Los Alamos, N.M. may be the place in history where the atomic bomb was developed, but the desert locale is now the site of another experiment of the future—how renewable energy, a smart grid and smart home technologies can work together.
The two-year Los Alamos Smart Grid project, which just got underway, consists of 2 megawatts of photovoltaic power, 8.3 megawatt hours of batteries and state-of- the-art controls, and a PV-powered smart house that includes smart appliances to enable the electric demand in the house to be responsive to smart grid signals.
The project is also international, with Los Alamos County Department of Public Utilities (DPU) partnering with Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology and Development Organization (NEDO) and Japanese companies Kyocera, Sharp, NEC and Toshiba, which are testing smart home and smart grid systems.
Think of it this as an International Space Station of smart grid development. The two-year project will see how distributed solar-energy can work within a community and with a smart grid-connected and equipped “smart house.” It will also seek to overcome concerns about distributed solar power raising electricity costs, and the project will test shaving electricity demands to smooth electric loads and match moment-by-moment supply.
We’ll likely see much more smart grid-based energy storage systems that can deliver solar-generated electricity at night when the sun is longer shining and help smooth out power distribution, as having a spike in renewable energy-produced power, with its moment-to-moment power production and distribution, can wreak havoc on the grid.
A 2-megawatt solar power plant will energize about 2,000 residential sites in the high-desert community of Los Alamos. The photovoltaic system, with its 8.3-megawatt hour battery storage system, will demonstrate the ability to stabilize solar power output by reducing peak system demand as it draws electricity from the battery system at times of peak usage.
A transfer cut-out system (Micro-DX) by NEC serves as a “last-mile” gateway from the power grid to homes and immediately disconnects distributed energy resources from the power grid in the case of a power outage or blackout, preventing dangerous “islanding” of high-voltage that can result. The Micro-DX terminates the cutout command sent via the optical fiber and transfers it to the houses via high-speed powerline communications (PLC). Slave Units in residences perform on/off control of the main breaker to the power grid based on the cutout command from the Micro-DX.
NEC is also testing a PLC modem unit that transfers smart meter data via high-speed powerline communications.
Smart House Demo
The 2,991-square-foot, one-story demonstration Smart House features a Kyocera hybrid home energy management system (HEMS) that uses a 16-module, 3.4-kW residential solar power generating system, a 24-kWh lithium-ion storage battery and an energy-efficient heat storage unit. The Home Energy Management System (HEMS) is equipped with communication equipment and sensors to help the Smart House optimize energy usage between the solar power generating system, storage battery, power grid and smart appliances and be responsive to smart grid signals.
Kyocera also appears to be experimenting with prototype lithium-ion batteries re-used from EV (electric vehicle) applications.
“In this project, we will demonstrate how a smart house can play an important role from the demand side in a smart grid, where renewable energy such as solar power will be significantly implemented in the future,” stated Kyocera Corporation Vice President and General Manager of the company’s Solar Energy Group, Tatsumi Maeda, during a speech at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “This smart house project was established to demonstrate the next generation of energy management by using the newest technologies.”
A Sharp 60-inch Quattron TV, air conditioning system, LED ceiling lights and 20-cubic-foot refrigerator can be controlled and monitored wirelessly via ZigBee technology.
Toshiba will be testing smart meter and in-home displays.
NEDO has invested $37 million in the $52 million Los Alamos smart grid project. At the end of the demonstration period (two years from now), NEDO will give to Los Alamos all of the facilities at no charge and Los Alamos will be the owner of 1 megawatt of photovoltaics, 8.2 megawatt-hour battery storage system; all the smart equipment in the Smart House, and all the equipment to operate the microgrid.
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