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Real-Time Optimization and Control of Next-Generation Distribution Infrastructure

This project develops innovative, real-time optimization and control methods for next-generation power distribution systems with high levels of distributed energy resources, including electric vehicles, energy storage devices, controllable loads, and renewable energy systems.

Illustration of distributed energy resources acting as a virtual power plant in a one-line diagram.

The distributed algorithms developed in this project enable distribution systems to emulate virtual power plants by providing services to the grid while maximizing customers'; and utilities' performance objectives and ensuring that electrical limits are enforced.

Traditional approaches to regulating frequency and maintaining reliable operation of transmission systems leverage primary frequency response, automatic generation control, and regulation services provided by large-scale synchronous generators. In the future, dispatchable distributed energy resources may supplement generation-side capabilities by providing additional flexibility in regulating frequency and maintaining reliable system operation. With this vision, this project is developing algorithmic frameworks for distributed energy resource aggregations in distribution feeders to emulate a virtual power plant that effectively provides regulation services to the bulk system while maximizing customers’ and utilities’ performance objectives and ensuring that electrical limits are enforced throughout the distribution system. 

NREL is working to offer unprecedented flexibility in managing net load by:

  • Optimizing network-wide operation and regulating frequency and voltages in the face of volatility induced by varying renewable energy systems and uncontrolled loads
  • Facilitating high renewable integration with optimality and reliability guarantees
  • Meeting power quality requirements and operational constraints
  • Enabling distribution systems to emulate virtual power plants  that effectively provide regulation services at multiple temporal scales to the main grid
  • Developing distributed algorithms that enable customers, utility companies, and aggregators to pursue their own socio-economic objectives while coordinating in real time to ensure a reliable and flexible system-wide operation.

To achieve these objectives, researchers are developing a system-theoretic distribution network management framework that unifies real-time voltage and frequency control with network-wide energy management under an integrated framework. This will ensure optimal procurement, dispatch, and control of synthetic reserves at multiple temporal and spatial scales. This developed architecture includes:

  • A control platform for utility companies for real-time management of utility-owned assets
  • An innovative tool for aggregators to transform neighborhoods into virtual power plants
  • A platform for end customers to minimize energy payments while partaking in grid operations.

The project team includes the  National Renewable Energy Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, University of Minnesota, Harvard University, and Southern California Edison.


Emiliano Dall'Anese

Distributed Controls Team Lead | 303-275-3065