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Researchers to advance technologies to boost grid flexibility

image credit: Hui Li, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, stands in the city's solar farm. (Mark Wallheiser/FAMU-FSU College of Engineering)
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DW Keefer is a Denver-based energy journalist who writes extensively for national and international publications on all forms of electric power generation, utility regulation, business models...

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Florida State University will join the City of Tallahassee and other research partners on a U.S. Department of Energy project to improve integration of solar panels into electrical grids.

The project is funded by a $3.8 million grant from DOE as well as $1.8 million from FSU and other research partners. It will develop technologies including electronic controls and artificial intelligence to allow power plants to better utilize solar panels with the help of a battery energy storage system (BESS). The technology could potentially lower energy costs by 10 percent or more.

“We want to enhance connected operations and the ability of solar plants to determine whether to send their energy to the grid or to store it for later,” said Yuan Li, an assistant professor from the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering and the FSU Center for Advanced Power Systems. “It means making the power plant more flexible in order to support the power grid, which will make the grid more resilient.”

Researchers will develop a control system that can give power plants enhanced capabilities, including the ability to quickly and reliably switch between a connection with the electrical grid to a self-contained system. The project will test and demonstrate the technologies on a 100-kilowatt hybrid photovoltaic/BESS power plant connected to the City of Tallahassee Utilities grid.

The project team will investigate the viability of applying the knowledge gained from this research to larger solar projects to help provide reliable electricity to the grid and make it more resilient to natural disasters, like hurricanes.

The work includes the development of artificial intelligence that has the potential to help utility operators in Florida and across the country manage the energy captured from a hybrid power plant.

The energy management system will forecast how much energy the solar panels are likely to create and whether it makes sense to store in the BESS or send it directly to the larger electric grid. The algorithm driving that decision will consider how much energy end users need and when it makes financial sense to sell it back to the grid. It also considers how to use the batteries so they last a long time and can be used to supply energy when the weather is not good or load demand exceeds the generated solar energy.

Researchers from Northeastern University, the University of Illinois at Chicago, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Siemens Corporation and IBM are contributing to this study.

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