The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) under the Obama administration has focused heavily on driving down the cost of renewable energy technologies. Now it is shifting focus to the technologies that will help integrate those ever-cheaper renewables onto the grid.
According to a top official, the DOE is planning an agency-wide push to fund "advanced technologies that drive innovation on the grid edge" -- including power electronics, sensors and grid modeling tools.
David Danielson, assistant secretary for the office of energy efficiency and renewable energy at DOE, made the comments at GTM's recent Grid Edge Live conference. Danielson said he is helping steer between $75 million and $100 million toward grid modernization investments over the coming months.
The funding opportunity, which hasn't yet been officially announced, is a small piece of a 10-year, $3.5 billion spending plan outlined by the DOE Quadrennial Energy Review to "provide the tools necessary for the evolution of the grid of the future."
DOE still needs to secure the budget for such ambitious long-term spending. But Danielson said his office is "starting to build some real muscle" to push renewable-enabling technologies with current funding.
"When I arrived, we had very little investment in grid integration. It was clear that [renewables] were becoming real and the system-level issues were becoming real," said Danielson. "We see a huge opportunity."
Over the last two years, Danielson's office has devoted hundreds of millions of dollars toward advanced power electronics, solar and wind forecasting techniques, new semiconductors for efficient power conversion, and solar-storage packages. It also helped test and model advanced inverters for SolarCity and HECO in Hawaii, an effort that helped convince the utility to allow more PV systems on its solar-heavy grid.
The investment plan complements a new strategy at DOE's loan programs office, which is planning to steer up to $4 billion of existing funds into "catalytic, replicable, and market-ready” grid modernization technologies.
"We're really interested in grid connectivity and integration," said Peter Davidson, the former executive director of the loan programs office, in an interview last year.
The $75 million to $100 million brokered by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) will target technologies at a much earlier stage. And in an unprecedented step, all the major government labs will be involved under the single program. EERE is also working closely with the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability to identify funding opportunities.
The investments will target four areas: sensing and measurement; architecture and control; design and planning tools; and security and resiliency.
"For the first time, we're getting national labs together with working groups," said Danielson. "We've got to break down all the silos at DOE."
Breaking silos down is a big challenge within such a fragmented agency. But there's another equally challenging task to be addressed: educating the industry itself about the funding opportunities.
Many in the industry don't realize how aggressively the DOE plans to fund grid-edge technologies. Officials are trying to make sure inventors and entrepreneurs know that money is available.
"It’s going to take industry partners to make this successful. Come get to know us. This summer is going to be really critical," said Danielson.
Listen to a throwback interview from GTM's Take Five podcast with David Danielson below. We discuss the department's evolving interest in grid integration.