Greentech Media’s Grid Edge Live 2014 conference is just around the corner, and that means we’re on the lookout for news on the distributed, intelligent energy integration front. Here’s a new Department of Energy project that fits the bill, right down to the acronym -- and winning proposals will have a crack at the world’s most advanced real-world grid testing facility to prove their approach.

DOE’s Integrated Network Testbed for Energy Grid Research and Technology Experimentation, or INTEGRATE, proposal is targeting more than $6.5 million in matching grants. Would-be partners have until next week to submit proposals that lay out the feasibility and cost of delivering their solution to the renewable-grid integration puzzle.

The overarching goal is to “enable clean energy technologies to increase the hosting capacity of the grid by providing grid services in a holistic manner using an open source, interoperable platform,” according to the RFP. That’s a pretty grand set of imperatives, and DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has helpfully broken it up into three key “topic” areas: Connected Devices and Communication and Control Systems, each with a maximum $1.5 million in grants available, and Integrated Systems, which has up to $6.5 million available.

NREL will make its new Energy Systems Integration Facility in Golden, Colorado available to test technologies from winning proposals. ESIF, opened in 2012, is a state-of-the-art test bed for low- and medium-voltage grid technologies, complete with a real set of grid gear connected to solar, wind and on-site generation resources.

Here’s the checklist NREL has set for winning projects over the next eighteen months:

  • Characterize the system-level challenges associated with clean energy technologies when integrated into the grid at scale;
  • Utilize an open-sourced, standards-based interoperable platform that will allow communication and control of clean energy technologies both individually and holistically; and
  • Develop and demonstrate high-value grid services that clean energy technologies can provide holistically at a variety of scales (e.g., building, distribution, transmission).

On the connected devices front, NREL is considering a wide array of grid edge systems, including solar PV systems, electric vehicles, smart buildings, fuel cell technologies, and wind turbines. Each of these systems has key characteristics, such as how quickly it can be called upon and how much flexibility it has, that NREL wants to model for their ability to “provide grid services that help to maintain operational stability.”  

The communications and control systems category is seeking proposals to “design, build, and test a flexible, open-source consensus standards based CIC [communications, information and computation] infrastructure that allows for the interoperability of multiple clean technology devices in a secure fashion.”

The integration systems portion, which carries the largest amount of funding, also carries the most challenging set of goals: to “investigate and demonstrate how clean energy technologies can work together holistically to provide grid services and increase the hosting capacity of these technologies on the grid.”

This section is further broken down into two customer-facing applications: smart home systems and those that tie buildings into campus microgrid systems, and one centered on a distribution grid feeder. And, as the RFP highlights, “priority will be given to applicants that will demonstrate these approaches in real-world applications,” to be tested at ESIF.

These concepts align with some of the open-standards-based grid integration work we’ve been covering, such as Duke Energy’s “coalition of the willing,” or Toronto Hydro’s distributed microgrid work. Silver Spring Network’s new SilverLink Sensor Network platform, Cisco’s new IOx platform, and Itron’s embedded sensing platform, are attempts by smart grid players to establish their own technology platform for tying multiple field devices together.

As for the integration systems, we’ve seen efforts underway to design “transactive energy” schemas that allow lots of grid edge devices -- and aggregations of these devices in microgrid or virtual power plant form -- to share data in ways that allow them to reinforce and trade capabilities with one another. Startups like Gridquant and GRIDiant, recently acquired by Landis+Gyr, have their own approaches to system-wide integration, and research efforts out of the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program are also targeting this challenge.