eversource energy center

Using Software to Blacklist Blackouts, One Community at a Time

Source: UConn Today,  Anna Zarra Aldrich ’20 (CLAS), Office of the Vice President for Research


(Photo by American Public Power Association on Unsplash)

Yet another nor’easter, hurricane, tornado, or other kind of severe weather hits your town and the power goes out – and stays out for hours or even days.

One of the reasons power outages last so long is shortcomings in our technical infrastructure which relies on distributed energy resources (DERs). DERs cannot ride out sustained grid failures and so consumers experience extended blackouts.

But a better technology exists. Smart programmable microgrids (SPMs) have demonstrated that they have much more electric resiliency than DERs. SPMs were used during Hurricane Harvey to keep power running for vital services in Houston.

Unfortunately, it’s not an easy process to switch systems that rely on DERs to SPMs. Since the existing hardware is designed for DERs, changing the hardware would be an incredibly difficult and costly task. But a researcher in the Eversource Energy Center at the University of Connecticut has received funding to develop a way to make this transition much easier.

Professor Peng Zhang from UConn’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering has received $800,000 from the National Science Foundation through its highly competitive Smart and Connected Communities program. Zhang will work on creating a software network that can transition DERs to SPMs without the need to alter the hardware.

“This project will provide groundbreaking, replicable technologies to modernize America’s energy infrastructure in a cost efficient manner,” Zhang says.

SPMs are scaled versions of regular power grids but that serve much smaller communities. SPMs can integrate renewable resources available in a given community into their power grid, and they allow communities to take advantage of local sources of renewable energy that would not be sufficient to power a larger DER grid.

Because power is produced and stored locally, it can be distributed to critical service centers in the event of a disaster and is more energy efficient.

This technology could lead to more autonomous and flexible energy networks that require less repair and upkeep. Due to the security features in Zhang’s SPM software, the grids would be less vulnerable to cyber attacks.

The software platform will be piloted in Milford, CT where segments of the population suffer from high electricity costs, low energy reliability, and poor resilience performance of their electrical grids – all of which are problems that can be helped by SPMs.

Zhang received his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. His current research interests include microgrids and networked microgrids, power system stability and control, networked systems, and cyber-physical security.


Workshop: Grid Modernization and Distributed Energy Resources

Image Source: https://ilbusinessdaily.com/stories/511284886-illinois-lauded-on-national-level-for-grid-modernization
Image Source: https://ilbusinessdaily.com/stories/511284886-illinois-lauded-on-national-level-for-grid-modernization

The Eversource Energy Center at the University of Connecticut (UConn) is hosting a workshop aimed at identifying key challenges and potential solutions related to the modernization of electric grid. The focus will be on enhancing stability and resiliency of the grid in an environment of increasing penetration of intermittent renewables and other Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) as well as other potentially disruptive factors such as climate, extreme weather events and the widespread adoption of electric vehicles.

The workshop will explore possible solutions by considering the complex interdependencies of technology, economics, regulation and energy demand. Also considered will be the relationship between natural gas and the electric grid. Included will be a discussion of Virtual Power Plants (VPPs), where the utility controls and synchronizes multiple DER technologies such as renewable power generation sources (PV, hydropower and wind), micro Combined Heat and Electricity (mCHE) devices, pump-hydro, and battery storage. The workshop will also consider the dynamics of energy demand and supply, and discuss implications of the above technological solutions under alternate futures and extreme weather and security based outage events.

The workshop outcome will be a report summarizing research gaps and development needs, and ultimately a roadmap for their implementation.

The workshop outcome will be a report summarizing research gaps and development needs, and ultimately a roadmap for their implementation.


Workshop Session I – Identifying the challenges

In this session we will identify and explore the challenges electric utilities have maintaining stability and enhancing resiliency in response to intermittent renewables, peak loads and ramp-up effects, and other stresses on the grid caused by load profiles, electric vehicles, climate, and other factors.
We will also discuss how these conditions are expected to change over time, and the potential impact of these changes on the grid.

Workshop Session II – Identifying the technologies

In this session we will begin by identifying the current state of technology for addressing these challenges, and then explore the leading technologies that can address these challenges going forward.
The focus of the discussion will be to understand the costs and risks associated with the widespread deployment of these technologies, including social acceptance and the capacity to include Low- and Medium-Income consumers in the adaptation of DER solutions. Included in the discussion will be an overview of different DER-based solutions, including mCHE, pump-hydro, and batteries, and what role a dispatchable network of such technologies could play in addressing the challenges. A few case studies will be presented.

Workshop Session III – Potential solutions and gaps

Session III will focus on identifying potential solutions, and where there are gaps in research or methodologies for understanding and evaluating them. With the inherent complexity and interdependency of the various technologies, economics, and regulations that make up the electric grid, as well as the relationship between the electric grid and natural gas, robust methodologies are essential for finding optimized solutions.

This session will include a discussion of a virtual power plant (VPP) approach, where the utility controls and synchronizes multiple distributed energy resource (DER) technologies, as well as the Distributed Generation (DG) models currently being used in Europe and how similar models might apply here.
By identifying the gaps in research and methodologies for utilities to evaluate potential solutions, we will be able to ultimately develop a roadmap for their implementation.

Target Attendees:
Electric and Natural Gas Utility managers and planners.
• Professionals in the energy industry, including Energy Project Developers and VPP software providers.
• Utility Regulators.
• Academics interested in the technological, economic, regulatory, and social challenges of energy and energy distribution.


Day 1 (Thursday, June 14th)

11:30 – 12:00 Registration
12:00 – 12:15 Opening Session – Keynote Speaker [Jennifer Schilling, Grid Modernization Director, Eversource Energy]
12:15 – 1:15 Luncheon and Keynote Speaker [Katie Dykes, Chair, CT PURA]

1:15 – 2:30 Workshop Session I – Identifying the challenges
2:30 – 2:45 Break
2:45 – 3:15 Summary I – Challenges

3:15 – 3:35 Keynote speaker [Ray Samuels, Senior Vice President,  DBS Power & Energy]
3:35 – 3:55 Keynote speaker [Dan Bradley, Managing Director, Navigant]

3:55 – 5:15 Workshop Session II – Identifying the technologies
5:15 – 5:30 Break
5:30 – 6:00 Summary II – Technologies

6:00 – 7:00 Social

7:00 – 9:00 Dinner / Keynote Speaker [David Owens, Retired Executive Vice President, Edison Electric Institute]


Day 2 (Friday, June 15th)

8:00 – 8:20 Breakfast/ Opening Session – Keynote Speaker [Watson Collins, Technical Executive, EPRI]
8:20 – 8:40 Keynote speaker [Walter Rojowsky, Senior Analyst, ICF]
8:40 – 9:00 Keynote speaker [Jeff Nehr – Vice President, Production & Business Development, Peoples Gas]

9:00 – 10:30 Workshop Session III – Potential solutions and gaps
10:30 – 10:45 Break
10:45 – 11:15 Summary III – Potential solutions and gaps

11:15 – 11:30 Closing remarks & Next Steps
11:30 – 12:30 Lunch

12:30 – 14:00 Steering team meeting

Workshop format:

Workshops will be comprised of roundtable discussion groups of 8-10 attendees and a coordinator who will introduce the topic and facilitate the discussion. After each session, the coordinators from each group will summarize the key points and present them to everyone.

Prof. Emmanouil Anagnostou | manos@uconn.edu | 860-486-6806
Eversource Energy Center, University of Connecticut