ComEd has been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to receive a $1.2 million grant to build a master controller that could drive the operation of clusters of microgrids. Collaborating with a group of science and technology partners, including Argonne National Laboratory, Illinois Institute of Technology, and the University of Denver, ComEd is taking a lead role in positioning interconnected microgrids as viable energy systems that help address ongoing challenges of national energy security, sustainability, and resiliency, as well as positioning Chicago as a hub for energy sustainability and independence.
“Creating a master controller is a critical step in unleashing the value and potential of microgrids,” said Joe Svachula, vice president, Engineering and Smart Grid, ComEd. “While working with our technology partners to develop a first-of-its-kind microgrid controller that could work in a single or clustered environment, ComEd also will gain essential insights into the foundational building blocks for deploying a robust microgrid.”
The master controller is considered to be the brain of the microgrid, as it collects data from a variety of individual energy resources, centrally determines how to control and operate those energy resources (i.e., generators, energy storage, adjustable loads, smart switches, etc.) and sends out the control signals that ultimately execute the power activity.
Microgrids — localized power systems with the ability to self-supply and operate independently of, or in concert with, the main grid to meet the energy needs of multiple entities — can take power generation from the traditional electric grid, as well as from sustainable sources including solar and wind should disrputions occur on the main grid. Some communities were able to maintain power during and after the severe and devastating weather impacts of Hurricane Sandy by leveraging microgrids. ComEd’s community-based microgrid has the potential to provide benefits to Chicago through improved reliability and enhanced resiliency in response to weather related events like these.
Although microgrids are becoming more and more mainstream, utilities are generally not the ones on the cutting edge of this innovation.
“There is no doubt that microgrids will be core components of the future integrated grids and extensive research and development efforts will be undertaken in upcoming years,” said Amin Khodaei, Ph.D., assistant professor for the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science, University of Denver. “The truly remarkable and distinguishing feature of this project is that it is initiated and will be led by a utility company.”