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Research Highlights

Beg, Borrow, and Share—A Unique Solution to Balance the Power Grid

PNNL project team wins Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy funding

January 2016
How to Make a Modern Grid
Under the project, residents and companies alike will be able to voluntarily enroll their distributed resources—such as these solar panels—in return for incentives.

The electric grid has to balance power supply and demand nearly in real-time, requiring power plants to adjust on a second-by-second basis. This instantaneous balance is made significantly more complex by renewable energy such as wind and solar, which add more uncertainty and variability.

The Multi-scale Incentive-Based Control of Distributed Assets project is proposing a unique solution to this growing problem: employing the millions of distributed energy resources that already exist, such as solar panels on rooftops and heating and cooling systems in buildings. The new method works by asking companies, citizens, and others to voluntarily enroll their distributed resources, which include batteries, smart appliances, electric cars, solar panels, and heating & cooling systems. In return, owners of participating resources would be offered incentives to enroll their devices. Sensors and controls would be installed on enrolled resources to detect and alter their operations as needed. The sensors would allow resources to communicate through a cooperative decision-making platform, where information about the power needs of the grid and individual distributed resources are exchanged.

"Our new approach to balancing the power grid offers a great deal of flexibility and the potential to increase system reliability," said PNNL engineer Karan Kalsi, who is leading the project. "It would give the future power grid the ability to quickly take on and shed power, which would also enable us to incorporate more intermittent renewable energy into the nation's power mix."

The PNNL project recently was awarded a total of about $2.7 million from DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E. Approximately $1.4 million of the funding will go to PNNL, and an additional $1.3 million of the project's expenses will be covered with cost sharing from project partners. Project partners include United Technologies Research Center, GE’s Grid Solutions (formerly Alstom Grid), Southern California Edison, PJM and California Independent System Operator (also known as CaISO).

For more information, see the PNNL News Release.

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