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Smart and Flexible Microgrid

University of Tennessee (UT)
Program: 
ARPA-E Award: 
$3,400,000
Location: 
Knoxville, TN
Project Term: 
06/24/2016 to 12/23/2020
Project Status: 
ACTIVE
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 

Severe weather events can disrupt the grid, closing schools, shutting down businesses, impeding emergency services, and leaving millions of customers without electricity for weeks. Superstorm Sandy is a recent example that resulted in billions of dollars of economic losses. Microgrids (MGs) contain Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) and can operate in both grid-connected and islanded modes to significantly improve reliability and resilience of the power grid. Common features of most MGs are renewable energy DERs, typically solar, and energy storage and/or backup generators. A MG controller is essential for controlling the transition between the grid-connected and islanded operation modes, and also for controlling the system operation during the islanded mode. However, almost all MGs currently in use are for special sites, including military bases, university or business campuses, and demonstration test sites. There is an urgent need to develop cost-effective design and controller solutions for community based MGs to promote integration of renewable DERs, while enhancing the grid reliability and resilience.

Project Innovation + Advantages: 

University of Tennessee (UT), along with their partners, will develop a new type of microgrid design, along with its corresponding controller. Like most other microgrids, it will have solar PV-based distributed generation and be capable of grid-connected or disconnected (islanded) operations. Unlike other microgrids, this design will incorporate smart grid capabilities including intelligent switches and high-speed communication links. The included controller will accommodate and utilize these smart grid features for enhanced performance and reduced costs. The microgrid controller will be open source, offering a flexible and robust development and implementation environment. The microgrid and controller design will also be scalable for different geographic areas, load sizes, distributed generation source number and types, and even multiple microgrids within an area.

Potential Impact: 

If successful, innovations from the project could improve grid resiliency, lower costs, and promote the growth and integration of distributed energy resources.

Security: 

Smart and flexible microgrids can help cut annual critical load interruption time from natural disasters and other disruptions by 98% from 50 minutes to 1 minute.

Environment: 

The team's innovations could enable expanded use of microgrids and associated solar PV, which could contribute to a 1% reduction in CO2 emissions. 

Economy: 

The proposed microgrids could reduce the likelihood of costly power outages.

Contacts
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Mario Garcia-Sanz
Project Contact: 
Prof. Fei (Fred) Wang
Partners
Electric Power Board
National Instruments
Electric Power Research Institute, Inc. (EPRI)
Green Energy Corporation
Release Date: 
11/23/2015