DERConnect will enable researchers to test integration of renewable energy and EV batteries into the power grid

The National Science Foundation has awarded $39 million to a team of engineers and computer scientists at the University of California San Diego to build a test bed to better understand how to integrate distributed energy sources and EV batteries into the power grid.

“We will be replicating the entire California power grid on one campus,” said Jan Kleissl, a Professor at UC San Diego and the project’s principal investigator.

The creation of the DERConnect test bed addresses a need for large-scale testing capabilities across universities, national labs, industry, utility companies and Independent System Operators to validate future technologies for autonomous energy grids in real-word scenarios.

Most utilities struggle with the fact that renewable and distributed energy sources are not as stable as legacy sources such as natural gas power plants. For example, the output of solar panels and wind turbines depends on the weather. At the other end of the grid, EVs need charging for only a certain amount of time every day. Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology could enable them to be used to store energy from renewables.

Professor Kleissl points out the difficulty of demonstrating the economics and impact of distributed energy resources. A test bed that incorporates real-world communications challenges is essential to develop new distributed control theories, algorithms and applications.

The envisioned test bed will be based on a microgrid encompassing distributed energy resources, including energy storage, EVs and independent electrical and thermal systems in buildings. It will be monitored and controlled by networking systems that make it accessible to local and remote researchers as a programmable platform.

DERConnect will include more than 2,500 distributed energy resources, or DERs, on the campus’s microgrid, including a fuel cell and solar panels, a dozen classroom and office buildings, and 300 EV charging stations.

The bulk of the construction will take place this coming academic year. Researchers hope to be able to begin testing their equipment in 2022, and to make the test bed available to outside research teams and industry by 2025.

Source: UC San Diego