Office of Electricity

Demonstrating the Benefits of Autonomous, Decentralized Control of Microgrids

September 28, 2018

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The Office of Electricity (OE) leads the Department’s efforts to ensure the nation’s critical energy infrastructure is secure and able to recover rapidly from disruptions. Microgrids – localized grids that can disconnect from the traditional grid to operate autonomously – have emerged as a promising means of increasing grid reliability and resilience.  One of the key challenges in the widespread adoption of microgrids is the ability to operate multiple interconnected distributed energy resources when challenging operating conditions such as sudden load and generation imbalances arise.

The Consortium for Electric Reliability Technology Solutions (CERTS), an OE-funded collaboration among several National Laboratories, universities, and industry partners, has addressed these challenges by developing a set of advanced microgrid control and integration techniques known as the CERTS Microgrid Concept.  A new report recently released by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory The CERTS Microgrid Concept as Demonstrated at the CERTS/AEP Microgrid Test Bed  discusses how these techniques were validated at a full-scale microgrid demonstration test bed operated by American Electric Power (AEP), the largest electric utility in the Midwestern United States. The testing was conducted in partnership with OE and the California Energy Commission.  

diagram of AEP microgrid test bed
Microgrid Test Bed Operated by American Electric Power

A key feature of a microgrid is the ability to separate and isolate itself from the utility during a disturbance with little or no disruption. When the utility grid returns to normal, the microgrid then automatically resynchronizes and reconnects itself to the grid. With the CERTS Microgrid Concept, the microgrid is able to operate using decentralized, autonomous control which allows each of the active elements within a microgrid to operate in coordination with one another through information that is available locally. This approach eliminates the need for a component such as a master controller or a central storage unit for operation of the microgrid. Thus, a CERTS Microgrid can continue operating with the loss of an individual component, generator, or their communication links. This approach also lowers the total cost of a microgrid because of the reduction of site-specific costs of commissioning and maintaining grid-independent operations. For smaller microgrids, which consist of individual sources ranging in size from tens to hundreds of kilowatts (kW) and totaling 5 to 20 megawatts (MW) in aggregate installed generating capacity, these costs are significant. Therefore, lowering these costs greatly improves the economics of smaller-scale microgrids. The entire report is available HERE for downloading.

To learn more about how microgrids are helping to advance the Nation’s energy system, visit the microgrids section of the OE website.