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The Solar Energy Technologies Office Fiscal Year 2020 (SETO 2020) funding program supports projects that will improve the affordability, reliability, and value of solar technologies on the U.S. grid and tackle emerging challenges in the solar industry. This program funds projects that advance early-stage photovoltaic, concentrating solar-thermal power, and systems integration technologies, and reduce the non-hardware costs associated with installing solar energy systems.

On February 5, 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy announced it would provide $130 million in funding for 55-80 projects in this program. Ten of these projects will focus on systems integration and receive a total of approximately $34 million.

Approach

These projects will enhance solar’s ability to provide greater grid resilience and improved reliability to the nation’s electricity grid through the following research areas:

  • Resilient Community Microgrids – Developing community‐scale microgrids with high solar generation that can disconnect from the traditional grid to operate autonomously when the main grid is down.
  • Addressing Cybersecurity Gaps – Developing solutions that proactively improve the cybersecurity of operational systems used by DER aggregators and electric utility operations for managing PV inverters and other DER.
  • Control and Coordination of a Hybrid PV Plant – Developing design and control technologies that optimize single plants composed of solar, an additional generator, and/or storage to provide flexibility, stability, and grid-forming capabilities to the power grid.

Objectives

This work will help communities maintain power during man-made or natural disasters and restore power after them, improve cybersecurity for PV inverters and power systems, and develop advanced hybrid plants that operate collaboratively with other resources for improved reliability and resilience. It will advance grid operations technologies and enable solar to provide more grid services—or enable grid operators to maintain system‐wide balance and manage electricity transmission. In addition, it will advance the cybersecurity of solar technologies to better detect disturbances and develop strategies to survive a cyberattack.

Selectees

-- Award and cost share amounts are subject to change pending negotiations –

Binghamton Univeristy - State University of New York

Project Name: Asynchronous Distributed and Adaptive Parameter Tuning (ADAPT) for Hybrid PV Plants
Location: Binghamton, NY
DOE Award Amount: $2,600,000
Awardee Cost Share: $1,190,000
Principal Investigator: Ziang Zhang
Project Summary: This project is developing a two-stage hybrid PV plant control framework that will enable the coordination of multiple hybrid photovoltaic (PV) plants with generation uncertainty and enhance grid stability through grid-forming inverter controls. The team will rely on state-of-the-art technologies, such as distributed control, dynamic state estimation, multi-agent reinforcement learning, distributed fault management, and GPU-parallel grid simulation. The framework will be demonstrated at a 1 megawatt hybrid PV plant controlled by grid-forming inverters at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) and through the use of a hardware-in-the-loop system with 70% renewable penetration that will demonstrate the scalability and replicability of the proposed controls at New York Power Authority.

Eagle Creek Renewable Energy

Project Name: Increasing Renewable Generation and System Reliability through Coupling PV and Hydropower
Location: Bethesda, MD
DOE Award Amount: $3,200,000
Awardee Cost Share: $1,010,000
Principal Investigator: Neal Simmons
Project Summary: This project is developing a comprehensive science-based approach and toolset to evaluate, quantify, and demonstrate the advantages of a solar hydro hybrid system. The team will develop the design, algorithms, and control architecture that optimizes the attributes of a solar photovoltaic (PV) system coupled with an existing hydropower facility to provide the required flexibility, stability, and grid-forming capabilities needed for a resilient, secure, and affordable power grid. The project goal is to demonstrate at scale a co-located, co-controlled hybrid power-plant that showcases the viability of a renewable hybrid system, which will occur at an existing utility grid-connected hydropower facility with an onsite PV array.

Electric Power Research Institute

Project Name: SECURE - Solar Energy CommUnity REsiliency
Location: Knoxville, TN
DOE Award Amount: $3,900,000
Awardee Cost Share: $2,000,000
Principal Investigator: Ajit Renjit
Project Summary: This project addresses the key technical and business challenges impeding implementation of resilient community microgrids. The technical approach places comprehensive power system control at the feeder level, with the ability to isolate, start, and operate during times of crisis without local human operators. These community controls will be capable of interfacing upstream with central systems for maximizing community benefit during normal conditions and capable of coordinating with peer systems to provide power to local communities during emergency events. In addition, the project facilitates a community microgrid stakeholder working group to address gaps in present business and regulatory frameworks that lack basic mechanisms to support the community microgrid vision.

Florida State University

Project Name: Unified Universal Control and Coordination of Inverter-Based Resources, AI Forecasting, and Demonstration for PV+Battery Hybrid Plants
Location: Tallahassee, FL
DOE Award Amount: $3,800,000
Awardee Cost Share: $1,800,000
Principal Investigator: Fang Peng
Project Summary: This project is developing an innovative unified universal control and coordination of inverter-based resources for photovoltaic (PV) plus battery hybrid power plants. This technology will provide flexibility and stability over wide ranges of inverter operation, from grid-following to islanding and local grid-forming. The team is using a multilayer approach that includes artificial intelligence PV forecasts and energy management, intelligent coordination outer-loop control, and unified universal inner-loop control. These three layers together deal with systematic integration and coordination of the hybrid power plant with bulk grid and co-located PV and battery within the plant in various time scales from a day to micro-seconds.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Project Name: Reorg: Resilience and Stability Oriented Cellular Grid Formation and Optimization for Communities with Solar PVs and Mobile Energy Storages
Location: Golden, CO
DOE Award Amount: $3,500,000
Awardee Cost Share: $1,680,000
Principal Investigator: Benjamin Kroposki
Project Summary: This project will develop, validate, and demonstrate a resilience- and stability-oriented cellular grid formation and optimization approach to achieve scalable and reconfigurable community microgrid operations for distribution feeders with solar photovoltaics (PV) and mobile battery energy storage. Using self-organizing, map-based resilience quantification, stability analysis, and distributed energy resource (DER) optimization, this project will transform traditionally centralized grid operations into time-varying cellular operations that can enable scalable distributed controls of over 10,000 DERs, achieve fast bottom-up service restoration using PVs and grid-forming inverters, adapt to time-varying system conditions, and maintain optimal system-level resilience. This will be demonstrated in a community in Colorado with 100% PV penetration.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Project Name: SAPPHIRE: Stability-Augmented Optimal Control of Hybrid PV Plants with Very High Penetration of Inverter-based Resources
Location: Golden, CO
DOE Award Amount: $3,600,000
Awardee Cost Share: $1,510,000
Principal Investigator: Jin Tan
Project Summary: Hybrid photovoltaic (PV) plants (HPPs are providing an increasing proportion of energy, but because advanced, fast-responding HPP controls are not being used, synchronous generation is still the source of grid stability. This project is developing a hierarchical control framework to value and deploy HPP stability services. This work will include real-time probing-based inertia estimation, bulk power system-connected grid forming controls (GFM), and reactive power services. Plant-level control will ensure HPPs deliver system-level services while optimizing utilization of PV and battery energy storage while considering batteries’ state-of-charge and state-of-health. The technology will demonstrated at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and at a 60-MW field demonstration in Hawaii.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Project Name: Resilient Operation of Networked Community Microgrids with High Solar Penetration
Location: Oak Ridge, TN
DOE Award Amount: $3,800,000
Awardee Cost Share: $1,150,000
Principal Investigator: Ben Ollis
Project Summary: This project is working on the development and evaluation of a microgrid controller that coordinates the operation of a network of microgrids with high solar penetration. The goal of the networked microgrid is to enhance resilient operation during long-term outages caused by natural disasters, including preventive and corrective functionalities in the optimization to meet operation criteria. The technology will be tested on community-based and community-operated microgrids in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico, which was severely impacted by Hurricane Maria in 2017. This microgrid will be based on 100% solar and battery storage. The microgrid controller will coordinate these independent microgrids as a cluster to enhance system resiliency and reliability while providing cost-effective operation.

University of Central Florida

Project Name: University of Central Florida
Location: Orlando, FL
DOE Award Amount: $3,200,000
Awardee Cost Share: $1,550,000
Principal Investigator: Wei Sun
Project Summary: This project is developing multilayer, multichannel, cyber-physical defense and survival mechanisms for operating distribution networks with high penetration of distributed energy resources (DERs) in order to identify and address cybersecurity gaps. The proposed security enhancements are built upon the distributed framework and solution architecture for both information technology and operational technology systems. The technical solutions consist of two composite functionalities: proactive defense and adaptive self-healing, which will be validated using the University of Central Florida’s microgrid control and security testbeds. They will also be demonstrated in utility field tests by Consumers Energy and Duke Energy.

University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Project Name: Resilient Community Microgrids with Dynamic Reconfiguration to Serve Critical Loads in the Aftermath of Severe Events
Location: Charlotte, NC
DOE Award Amount: $3,600,000
Awardee Cost Share: $1,150,000
Principal Investigator: Badrul Chowdhury
Project Summary: As part of a collaborative effort among state government, utility companies, industry, and universities, this project is developing an advanced microgrid control architecture. It will be able to seamlessly coordinate with the bulk power grid at multiple points of common coupling, automatically balance load and generation, provide critical services (hospitals, emergency shelter, etc.) at a minimum, detect faulty conditions on a continuous basis, communicate with distributed energy resources, form networked microgrids with neighboring communities when needed, and maintain safe operating conditions at all times. The proposed control architecture will be tested utilizing a unique digital-twin approach in which laboratories will have direct, real-time connections to microgrids operated by the major utilities in North Carolina. A field demonstration at Duke Energy's Hot Springs microgrid is also planned.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Project Name: Achieving Cyber-Resilience for Power Systems using a Learning, Model-Assisted Blockchain Framework
Location: Arlington, VA
DOE Award Amount: $3,000,000
Awardee Cost Share: $790,000
Principal Investigator: Ryan Gerdes
Project Summary: This project uses a blockchain-based overlay network to provide a security layer on the existing power grid network that addresses security vulnerabilities and risks in command and control protocols, which is currently used for control and management of distributed energy resources (DER) and distribution systems. The team will integrate a model-assisted machine learning (MAML) framework with a secure blockchain overlay network (SBON) to enable protection, attack detection, and incident response capabilities to provide power grid network resiliency against sophisticated threats involving compromised DER and power aggregators. This approach will be tested on a novel photovoltaic (PV) inverter design. The team will also enable the protection of DER through development of a plug-and-play security module, incorporating both the blockchain and MAML elements of the project, that will communicate with and protect DER via standard interfaces. The module will be demonstrated through field trials that include utility-grade PV inverters and battery energy storage systems.

Learn more about the SETO 2020 funding program and the project selections in the other topics.

Learn more about SETO’s other competitive awards.