Microgrid Configurations Increasingly Used in Smart Grid Research

Feb. 8, 2016
Research labs are increasingly using microgrid configurations to test solar, storage, inverters and other smart grid technology.

More than half of the labs that responded to a survey from the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel are testing solar, inverters, energy storage or some combination of the three, and half are doing so in a microgrid configuration, according to SGIP.

SGIP surveyed 35 utilities, national laboratories, universities and technology solution providers between March and September 2015, looking at what smart grid technologies US test beds are studying.

The microgrid test bed activity reflects the fact that research about renewable energy and energy storage lends itself to microgrids, said Aaron Smallwood, director of technology operations at SGIP.

“Microgrid technology is maturing and becoming more commercial and adopted by utilities,” he said. “Rather than having to simulate a grid, we can do research in a microgrid. It lends itself well to test beds.”

Solar and storage are getting a lot of attention in test beds because the solar industry is growing, and there’s a need to understand how to integrate it into the grid. “Wind had a big growth curve through 2016,” he said. “We’ll see a similar growth curve with solar. The cost is going down, and people’s experience is going up.”

SGIP is very involved in Duke’s test bed research into the Open Field Message Bus and Coalition of the Willing, he said.

“In terms of what people want to use test beds for, there’s been a lot of interest around what Duke is doing at Mt. Holly as it relates to the whole messaging protocol and being able to have secure, fast, reliable communications around the field,” said Gabrielle Puccio, vice president, public relations for SGIP.

In addition to identifying the focus on test bed research in microgrids, the SGIP North American Test Bed Survey found that test beds are willing to collaborate to help accelerate and cut the costs of smart grid modernization. Ninety-one percent of the respondents to the survey said they’re open to collaboration.

The number of smart grid labs is on the rise, partially in response to Superstorm Sandy, the study found. The average age of labs that responded to the survey was six years, while utility and industry labs had been up and running less than 3.5 years.

Many of the test beds focus on distributed energy and microgrids because of state renewable generation targets and heightened concern about resiliency following Superstorm Sandy, according to SGIP

SGIP was recently chosen to take part in four projects as part of the US Department of Energy’s $220 million grid modernization funding awards, said Smallwood. The DOE’s Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium funding aims to strengthen regional grid strategies while identifying a national strategy.

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About the Author

Lisa Cohn | Contributing Editor

I focus on the West Coast and Midwest. Email me at [email protected]

I’ve been writing about energy for more than 20 years, and my stories have appeared in EnergyBiz, SNL Financial, Mother Earth News, Natural Home Magazine, Horizon Air Magazine, Oregon Business, Open Spaces, the Portland Tribune, The Oregonian, Renewable Energy World, Windpower Monthly and other publications. I’m also a former stringer for the Platts/McGraw-Hill energy publications. I began my career covering energy and environment for The Cape Cod Times, where Elisa Wood also was a reporter. I’ve received numerous writing awards from national, regional and local organizations, including Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Willamette Writers, Associated Oregon Industries, and the Voice of Youth Advocates. I first became interested in energy as a student at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, where I helped design and build a solar house.

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