NREL Study Finds 5G Could Support Microgrids

June 6, 2024
“Millions of energy devices will become interconnected, and our research is showing the path to distributed, resilient, secure and energy-efficient operations building on the 5G foundation,” said Tony Markel, senior researcher and project lead at NREL.

The implementation of 5G, or fifth generation mobile network technology, promises to revolutionize a number of industries, according to a new report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and it’s well-suited to support microgrids.

With funding from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, NREL researchers created a 5G testbed to study how the technology worked with microgrids and distributed energy systems. 

Researchers created a model of a real-world military microgrid, including the solar arrays, battery systems, vehicle chargers and protection equipment found at an actual California base.

They then tested a number of scenarios via the 5G network such as grid outages, failure of a cell tower, a microgrid controller crash and recovery, congestion from other network devices and cyberintrusions.

They found that when the microgrid is designed to maintain power to both communications and critical loads, 5G wireless technology could support distributed controls and bolster the security and resilience of power systems.

“Our test scenarios were not only about controlling the power grid and microgrids for resilience but also about powering the 5G network itself,” said Brian Miller, electric power systems engineering lead at NREL. “If we can keep the grid running for resilient power, that, in turn, keeps the communications network operational.” 

A powerful combination of technologies

Still rolling out in many countries, 5G is designed to address the explosive growth in data and connectivity prevalent in modern society. It’s considerably faster, has lower latency, supports a higher density of connected devices in a given area and provides better coverage than 4G, which is still the predominant mobile network technology in many parts of the world.

NREL’s research on 5G and microgrids was funded by the DOD as part of its FutureG program, an initiative that aims to research and develop the future generations of wireless network technologies that will succeed 5G.

From the DOD perspective, these new technologies are critical to providing long-term economic, military and security advantages. The DOD is investigating how 5G could support expeditionary air base operations, agile combat employment and other rapid deployment scenarios.

NREL researchers found that the combination of 5G, distributed controls and a renewables-based microgrid could benefit more than just the military. Utilities could also leverage the technologies to support distributed controls and improve network security and the resilience of its power systems.

According to the report, “5G wireless communication, when using the implemented microgrid, maintained system resiliency to cyberattacks via our distributed controller when nodes were taken down.” As a result, the system not only successfully recovered, but it continued to operate as expected “at the edge between the primary and local controller.”

“Millions of energy devices will become interconnected, and our research is showing the path to distributed, resilient, secure and energy-efficient operations building on the 5G foundation,” said Tony Markel, senior researcher and project lead at NREL.

About the Author

Kathy Hitchens | Special Projects Editor

I work as a writer and special projects editor for Microgrid Knowledge. I have over 30 years of writing experience, working with a variety of companies in the renewable energy, electric vehicle and utility sector, as well as those in the entertainment, education, and financial industries. I have a BFA in Media Arts from the University of Arizona and a MBA from the University of Denver.