A typical GE control platform that can be used to host intelligent grid management software for microgrids. (Photo: Business Wire)

GE, Utility, Government, and Academia Partner on Underground Microgrid Project

Dec. 19, 2014
GE Awarded a $1.2M Department of Energy Grant to Design Technology to Keep Electricity Flowing after Catastrophic Weather Events

GE has announced a partnership on a research project to improve the reliability and resiliency of electricity delivery in northern New York. GE Global Research and GE Energy Consulting, along with National Grid, the Department of Energy (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and Clarkson University are cooperating on the project.

The focus area will be the Village of Potsdam, near the Canadian border, which is prone to ice storms that could damage utility lines and other above-ground power infrastructure.

Fueled by a $1.2M grant from the DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE) and a $300,000 investment from GE, this project will allow for the development of an Enhanced Microgrid Control System (eMCS) designed to be the key element in keeping the town’s electricity system up and running for several days should it become disconnected from the main power station.

GE researcher Sumit Bose standing in front of the Real Time Digital Simulator used to test renewable and energy storage plant control software. (Photo: Business Wire)

The project will also help utilities, like National Grid, better leverage distributed energy resources (DER), such as solar, hydropower, and thermal, in a microgrid scenario.

“The microgrid control system that my team will be developing will bring these renewable power sources online and effectively manage them, along with other traditional generation resources, to improve the reliability and efficiency of the main power grid while helping ensure stable backup power in the event of a blackout,” said Sumit Bose, principal investigator on the project and microgrid technology leader at GE Global Research. “It’s a vital component and critical to the system’s resiliency and overall performance.”

GE researchers will develop the eMCS with two main goals in mind: to provide resilient, high-quality power delivery to the local community and efficient, reliable grid services to the local utility. The program will be closely aligned with the specific energy needs and power resources available in and around Potsdam, with the option to include resources like 3 megawatts (MW) of combined heat & power generators, 2MW of solar photovoltaic, 2MW of energy storage and 900kW or more of hydro-electric generation.

Additionally, the system will feature specially-designed control algorithms with a graphical user interface for the operator. The control system will be flexible, scalable and secure, and will have a hierarchical structure of three controllers operating on different timescales to maximize efficiencies and ensure all assets function as needed to maintain a constant, steady flow of electricity.

Notably, this DOE-funded initiative will augment the community’s plans to construct a new underground system for power and communications during emergency situations. This system would connect approximately twelve entities, including emergency service providers, utilities, power generation sources, and staging areas, along with housing, fuel, and food providers.

"New York State's North Country is a region where we have first-hand knowledge of the tremendous impact that weather can have on our utilities' infrastructure," said Clarkson University President Tony Collins. "So, we are excited to be partnering in research that will have an impact not only on Clarkson's neighbors, but also on communities like Potsdam around our state and nation, where severe weather can be disruptive to lives and commerce."

“Together, GE’s control system, and the underground microgrid envisioned for the Potsdam community, could serve as a model for towns and cities across the country that are susceptible to weather disasters and blackouts,” added Bose.

Microgrid technology is already beginning to transform the U.S. power grid. In 2012, “SuperStorm” Sandy, one of the most deadly and destructive hurricanes in American history, caused widespread damage to power lines, leaving over six million customers without electricity. During the storm and its aftermath, microgrids, with their local distributed energy resources, were able to sustain hospitals and other relief operations for more than two days, until grid power was restored.

The two-year DOE project will begin with 18 months of engineering and design at GE Global Research, followed by a 6-month testing period at NREL where a microgrid simulating the infrastructure needs in Potsdam will be set up.

“Microgrids support a flexible and efficient electric grid, enabling the integration of renewable and distributed energy resources such as wind and solar energy; combined heat and power; energy storage; and demand response,” said Bryan Hannegan, NREL’s Associate Director for Energy Systems Integration. “NREL is excited to be working with GE to accelerate the development of microgrids that can provide a reliable, affordable, and sustainable electricity supply.”

GE’s Energy Consulting business will be conducting a feasibility study for the demonstration of the controller, reporting on the potential benefits for the Village of Potsdam and National Grid of deploying the new technology and determining operating procedures to ensure the control system functions properly.

Earlier this year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the Potsdam underground microgrid design project, where GE will work with partners to plan and design a resilient underground microgrid for the Village of Potsdam. This Clarkson University-led effort is being funded by National Grid, and through a $381,000 grant from NYSERDA, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, as part of a larger, $3.3M state allocation for projects aimed at improving the resiliency and efficiency of the state’s electric grid.

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