Integrated energy capabilities at the Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF) are helping researchers address the unique challenges that are shaping the electric grid today—and discovering solutions that will shape the future.
These capabilities include tools and approaches to enable better integration with the electric grid and other energy infrastructure, diversification of integrated energy streams for resilience, cybersecurity risk management, and customer participation in smart load management and energy generation. NREL's integrated energy research capabilities are available across six indoor high-bay laboratories, three outdoor test areas, and an associated control and visualization room.
The ESIF offers these unique capabilities in integrated energy:
High-fidelity testing means real resources. Hundreds of commercially available devices at the ESIF—inverters, electric vehicles, batteries, home energy systems, solar panels, fuel cells, and more—can be integrated in-the-loop with simulations for realistic experimentation.
Taking a step closer to real systems, ESIF laboratories connect simulations with power hardware that partners use in the field or technologies they hope to soon incorporate. Real-time simulation with power-hardware-in-the-loop brings any-scale systems into the laboratory, where technologies can be tested at real power and operation, and all other dynamics can be simulated.
Grid modernization is a unique challenge for each utility. NREL's advanced distribution management system test bed helps utilities explore their options, try out new controls, create new applications, accommodate storage and renewables, and safely reimagine their operations before going live. The test bed leads utilities through critical decision making to create a functional, fitting, and modern management system.
The ESIF contains the most useful resource for testing the cybersecurity of energy systems—an integrated emulation environment that links cyber and physical networks for real-time analysis. Hundreds of real power devices at the ESIF can be connected to simulate cyber events, helping partners protect the operations and information across their systems.
At the ESIF, hydrogen electrolysis is studied as energy storage, a renewable energy resource, an asset for managing grid stability, and more. Hydrogen energy has transformative potential for energy systems, and the ESIF's electrolysis and production research systems are equipped with at-scale resources to study how stakeholders can make the most of that potential.
Transportation testing at the ESIF highlights the importance of mobility-to-grid modernization. Electric vehicles and industry-leading infrastructure for fast charging are connected on-site with resources to research the interplay of electrified transportation and the broader power system. Partners can preview how vehicle charging and use dynamics will affect their systems and how such technologies can be optimized for stability and efficiency.
Hydrogen fueling research at the ESIF keeps pace with progress in the market—new fueling infrastructure and new controls that unlock deeper coordination with the grid. The ESIF connects hydrogen vehicles with the surrounding energy system to find how we can provide the best for both while creating industry momentum toward hydrogen energy.
Microgrids are regarded as fast and resilient systems—they are relevant across many use cases, and they enable the integration of renewable energy and storage. Partners can validate these qualities and more on modern energy assets at the ESIF’s microgrid evaluation platform. Real generators and renewable resources are integrated with a microgrid controller, and cyber-physical simulations create unmatched insight for partners developing their own microgrid solutions.
Buildings are central players in energy systems modernization. The ESIF offers integrated commercial buildings containing advanced building loads, including large heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems; refrigeration; and advanced controls. Behind-the-meter technologies abound, including building thermal integration with storage, electrical load-shaping controls, and systems integration that make buildings lower cost, more efficient, and better connected to the modern grid.
Energy security requires a system-wide perspective—an analysis of cyber-physical connections and an approach that considers both physical controls and information networks. Energy security research at the ESIF is concerned with keeping industry steps ahead by developing advanced protections against modern threats—for both operational and information technologies and on systems that mix modern and legacy technologies.
The ESIF unites innovations across domains. Bioenergy enters grid modernization through the ESIF, where a two-story-tall bioreactor is integrated with hydrogen and renewable energy generation to create a novel approach to energy storage. The bioreactor provides utility-scale testing capabilities for transforming excess electricity into natural gas.
The ESIF approaches a one-stop center for grid innovation. This includes utility-scale electricity distribution, for which the ESIF has experimentation capabilities with distribution lines, advanced sensors, transformers, and circuits; and a connection to utility-scale bulk energy generation in the form of emulated solar and wind sources.
Consumers are driving a grid transformation from the bottom up, but with growth in residential technologies, there is still uncertainty about what happens behind the meter. The ESIF replicates residential environments including everything from a smart meter down to commercially available water heaters and washing machines. At the ESIF, partners can understand both the customers and the devices that they are integrating into their homes and the grid.
The ESIF can replicate the real power dynamics of a distribution system and open them up for experimentation. Power systems emulation is a foundational capability at the ESIF and is plug-and-play ready throughout the facility, allowing researchers to study real power flows from realistic grid operations.
As the central nervous system of the ESIF, high-performance computing pervades nearly every experiment in energy systems. The Eagle supercomputer powers complex simulations and visualizations across domains and depends on a team of on-site specialists to translate partners' ideas and data into programs. High-performance computing at the ESIF is the necessary ingredient behind large-scale, high-fidelity studies and the visual representations that bring them to life for stakeholders.
From microgrids to buildings to communities, the ESIF is creating capabilities that maximize the efficiency and reliability of power systems. On-site hydrocarbon-fueled generators are tapped for heat recovery and connected to emulated systems at the ESIF to test and improve the potential of combined heat and power.
Distributed generation, storage, and grid services are all equally valuable to vehicles and ships as data centers and corporations. Industry is turning to hydrogen fuel cells for their versatility and efficiency. Integrated hydrogen fuel cell studies at the ESIF are evaluating the technology's wide-scale application and helping vendors validate new fuel cell designs.
Whether during a winter in Minnesota or a summer in Arizona, energy devices are expected to operate reliably across the nation. The ESIF's environmental chambers create realistic conditions that inform device manufactures, utilities, and customers how new technologies will truly perform when integrated into power systems.