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Energy Systems Integration Newsletter

NREL cybersecurity analysts working in the ESIF visualization lab.

Joshua Rivera and other NREL cybersecurity analysts work in the ESIF visualization lab, leveraging a multilayer emulation tool to visualize interdependencies between a virtual power system and communications network. Photo by Dennis Schroeder/NREL

NREL Analysts Help Students Battle Real-Time Cyberattacks, Gain Skills

When a series of cyberattacks surged through the Denver Tech Center, NREL Cybersecurity Analysts Joshua Rivera, Adarsh Hasandka, and Anuj Sanghvi could just watch—and wait. They were aware that a group of hackers, known as the Red Team, were running amok in a computer infrastructure at Regis University's Denver Tech Center campus March 8-9. The clock was ticking, and the only lines of defense were young, relatively inexperienced college students.

Not only did those students have to defend their computer systems in real time, they also had to write succinct business reports to justify their actions so their superiors could understand their responses.

Once those business plans were finished, the NREL analysts could finally contribute. That's because they were volunteers on the Gold Team at the eighth Rocky Mountain Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (RMCCDC), a regional event that gives eight college teams the chance to test their cybersecurity skills.

Read the full story about the competition.

Powering our Research with Power-Hardware-in-the-Loop

Researchers at NREL are using power-hardware-in-the-loop (PHIL) to address the financial and operational risk of installing new grid-connected technologies. When new hardware is introduced, there is a risk that it will act unpredictably when exposed to real-world grid operation conditions. Utilities, devices manufacturers, and customers are looking for ways to understand how their new technologies will perform before actually connecting them to the electric grid.

PHIL offers researchers the ability to simulate real-world conditions and save time, money, and resources. Learn more by viewing a 2-minute video on PHIL research capabilities at the ESIF.

REopt™ Lite Offering New Custom Features

The latest update to NREL's REopt Lite™ Web tool offers a wide range of existing or hypothetical utility rates and helps identify systems to sustain specific critical loads during a site outage. Building owners and energy managers looking to evaluate renewable energy and storage economics for their site can use REopt Lite's custom utility rate tariff capabilities and an integrated critical load profile builder—new features that allow more detailed energy analysis without leaving the tool. Learn more.

The Importance and Future of Grid-Interactive Buildings

Buildings consume approximately 75% of all electricity produced in most developed economies. As leading consumers of electricity, buildings must be a dynamic part of the solution for creating our new energy future. Grid-interactive buildings are paving the way for providing safe, comfortable, and productive spaces that are also energy efficient.

Watch this 2-minute video of 2018–2019 ASHRAE President and NREL Senior Research Advisor Sheila Hayter talk about energy consumption and how grid-interactive buildings can work with providers to improve efficiency.

Weighing Solutions to Cut Water Use

Cooling towers are huge consumers of both potable water—an estimated 28% of the nation's potable water within commercial buildings alone—and chemicals to control scale, corrosion, and biological growth. These factors have inspired creative water treatment products, which have recently been shown by NREL to achieve reductions in water use, chemical treatment, and operation-and-maintenance labor hours.

The tech validation was sponsored by the U.S. General Service Administration's (GSA's) Proving Ground program, a tech acceleration program directed at emerging building technologies. The technologies that were assessed took aim at reducing cooling tower water consumption, improving cooling tower water quality, and meeting GSA's life-cycle cost requirements. A product from Water Conservation Technology International presents a proprietary salt-based softener, effectively removing the need for standard chemicals. Another from Silver Bullet photochemically oxidizes minerals and contaminants in cooling tower water, killing bacteria and breaking down calcium buildup to mitigate scaling.

The studies—one that compares three different technologies and two others that demonstrate products from Silver Bullet and Dynamic Water Technologies—confirm that innovative cooling tower water treatment technologies can reduce on-site water usage and the amount of chemicals discharged into the city water system. Qualities such as location-dependence and installation of these technologies, however, remain barriers to the widespread use of any single solution.

The Increasing Integration of Distributed Energy Resources into the Electric Grid

NREL Group Manager Barry Mather served as guest editor and published two articles in a recent issue of IEEE Power and Energy Magazine about the increasing integration of distributed energy resources (DERs) into the electric grid. In "Going to the Next Level: The Growth of Distributed Energy Resources," Mather focuses on how DERs, specifically solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, have evolved considerably to meet the needs of the power system from a planning and operations perspective. DERs play a major role in the power system, and utilities are now faced with consistent impacts that were never an issue when relatively small numbers of PVs were first being installed. "On the Sunny Side: Integrating Solar Energy at Increasing Rates" also discusses the impressive continued growth of PVs being installed at the distribution level. In the United States, recent estimates of the PV share connected to the distribution system versus the transmission system have shown that 50%–60% is distribution connected.

NREL, SDG&E Microgrid Collaboration Featured in Los Angeles Times

In a recent story in the Los Angeles Times, NREL's Martha Symko-Davies discussed the work NREL has been doing in partnership with the San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E) in Borrego Springs, California.

This collaboration has brought into existence one of the world's most advanced microgrids, which has the capability to help California cope with wildfires, a serious issue of concern to many homes and businesses in fire-prone areas. The microgrid combines solar panels, diesel generators, energy storage, and an ultracapacitor to power Borrego Springs.

With blackouts often a result of wildfires, the Borrego Spring microgrid is able to alleviate some of those concerns by providing power even when electricity is not flowing through the single transmission line. Read the full story to learn what other benefits the microgrid brings to the table for Californians.

Look for NREL Experts at the 2019 DOE Cyber Conference

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is hosting its annual Cyber Conference in Denver this year, bringing the DOE enterprise, the federal interagency, academia, international partners, and private industry together to advance innovation in cybersecurity and information technology. Stop by the NREL booth to learn more about our cyber-related research at the Energy Systems Integration Facility, including advanced power and communications network emulation and modular cryptography for distributed energy systems. The event will provide an interactive forum for communication, collaboration, and training. This year's event will be held at Denver's downtown Hyatt Regency May 13-16.

Utility-Scale Battery Storage: When, Where, Why and How Much?

NREL's Paul Denholm presented a recent webinar that explored considerations for utility-scale batteries on the grid and the potential role of battery energy storage systems (BESS). The webinar was organized in partnership with the Clean Energy Solutions Center, NREL, and USAID. Learn more and watch the webinar

New ESI Publications

"Online Primal-Dual Methods with Measurement Feedback for Time-Varying Convex Optimization" This paper pursues algorithms that are fundamental to real-time distributed energy resource control, among other applications. In the paper, NREL's prolific theorists Andrey Bernstein and Emiliano Dall'Anese (now assistant professor at the University of Colorado Boulder) apply recent optimization techniques to the control of networked systems, such as a communications system or an electric grid. Their developments, published in IEEE Transactions on Signal Processing, adapt optimization methods to allow for feedback from systems in the form of measurements and for possible use in a distributed network.

"Decentralized Wind Uncertainty Management: Alternating Direction Method of Multipliers Based Distributionally-Robust Chance Constrained Optimal Power Flow"
The variability of wind power creates a special challenge for system operators who need to match system generation with load. This paper proposes a new model for managing uncertainty that optimizes power flow in a distributed—rather than centralized—approach. The model obtains solutions much faster than traditional techniques, regardless of the wind power plant size or the number of wind power plants being optimized. Results also show that under a high wind power penetration level, the proposed model leads to lower operating costs. This work was published in Applied Energy.

"Occupancy Sensing in Buildings: A Review of Data Analytics Approaches"
This review concerns the varied approaches for inferring building occupancy. Published in Energy and Buildings, the article provides a background on the field's hardware and techniques, including the data collection and cleaning, algorithms, and data structure of methods most employed by researchers. Emphasis is placed on algorithmic characterization in the three substudies of building occupancy: detection, counting, and tracking.