A Zondits Interview: Fraunhofer CSE

evaluation landscape
Kelly O’Connell, ERS, for Zondits

Fraunhofer CSEZondits recently had the opportunity to speak with Matt Kromer, the Director of the Grid Integration Group and Co-Principal Investigator of the SHINES and SunDial project at Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems CSE. Fraunhofer CSE is an applied research and development laboratory dedicated to building tomorrow’s energy future today. Their staff’s expertise in solar photovoltaics, energy-efficient smart buildings, and grid technologies provides a platform for deeply integrating distributed energy resources through collaborative research and development with private companies, government entities, and academic institutions.

The SHINES project is funded by the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) SunShot Initiative as part of a larger DOE investment to develop and demonstrate integrated photovoltaic (PV) and energy storage solutions that are scalable, secure, reliable, and cost-effective. The SunDial system, developed by Fraunhofer CSE, is a tool for coordinating disparate distributed energy resources (DERs) towards a single control objective. The way the system is being deployed uses a combination of solar PV, energy storage, and intelligent load management to help address challenges with high penetration of solar while maximizing value for the system owner.

1. Partnering with EnerNOC, one of the world’s largest demand response providers, seems like the perfect fit. How will your Facility Load Aggregation and Management Engine (FLAME) integrate with and change their current technologies? How will your system affect the demand response market at full scale?

The FLAME serves as an additional application layer that sits on top of EnerNOC’s standard energy intelligence platforms. The idea is to enable demand response (or more generally, dynamic load management) to be transacted at a local scale – like a distribution feeder or substation – to facilitate the integration of renewable generation. 

2. In the future, if/when the SunDial project has allowed deep integration of solar PV into the grid, how will it change the daily routine for grid operators and independent service operators (ISOs)? How will they interact with your central control device, the Global Scheduler, to maintain grid reliability?

The answer to this question is very context-specific: The Global Scheduler is designed to be deployable to serve a number of different use cases, which vary based on who owns the Global Scheduler and what their constraints or objectives are. 

For example, one potential-use case would be as an aggregation platform for an independent power producer (IPP), such as a PV plant owner. In this case, the Global Scheduler would interact with ISOs in much the same way that IPPs currently interact with ISOs: it can offer demand, energy, or ancillary services into different ISO-level markets. Other use cases could entail using the Global Scheduler to minimize energy costs for customers, or to alleviate local demand constraints for a utility. 

One distinction is that the Global Scheduler offers a mechanism for distribution utilities to manage local issues with high penetration renewables on the power distribution system. These could take the form of, for example, fixed limits on backfeed on a particular feeder, a request to follow a particular load shape, or scheduling local reserve capacity to be available on a particularly high-demand day. 

From a business model point of view, there are quite a few ways that these objectives could be actualized. For example, a third party could engage in a bilateral contract to offer these types of services to a distribution utility during critical periods; a utility could impose these conditions as a condition to interconnect; or a utility might directly own the system and use it to satisfy its operational objectives directly. 

In each of these cases, however, the Global Scheduler can be configured to satisfy a combination of local AND ISO objectives in a user-defined priority order. (For example, a local backfeed constraint might be configured as a top priority, while maximizing revenue in an ISO market might be a secondary objective.) 

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3. Microgrids have been gaining popularity in recent years due to their autonomous capabilities during grid failures. How will your SunDial system integrate with microgrids? In a disaster scenario, will microgrids that are connected to the Global Scheduler still be able to operate independently?

At its core, the SunDial system is a tool for integrating disparate DERs to act towards a single unified control objective in a coordinated fashion. From the point of view of microgrids, this means that the Global Scheduler could either (1) act as an aggregation service provider to a microgrid control platform – in which case the microgrid controller would specify an objective, and the Global Scheduler would deploy its assets to meet this objective; or (2) the Global Scheduler’s capability could be extended in the future to act as a microgrid control platform in its own right. The Global Scheduler does not currently encompass microgrid control. 

4. There are several other companies that are working on similar projects within the SHINES program. Do you foresee any collaboration with any of the other SHINES projects in the future?

We have engaged in a number of discussions with other SHINES awardees to discuss ways that we might collaborate as the projects move forward, in particular related to data standards and system interoperability. Many of the teams are addressing similar 

challenges with respect to forecasting and coordinating disparate resources, so ensuring that there is a common framework for distributed devices to communicate this information is a critical enabler to facilitate widespread adoption. 

5. What do you expect to be your biggest challenge moving forward?

One of the key challenges relates to coordination with and the extent to which one can rely on demand-side resources to help firm PV capacity. One distinction between the proposed SunDial framework and typical demand response (DR) programs is that we hope to integrate more deeply with building HVAC systems in a way that does not visibly impact user comfort, and therefore use these assets more frequently than typical DR programs (which are typically called just a couple of times per year). One of the key research questions is the extent to which we can rely on these assets to supplement conventional (battery-based) energy storage. 

For more information about Fraunhofer CSE, Matt Kromer, or the SunDial Project, check out http://www.cse.fraunhofer.org/.