NREL’s Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF) where EdgePower will be installing their controller for testing.
A Colorado firm is turning to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to refine its building energy management control systems as part of the Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (IN2) program. But there’s a twist. While it is common to install what’s called “hardware-in-the-loop” to validate products by using physical devices, EdgePower is drawing upon NREL’s building simulation competency to test its controllers virtually.
“We are putting their controller into a synthetic environment that is called ‘controller in-the-loop,’” said Dane Christensen, the principal investigator. This environment builds on the hardware in-the-loop (HIL) practice, commonly used in Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF), as an experimental methodology to put pieces of hardware into realistic operational settings. The benefit of HIL is that the new devices do not have exposure to the actual electrical grid. Now, NREL is taking such simulations a step further. “We’re basically picking up from that hardware-in-the loop experience, and applying that concept to a control problem instead of a physical operation of a piece of hardware.”
This novel approach allows NREL to connect EdgePower’s controller with a variety of building types—without ever being there. “We are currently designing a software interface to their controller that looks exactly like it is a certain building. In one case, it might be a federal building in Denver, another case it might be a school down in Florida.” As a result of these scenarios, “We can see the dynamics of these buildings as they implement the control architecture that EdgePower has designed, without ever having to go into those real buildings.” Researchers can monitor how the suite of services—such as dimming lights or changing temperature set points in a building—impact energy efficiency, reduce utility costs, and provide grid services. And it all can be done via simulation. This speeds up the research by avoiding lengthy site implementation barriers such as cyber-security evaluations, installation approvals, and commissioning. This simulation also enables the team to perform multiple iterations in a short amount of time.
EdgePower, an Aspen-based firm selected this year to be in the third cohort of IN2, already has systems installed in over 500 sites. Customers include two Fortune 500 companies with large retail facilities and storage warehouses. The company’s products, both hardware and software, seek to minimize demand charges (costs associated with the instantaneous or 15-minute maximum energy consumption that occurs any during the billing period) through improved controls and analytics. NREL’s team will help them analyze prospects for other clients, with an eye next spring towards installing new demonstration facilities.
To aid in that, NREL will also perform cyber-security analysis on their products. “With cybersecurity being a major issue, we thought it was relevant to do cybersecurity risk assessment, and evaluate what more the company could do to harden their systems,” Christensen said. This could have multiple benefits: it would not only help protect their business, but give them a valuable third party risk assessment for new customers, showing that had taken preemptive security measures to protect its customers.