The First Smart Neighborhood of Its Kind in the Southeast

June 13, 2018

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In suburban Birmingham, Alabama, Alabama Power’s Smart Neighborhood is nearly complete, bringing together 62 high-performance, connected homes and a community microgrid. The Building Technologies Office (BTO) has been working with Alabama Power, their parent company Southern Company, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), and DOE’s Office of Electricity to develop and deploy this transactive microgrid approach. Recently, DOE’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Daniel Simmons visited the neighborhood for its grand opening.

EnergyInnovates - Alabama Power’s Smart Neighborhood™
This video was made by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Global Energy Institute as part of its Energy Innovates initiative.

The homes built in this community are all high-performance homes, built according to high-efficiency construction techniques and rated with a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) score between 40 and 50, which means they are 50-60% more efficient than a standard new home. High-performance homes not only save energy, but thanks to improved insulation and indoor air quality, these homes can also be more comfortable for homeowners and residents. All of the homes in the neighborhood have been sold, and half of them are already occupied.

Today, space heating, space cooling, and water heating make up more than 65% of energy consumption in U.S. homes.1 The homes in the Smart Neighborhood all employ state-of-the-art heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) and water heating systems, including variable capacity heat pump HVAC, hybrid electric/heat pump water heaters, and Internet-connected controls for both. With these high-efficiency systems, homeowners can expect to see lower energy bills.

The homes in this neighborhood are connected as a neighborhood-level microgrid, which includes solar photovoltaic (PV), a battery storage system, and natural gas-fired power generation. ORNL is developing novel control strategies using BTO’s transactive control platform (known as VOLTTRON), to achieve grid-responsive control of the loads in these homes. BTO is working with ORNL on interfacing with CSEISMIC, an open-source microgrid controller, to operate microgrid generation and storage assets to achieve Alabama Power’s desired load and cost profiles – while homeowner comfort requirements are maintained. This transactive control approach maximizes the technical resources of the neighborhood while reducing costs for homeowners and Alabama Power. This is the first microgrid in the Southeast to support an entire residential community, while also helping to support community-scale power resilience.

BTO and ORNL are also working with Southern Company’s subsidiary, Georgia Power, in developing transactive control technologies to implement at a similar neighborhood under construction in Atlanta. Georgia Power’s Connected Community, located in an urban setting, will include 50 townhomes and employ a grid-to-residential architecture with residential-level distributed generation and storage (rooftop solar and home energy storage) along with controllable building equipment and home automation/energy management.

These two different residential communities are enabling researchers and utilities to research, test, and validate different next-generation technologies including energy-efficient buildings, community-scale and home-scale microgrids, and transactive controls at scale. These real-world test-beds are connecting innovative building energy-efficient technologies with American communities, bringing together lab researchers, utilities, and U.S. homeowners in new ways to save Americans money and energy and help improve the grid. At the same time, BTO is working on grid-interactive efficient building research and development to solve pressing research questions related to the integration of distributed energy resources, buildings, building loads, and the grid.

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1 Table CE3.1  Household Site End-Use Consumption in the U.S., Totals and Averages, 2009. https://www.eia.gov/consumption/residential/data/2009/index.php?view=consumption#end-use