NREL chooses SEL microgrid controller for research lab

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) selected a microgrid control system from Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL) for installation in their Energy Systems Integration Facility.

The choice was made following a 21-week microgrid control and cybersecurity evaluation that pitted SEL’s technology against that of four competitors.

A microgrid is a self-contained power grid that can operate either in sync with the main electric grid or independently. A microgrid control system automatically manages the transitions, balances power supply and demand, and quickly addresses other issues to ensure uninterrupted power to the microgrid.

NREL used input from both users and manufacturers of microgrid control systems to determine the performance parameters for the challenge.

Five companies took part in the first stage of the challenge, which lasted 14 weeks. During this stage, the control systems were rigorously tested using a power system simulator. The controllers had to respond automatically to varying load and source conditions.

“The controllers were challenged during 100-minute sequences with multiple contingencies that required quick decisions,” said Przemyslaw Koralewicz, an NREL electrical engineer who helped oversee the challenge.

The SEL solution was built around the SEL POWERMAX Power Management and Control System. It included SEL custom I/O modules, front-end processors, multifunction protective relays, centralized POWERMAX controllers with library functions, visualization servers, and various other SEL hardware solutions. SEL’s software-defined networking (SDN) technology was used to provide pre-engineered security and optimization of network traffic.

Two finalists were chosen to move on to the second, seven-week stage of the challenge, where the SEL system outperformed the competition on hardware-in-the-loop performance metrics. The SEL system was also thoroughly evaluated in NREL’s cybersecurity testbed and no vulnerabilities were found.

NREL is the DOE‘s primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for the Energy Department by The Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC.

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