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Funding Program: SuNLaMP
SunShot Subprogram: Systems Integration
Location: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, CO
SunShot Award Amount: $2,709,398

As more distributed solar power is added to the electric power grid and becomes an increasing proportion of total energy generation, the grid must support more stringent requirements to ensure continued reliable and cost-effective grid operations. New communications systems are needed to allow for bidirectional information exchange between distributed photovoltaic (PV) generators and various information and controls systems of the electric power grid. This project at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) will develop a hybrid communications system to meet the needs of monitoring and controlling millions of distributed PV generators, while taking advantage of existing communications infrastructure, which will greatly reduce the costs necessary to provide these services.


A new system architecture with hybrid communications system that contains algorithmic layers, security standards, and protocols will be fully validated to ensure it is ready for pilot projects with utilities. The first stage involves a combined hardware-software testing for relatively small systems using hardware-in-the-loop simulations of systems up to 10,000 nodes. Scale testing will be conducted at the level of up to 5 million nodes by integrating a computational simulation of the architecture and algorithms using NREL’s Integrated Grid Modeling System. This combined validation approach will ensure that the proposed framework can provide the communications necessary to operate both distribution and transmission level power systems with extremely high penetrations of distributed PV power, while also fulfilling the communications system metrics.


This project will develop a novel communications system architecture that enables the coordination and control of millions of distributed PV generators. The architecture will utilize existing wireless (Wi-Fi) networks in households where the rooftop PV is installed, avoiding the need for new communications devices or expansion of advanced metering infrastructure communication that often has limited bandwidth. The design of novel publish-subscribe pattern-based communications networks that use existing wireless connections to PV inverters will facilitate the secure and private communications necessary to provide the current state data of the installed PVs to the existing distribution and transmission systems’ information and control systems.