Distributed Grid Control of Flexible Loads and DERs for Optimized Provision of Synthetic Regulating Reserves

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Project Term:
03/25/2020 - 03/24/2022

Critical Need:

The infrastructure that defines the U.S. electric grid is based largely on pre-digital technologies developed in the first part of the 20th century. In subsequent decades, grid development has evolved through emphasis on safety, accessibility, and reliability to security and resiliency. Throughout this evolution, the grid mainly relied on centralized power plants and developed protocols to provide system reliability based on that model. However, the increasing use of renewable generation and distributed energy resources (DER), such as residential solar and home energy storage, along with customers’ changing energy usage patterns are leading to greater uncertainty and variability in the electric grid. New tools are required to create a flexible and modern electric grid that can meet this increase in renewable generation and DERs, while providing the quality of service, resiliency, and reliability that customers expect.

Project Innovation + Advantages:

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) has developed and prototyped a new architecture for distributed control and coordination of generation and load assets within a microgrid to provide frequency regulation services to the connected bulk power grid. The architecture’s decision-making capability relies on distributed computations over a cyber network, which is a radical departure from commercially available microgrid control solutions. UIUC will further de-risk its architecture by integrating the algorithms with and implementing them on an industrial-grade distributed computing hardware platform. The result will be an ultra-resilient distributed decision-making solution that can robustly handle (1) failures in computing control nodes, (2) unreliable communication links, (3) delays in transmitted data, and (4) imperfect knowledge of the number of generation and load assets in the power network.

Potential Impact:

If successful, projects included in the NODES Program will develop innovative hardware and software solutions to integrate and coordinate generation, transmission, and end-use energy systems at various points on the electric grid. These control systems will enable real-time coordination between distributed generation, such as rooftop and community solar assets and bulk power generation, while proactively shaping electric load. This will alleviate periods of costly peak demand, reduce wasted energy, and increase renewables penetration on the grid.


Innovations from this program would help the U.S. grid assimilate at least 50% of renewable generation and provide system reliability and resiliency while managing emerging energy generation and consumption patterns.


The addition of flexible loads and DERs into the U.S. grid could offset 3.3 quads of thermal generation and displace 290 million tons of CO2 emissions.


Using the NODES approach to integrate flexible loads and DERs into the grid could replace 4.5 GW of spinning reserves (i.e. generation capacity on stand-by in case of outages and unforeseen intermittency), a value of $3.3 billion per year. A more efficient and reliable grid would help protect U.S. businesses from costly power outages and brownouts.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Mario Garcia-Sanz
Project Contact:
Alejandro Dominguez-Garcia
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