Real-time Distributed Energy Resource Optimization

Project Term:
07/19/2016 - 01/18/2020

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 National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) lead team will develop a comprehensive distribution network management framework that unifies real-time voltage and frequency control at the home/DER controllers’ level with network-wide energy management at the utility/aggregator level. The distributed control architecture will continuously steer operating points of DERs toward optimal solutions of pertinent optimization problems, while dynamically procuring and dispatching synthetic reserves based on current system state and forecasts of ambient and load conditions. The control algorithms invoke simple mathematical operations that can be embedded on low-cost microcontrollers, and enable distributed decision making on time scales that match the dynamics of distribution systems with high renewable integration.

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:
Dr. Andrey Bernstein
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:


Harvard University
Solar City
Southern California Edison
California Institute of Technology
University of Minnesota

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