Microgrids Just Received An Upgraded

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has funded the development of a microgrid orchestrator designed to establish a network of microgrids that can be managed as a single cluster – essentially creating a grid of microgrids. This will provide the ability to maintain reliable electric service, integrate more solar and other types of renewable energy into the systems, and reduce the need for backup diesel generators. The DOE hopes that the success of this microgrid orchestrator could result in the creation of microgrid networks in communities across the country.

The tool was designed by researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, using nearly $4 million in funding from the DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO). They were able to develop an optimized solution to manage the distribution of electricity within a network of solar-powered microgrids. 

“I don’t know of a microgrid controller anywhere that can communicate and coordinate with another controller,” said Ben Ollis, an ORNL engineer working on the project. “We’re designing an architecture for multi-microgrid controls, so any number of microgrids can operate independently but share information to an orchestrator that will predict when switching, routing and connecting should happen.”

The team is currently testing the hardware before demonstrating the microgrid orchestrator in the town of Adjuntas, Puerto Rico. This area was without power for six months because of Hurricane Maria in 2017 prompting it to install microgrids in its town square to ensure that residents would have access to critical services in the aftermath of future natural disasters. The microgrid was tested in September 2022 when Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico. The town was able to have power on for nine days when other parts of the island were without. ORNL will work to advance the orchestrator’s capabilities to extend electric service as long as possible for future outages.

“The proposed solution provides a communitywide low-cost sensing and control system that can coordinate different distributed generation controls and share information among stakeholders through the smartphone app to improve community resilience,” stated Zheng O’Neill, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Texas A&M. “The technology can be scaled and replicated in many other similar rural, underserved communities with multiple solar panels and battery storage.”