Smart Grid Podcast

Few of us understand our power grid behind the outlet, and even fewer can present their perspective as cogently as Bri-Mathias Hodge, manager of NREL's Power Systems Design and Studies group. Take some time today to listen to Hodge explain smart grid installations in an episode of “EETimes On Air” podcast with host David Finch.

In the half-hour conversation, Hodge guides Finch through our power system, connecting themes in grid science as powerfully as the high-voltage lines he discusses.

Hodge offers a broad take on the transition to a cleaner, more reliable energy system, from the massive scale of inter-regional transmission— “one of the biggest things that we need in order to ease this transition is finding political solutions to building more transmission”—to the abstract: “you can’t afford to put a sensor at everybody else’s house that has solar on it; you want to take a couple measurements and predict what’s happening with the rest (of the system).”

The conversation between Hodge and Finch is a concise telling of our grid today and its future trajectory. If Hodge’s presentation of grid modernization has inspired you to learn more, follow up with some of the NREL projects that he mentions: Autonomous Energy Grids and Pena Station NEXT.

Five New Publications

“Value Streams from Distribution Grid Support Using Utility-Scale Vanadium Redox Flow Battery”: An analysis of value streams for dispatching a utility-scale vanadium redox flow battery (VFRB) energy storage system. This report models grid support use cases of a Sumitomo Electric VFRB on a San Diego Gas & Electric Company distribution feeder and calculates the associated cost benefits of operating such an energy storage system. The economics of using the VRFB system were evaluated with NREL’s REopt model, concluding that multiple value streams exist for distribution system support functions such as peak shaving, capacity firming, voltage support, and energy arbitrage.

“Productive Use of Energy in African Micro-Grids: Technical and Business Considerations”: In collaboration with USAID, this technical report examines best practices and business models for promoting productive energy use of microgrids in east Africa. From real load profile and customer data of Tanzanian microgrids, as well as case studies, such as a 10-kilowatt maize mill in Tanzania, this report performs techno-economic analysis on operational scenarios and summarizes the findings into a resource that entrepreneurs, governments, and non-governmental organizations can use to help design programs. Read more about microgrids in Africa.

“Hybrid Component and Configuration Model for Combined-Cycle Units in Unit Commitment Problem”: The use of combined-cycle gas turbines (CCGT) in power systems has been increasing, partly due to the flexibility of operating them in different modes, corresponding to different turbine combinations. Modeling this operational flexibility is split between three techniques, each with associated shortcomings. This paper, published in the Journal of Modern Power Systems and Clean Energy, suggests a hybrid approach between the component and configuration models for CCGT.

“Taxonomy for Evaluation of Distributed Control Strategies for Distributed Energy Resources (DERs)”: Future electrical power grids will increasingly require automation, due to growth in DERs. The term “distributed control” is commonly employed when referring to grid automation, with “distributed” being applied to very dissimilar types of control strategies, leading to a dilution of the concept’s meaning. This paper creates a taxonomy and design criteria to select and evaluate control strategies for DER applications. The authors then demonstrate the impact of choice of control architecture on the design criteria’s performance.

“A Fast All-Sky Radiation Model for Solar Applications with Narrowband Irradiances on Tilted surfaces (FARMS-NIT): Part I, The Clear-Sky Model”: FARMS is an efficient radiative transfer model that simulates clear-sky radiation and cloud transmittance and reflectance to compute irradiance for solar applications. This paper extends the FARMS model, which has recently been adapted for solar energy calculation in the NSRDB, to include radiative transfer models for particular bandwidths of radiation on titled surfaces (i.e., a PV panel).

Popular Mechanics Asks NREL Hydrogen Expert: Where Are All the Hydrogen Cars?

Keith Wipke, NREL’s laboratory program manager for fuel cell and hydrogen technologies, was recently quoted in a Popular Mechanics article that seeks to understand why hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles have yet to gain widespread traction in the U.S. With nearly twice as much mileage as a battery-powered electric vehicle, and an equal claim to clean energy, it is a reasonable question.

Wipke suggests that the problem is in infrastructure: “You’ve got to get a bunch more people involved and comfortable with the technology. It’s a slower process.”

And although hydrogen cars may be absent today, Wipke estimates that in a few decades they will be “pretty much everywhere.”

Q&A with Barry Mather: Bridging the Gap from Power Electronic Devices to Systems

As the group manager for Integrated Devices and Systems within NREL’s Power Systems Engineering Center and chair of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Power Electronics Society Denver chapter, Barry Mather considers himself an honest broker—balancing the needs of a reliable grid while also increasing the amount of distributed energy resources integrated into the grid. Read our Q&A with Mather to learn how he achieves this within his research group.

Workshop Convenes Industry Experts for ADMS Demonstration

On September 25-26, NREL hosted a workshop to demonstrate its advanced distribution management systems (ADMS) testbed, inviting utilities, vendors, and other national labs to provide feedback on the capability. The testbed, which uses actual grid-scale hardware, large-scale distribution system models, and advanced visualization to simulate real-world conditions, was deployed earlier this year at the ESIF to evaluate different use cases for utility partners.

The workshop was led by Laboratory Program Manager Murali Baggu and Senior Researcher Annabelle Pratt and provided attendees with an overview of NREL’s ADMS research capabilities and current projects that use the system. Projects include model improvement for Xcel Energy’s ADMS, integrated peak load management, and data-enhanced controls architecture for integrated distributed and centralized controls. Workshop attendees had the opportunity to provide feedback on the system and view a demonstration, witnessing a hardware-in-the-loop use case with multiple time-scale simulation in the ESIF control room, as well as a microgrid controller hardware-in-the-loop use case in the Energy Storage Laboratory.

Learn more about NREL’s ADMS research capabilities.

Crosscutting Grid Research Facilities Provide Industry Launch Pad for Utility-Scale Evaluation 

New grid integration technologies at NREL’s National Wind Technology Center (NWTC) have introduced a vast range in grid research capabilities—from multimegawatt-scale wind and solar technologies to advanced energy storage devices, transformers, and protection equipment.

At 305 acres, the enhanced grid research facilities at the NWTC have the capacity to generate more than 1.5 megawatts (MW) of solar energy, with the space to add additional PV arrays. Combine that with 7 MW of installed, large-scale wind turbines and battery systems that provide millisecond response times, and the NWTC’s capabilities eclipse what NREL is able to offer researchers and collaborators.

“To make the biggest impact in industry, we need to be able to conduct experiments at the scale relevant to utilities,” said Ben Kroposki, director of NREL’s Power Systems Engineering Center. “The NWTC is unique in the United States as a place where you actually have full-scale wind turbines with PV and batteries all in one location.”

Learn more about grid integration research at NWTC.