Great River Energy, a wholesale power provider to more than 650,000 member consumers in Minnesota, along with Connexus Energy, the largest electric cooperative in the state serving 130,000 member consumers, will take part in a pilot research project funded by the Department of Energy (DOE) focused on grid reliability.
The DOE will invest $1.3 million in the GridBallast project to create low-cost, demand-side management tools for improving the resiliency of the country’s electric grid and to better control peak demand. The effort is led by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), which is made up of 900-plus co-ops – including Great River Energy and Connexus Energy.
NRECA and its research partners plan to create two devices: a water heater controller and a smart circuit breaker capable of controlling plug-in appliances. The project team will develop an algorithm to continuously monitor the voltage and frequency of electricity feeds directly at the plug and automatically respond with rapid, low-scale adjustments. The goal of the GridBallast project is to make load management an inherent part of grid operations rather than a central control action, which is currently how demand-response programs are managed.
“These devices will be deployed at homes and businesses in our service territory while Great River Energy will support the research and share those findings with its other cooperatives,” said Tom Guttormson, principal technology engineer at Connexus Energy.
Researchers will focus on defining control algorithms that will allow GridBallast devices to work together without communications between deployed devices. The team assembled by NRECA includes experts from Carnegie Mellon University, Eaton and SparkMeter.
“By participating in this project we hope to further our knowledge on ways to help stabilize the grid as it undergoes a period of transition,” said Eddie Webster III, emerging technology lead at Great River Energy. “The grid must become more flexible in order to integrate more intermittent distributed renewable energy resources. This project is an opportunity to better understand the impact renewable resources have on our system and how we can deploy autonomous intelligent technologies to respond rapidly, without human intervention, to maintain the power quality and reliability our members expect.”
The GridBallast project will take place over a two-and-a-half year period with field demonstrations beginning in late 2017.