Berkeley Lab and University of New Mexico Collaboration Seeks to Improve Management of Self-Powered Private Facilities on the Electric Grid

University of New Mexico officials accept a check from PNM to fund the CERES pro
November 2013

November Special Focus: Energy Efficiency, Buildings and the Electric Grid

Distributed Energy Resources Expected to Grow Rapidly as Cost of Renewable Power and Natural Gas Declines

Scientists in the Environmental Energy Technologies Division of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are working with the University of New Mexico to ease the way for the seamless integration of self-generated electricity, thermal energy, or both (known as distributed energy resources, DER) into buildings. The Cloud-based Energy Resource Scheduling (CERES) initiative at the University of New Mexico recently received a $250,000 grant from PNM, New Mexico's largest electric utility to advance DER research and training.

DER enables private companies, universities and other public institutions, as well as homes to generate their own power from sources as varied as solar panels or wind turbines, combined heat and power plants, or simple natural gas or diesel generators. Energy can also be stored and discharged later when needed, for example, through thermal energy storage, stationary battery systems, or electric vehicle batteries. Use of appliances and other energy-using devices can be controlled. If properly managed, DER can reduce energy bills for the owner, provide back-up power in the event of grid disturbances, and support the public grid.

UNM will use EETD's DER-CAM (Distributed Energy Resources Customer Adoption Model) software to optimize the scheduling of building onsite resources to minimize the cost of operation, the carbon emissions of the facility, or both. The project will train graduate students in UNM's Center for Emerging Technologies in how to set up and use DER-CAM to manage on-site power generation, purchases from the electric grid, and building thermal systems for heating and cooling.

"The use of distributed energy resources is going to grow as the cost of both renewable and natural-gas fired power comes down, and large facilities and institutions gain experience with DER technologies," says Michael Stadler in EETD's Grid Integration Group. "The DER-CAM system we've developed at Berkeley Lab is designed to solve complex optimization problems and produce a dispatch that allows DER to mitigate the impact on the electric grid, minimize the cost to the operator of the facility, and lower the carbon footprint."

The CERES program is a cloud-based system that communicates with buildings and facilities that use distributed energy resources. It will schedule the operation of these resources using output from the DER-CAM model to produce maximum benefit to the local energy generators at minimum costs and emissions, and optimized benefits of heating and cooling for the consumers of energy.

UNM researchers worked with PNM to identify large commercial buildings that use energy at different times of the day. They will collect data to study how well the system works, and estimate energy saved by using the system. A preliminary study of the UNM Mechanical Engineering Building suggests savings of five to 10 percent of the utility bill are very realistic. Some results suggest savings up to 30 percent.

Students at UNM will collect data and learn to operate the system with the help of UNM facility managers. A technical advisory team from Berkeley Lab-EETD led by Michael Stadler and Chris Marnay will provide assistance to the UNM team on the operation of the DER-CAM software. UNM graduate students have already spent time at Berkeley Lab learning how to use DER-CAM.

The results from this research will not only help building owners, but also train UNM students in the management of distributed energy resources and help Berkeley Lab researchers improve DER-CAM's ability to interface with buildings and distribution systems.

"A new business model is developing in the building energy management world," says Stadler, "which is witnessing the merger of information technology with a managed approach to energy generation and consumption. One of the outgrowths of this model will be the improved integration of distributed energy in the electric grid. Another is that the public electric grid will be better able to use excess power from private self-generated sources and avoid potential problems."

Chris Marnay adds: "As we drive down energy use in buildings, systems are becoming more complex, requiring sophisticated optimization to capture their full benefits. Our simultaneous desire to lower the environmental footprint of buildings while constraining energy bills and serving the wider grid will require very clever operational strategies, which is what our work is endeavoring to provide in an easily implemented form."

Allan Chen