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Q&A with Greg Martin: Real-Time Operations of the ESIF

November 30, 2018

Portrait of Greg Martin.


Greg Martin is the Research Operations Engineering group manager for energy systems integration. He has an electrical engineering background with expertise in power electronics, advanced inverters, and power systems and how they connect to the grid. Greg sat with us to answer some questions about his work at NREL. The following has been edited for length.

What are your primary responsibilities at the Energy Systems Integration Facility?

As group manager for the ESI engineering operations team, I oversee 11 engineers who provide research support, operational project execution, and laboratory stewardship for advanced research capabilities buildout and operation. One of my main responsibilities is strategic visioning and planning for the ESIF, such as equipment procurement. It’s important that we continually upgrade our systems and bring in new capabilities to execute cutting-edge research. I am also responsible for oversight of design control and system engineering for a large hydrogen research system and electrical research system.

What are you currently most excited about?

I’m currently collaborating with research organizations to get lab-wide support for an advanced network-in-the-loop capability that aligns with our power-hardware-in-the-loop (PHIL) capability. With PHIL we can simulate a large-scale energy grid and then run some of the key hardware in the lab in real time with that simulation—it’s a powerful capability. I believe the next step is to look at operational and information technology networks that are overlaid on these electric grid systems—and that control and dispatch them. To do this real-time simulation and integrated hardware validation and experimentation at the ESIF would be to create a world-class capability that nobody else has yet. This kind of methodology will allow NREL to run resiliency and security scenarios against the smart grid and deliver the know-how for responsible, resilient, and secure deployment of all the advanced technologies being developed.

I’m also excited about developing hydrogen technologies for both transportation and capture of low-cost electrical energy. Today, we curtail some of the wind or solar energy we generate—electrolysis provides a way to capture that energy by creating hydrogen which can be used in fuel cells for cars or buildings, in making plastics or fertilizer, and in making hydrocarbon fuels—and hopefully in the process consuming some of our surplus carbon dioxide.

Running these large integrated PHIL systems and cutting-edge hydrogen systems takes a community. At the ESIF, we have been able to deliver a highly agile and efficient team of highly competent technical people to make these large-scale tests happen. We let the researchers focus on the research, the analysis, and the modeling, while we take care of the lab for them. It’s a model that could help increase efficiency, facilitate further strategic partnerships with industry, and help NREL deliver on even more critical research.

How could this advanced network-in-the-loop be built out further?

To extend this capability further, we’re looking at tying those kinds of experimentation technologies with energy systems at the wind site. We have some distribution system integration assets at the wind site that generate higher power, such as the wind turbines, batteries, and solar arrays, which we could tie in with what we do at the ESIF. To go even further with this capability, we could engage other national laboratories and strategic partners that want to get involved in distributed real-time simulations that involve power hardware, advanced grid technologies, and resiliency and security evaluation goals. To a large extent, the technology to do this exists. But we will need NREL expertise to engineer, configure, tailor, and design new methods of doing this kind of real-time computing, co-simulation, and network hardware-in-the-loop.

What other new capabilities at the ESIF are you working on?

We are moving ahead with some updates to buildings technologies capabilities. We’re expanding the support of residential building research into a larger lab space by enabling mock-ups of commercial building environments that involve advanced building controls; heating, ventilating, and air conditioning; and grid integration. We’re also moving ahead quickly with energy storage applications for transportation that will look at controls to determine optimal ways to dispatch large amounts of electrical vehicle charging and how that integrates with buildings and the grid. We at the ESIF want to help these technologies become synergistic- and deployment-ready for American companies to run with.

What do you see for the future of the ESIF?

The ESIF is the real boots-on-the-ground interface for people, and I think it will continue to stand as the flagship interface from a collaboration standpoint. We need to make sure it continues to inspire and exercise imaginations around what’s possible. In the past, we’ve stayed ahead of things and been way out in front; however, the industry and adoption of these technologies is happening so quickly that the gap is closing a little. For the ESIF to stay ahead, we need to go even further into the seemingly futuristic, guided by NREL research centers and DOE. I think the ESIF will stand as a beacon for bringing people together around advanced grid technologies, and it will continue to be a hub for large-scale, distributed, real-time grid technology simulation and hardware integration efforts.