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Q&A with Adam Warren: Expanding Capabilities in Energy Systems Integration

February 28, 2018

Adam Warren is the director of NREL’s Integrated Applications Center (IAC). The IAC accelerates energy transitions by addressing technical, financial, and policy hurdles, and has been newly incorporated into the Energy Systems Integration (ESI) directorate at NREL.

Warren has a Ph.D. in chemical engineering and is an adjunct professor at Colorado School of Mines, where he teaches Introduction to Energy as part of the Energy Minor Program.

We sat with Warren for a Q&A to learn about current work in IAC, and where it fits in the broader world of ESI. The following has been edited for length.

How does IAC support work in ESI?

We work in the overlap between technology, policy, and business models. I’d say we help expand the definition of “integrated” in ESI to include the policy aspects, business models and the markets that shape the power sector.

We’re all a team, and we’ve partnered with ESI researchers on a number of interesting projects over the years. For example, we were engaged in the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative from the very beginning. With supportive policies in place, the distributed generation market just exploded — so quickly that the local utility, HECO, worried about the ability of the grid to handle so much solar energy. NREL worked with HECO and SolarCity to conduct hardware-in-the-loop testing to ensure that the system could manage it. It really does take the right technologies, policies, and markets, and all of those working together, to accelerate an energy system transformation.

What work are you excited about right now?

I’m excited about energy resiliency. For our partners at the Department of Defense, this means that our bases can power themselves using microgrids should a blackout occur. And these same technologies and tools will help Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) rebuild better after Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Our teams have been working in the USVI to determine how they can rebuild more resiliently, so that the next time a hurricane comes through, their systems can absorb its impact and react more quickly to repower homes and businesses.

Of course technology is just part of the answer — with today’s policies, the value of resiliency is uncertain, so we have an LDRD investment to develop a platform that quantifies resiliency: What if you could “measure” the value of resiliency, and could include that value in your in decision making? You could use that to size your back up system; size your battery system or your PV system. And all of this has been done with REopt.

What’s in the works for REopt?

REopt is IAC’s flagship tool, and we’ve expanded REopt greatly over the last few years. Recently, we released a “do it yourself” version, REopt Lite. The Lite version takes some capabilities of REopt and makes them available to developers, policy makers, and whoever needs it. In the next year, we hope to add resiliency tools to this online version of REopt. And our future investments in REopt will include stochastic models. For example, you can tell it “I want to be 90% sure that I can stand an outage of at least two days.”

We’ll continue to develop the capabilities of REopt, adding in considerations for energy efficiency, deferrable loads, and power quality — we’ll continue migrating those changes into the online, Lite version.

Parting words?

We live in exciting times. The prices of solar, storage, and other advanced energy technologies are falling faster than expected, and these changes will transform our energy sector. I’m so fortunate to work with the smart people who are going to support this transformation.