A lot of utilities and grid vendors rely on the federal government to guide -- and fund -- cutting-edge research on the grid edge. Much of that R&D work will be on display at this week’s DistribuTech conference in San Diego, representing years of effort and hundreds of millions of dollars from the Department of Energy and other federal agencies.

The future of federal partnerships like these is in question under the Trump administration, however. Two weeks ago, political news website The Hill reported on budget plans from the Trump team that include plans to “eliminate” DOE’s Office of Electricity and Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).

These are two big funders of grid integration projects, particularly through EERE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program. EERE, which also manages energy efficiency, electric vehicle and wind energy programs, has done studies showing that its $12 billion in taxpayer investment has yielded $230 billion in economic activity, with a 20 percent return on investment.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Trump’s nominee for Energy Secretary, was caught by surprise by these reports during his Senate confirmation hearing two weeks ago. He committed to pursuing a “true all-of-the-above energy plan,” including renewables, and to support research to bring new technologies to market. At the same time, Perry was the man who famously said during his 2012 presidential bid that he wanted to eliminate DOE -- but forgot the name of the agency.

Meanwhile, many of the federally funded grid projects on display at this week’s DistribuTech conference are connected to efforts which President Trump has supported, such as infrastructure and cybersecurity investments.

All in all, the next few days present opportunities to get acquainted with what the federal government’s commitment to clean energy and grid edge R&D has accomplished so far, and what’s at stake under the new administration.

This week’s first report comes from the DOE’s SunShot Initiative, launched in 2011, which recently announced that it has met its goal of driving solar costs down to $1 per watt years ahead of schedule. On Monday, SunShot and its private partners held a workshop on its Sustainable and Holistic Integration of Energy Storage and Solar PV (SHINES) funding program, launched in early 2016, which has given $18 million in grants for six projects testing large-scale solar-grid integration with utilities and energy storage providers.

On Tuesday, SunShot announced up to $30 million in additional funding for 13 projects under its newly launched Enabling Extreme Real-Time Grid Integration of Solar Energy (ENERGISE) funding program. Projects will link device, communications and control layers “to enable grid operators to access up-to-the-minute measurement and forecasting data from distributed energy sources and optimize system performance using sensor, communication and data analytics technologies.”

SunShot Director Charlie Gay noted in a Tuesday interview that these new projects are far less about proving the value of solar as a grid energy resource -- that’s largely been done. Instead, they’re about helping utilities and grid operators adapt to a grid that’s going to be powered by more and more solar in the years to come. In that sense, "for folks looking at infrastructure, we’re looking at how to best optimize the infrastructure we’ve got," he said. 

As for the potential for budget cuts, “a lot of this percolates through whoever is identified as Energy Secretary,” he said. But with ongoing SunShot projects showing valuable results for utilities as well as the solar industry, “there’s some good continuity in what we’ve started and embarked upon, and seeing it through. These kinds of things have congressional appropriations behind them. There’s momentum that exists with things that are underway.”

Gay, a former solar industry executive and NREL director, will be speaking at a DistribuTech panel on Wednesday entitled “Smart Cities and the Energy Transition.” This may be a rare opportunity to from hear the SunShot Initiative -- according to news reports, the Trump administration has banned DOE employees from discussing their work on social media. 

Wednesday will also see NREL present details of its Integrated Network Testbed for Energy Grid Research and Technology Experimentation (INTEGRATE) project, in a presentation entitled “Keeping Secure When OT and IT Collide.” We’ve covered how this program is helping utility CPS Energy and grid vendors Siemens and Omnetric to create a standards-based microgrid -- something that Siemens Digital Grid president Mike Carlson called an “important milestone” in the company’s broader grid edge integration efforts.

Meanwhile, the ARPA-E program is giving a Wednesday update on its GRID DATA, or “Generating Realistic Information for the Development of Distribution and Transmission Algorithms,” program. Launched last year with $11 million for seven projects, GRID DATA is bringing data scientists together with utilities and grid vendors to create “large-scale, realistic, validated and open-access power system models” for utilities and grid vendors to use in advanced grid control systems.

Cybersecurity will be highlighted in a Thursday morning presentation, entitled “Beyond I's and O's: Defending Outside the Walls,” featuring a representative from DOE’s Idaho National Labs, which is leading the agency’s cybersecurity research efforts. President Trump is expected to sign an executive order demanding that federal agencies use best practices from the private sector to improve cybersecurity, similar to reviews ordered by President Obama.

Also on Thursday morning, Michael Pesin, DOE Deputy Assistant Secretary, will speak on a panel entitled “Smart Utilities Enabling Smart Cities,” and Victoria Gunderson, international trade specialist with the U.S. Department of Commerce, will speak on international opportunities for U.S.-designed smart city technologies. 

Make sure to attend Greentech Media’s Grid Edge World Forum 2017, our premier conference and exhibition focused exclusively on tomorrow’s distributed energy system. Join us to discuss and debate the latest issues impacting tomorrow’s distributed energy system, and examine the trends and innovation happening at the grid edge. Learn more here.