Lab researchers launch collaboration with communities to improve clean energy

March 13, 2019
industry

Under a new initiative, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory will share its expertise in advanced clean energy technologies — such as microgrids, energy-efficient “smart” buildings and electric vehicles — with city governments, community groups and nonprofits to identify community energy needs and bring research and technologies developed at the Laboratory to areas that need it most. Credit: George Kitrinos (Download Image)

Lab researchers launch collaboration with communities to improve clean energy

Jeremy Thomas, thomas244@llnl.gov, 925-422-5539

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) recently launched a new initiative focused on sharing solutions developed at the Lab with local communities to help them develop a sustainable, resilient and affordable energy infrastructure.

Under the initiative, LLNL will share its expertise in advanced clean energy technologies — such as microgrids, energy-efficient “smart” buildings and electric vehicles — with city governments, community groups and nonprofits to identify community energy needs and bring research and technologies developed at the Laboratory to areas that need it most.

“Several California agencies are looking to support these types of collaborations, and it’s a real opportunity to deploy our technologies in ways that are tailored to specific community needs,” said LLNL Systems Analyst Robin Wong, who is heading the outreach effort. “It’s a co-development strategy. The technology is mature enough that we can work with communities to understand how it can be used to solve specific issues. At the same time, Lab experts get to see these technologies operate in real-world scenarios to better understand how these tools can be used to solve local energy challenges.”

Last year, California passed a law mandating 100 percent clean energy by 2045, meaning that all communities statewide eventually will need energy-efficient solutions, researchers said. To reach that goal, Wong said it’s imperative to determine how those solutions will be deployed, scaled and replicated in ways that can be affordable and easily accomplished, particularly in economically and environmentally disadvantaged communities that may not have access to advanced technologies or the resources to deploy them.

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LLNL researchers will invite city and community leaders to visit the Lab for demonstrations of several “smart” buildings that are using a sophisticated building control software, which collects information to find energy performance bottlenecks in HVAC systems, lighting and other systems.

LLNL’s Associate Program Leader in Energy Infrastructure Liang Min said microgrid technology could provide apartment complexes, hospitals, neighborhoods, schools and even single buildings with a reliable source of locally-generated energy that can be made instantly available when the main electrical grid goes down due to extreme weather or manmade disasters. However, most microgrids cannot operate independently off the main grid for more than a few hours.

Min said through an on-site testbed simulation, the Lab can show city and community leaders how deployment of distributed energy resources (DERs) such as solar and energy storage could impact their community’s grid. Simulation results can help system planners optimize microgrid configurations so they can operate autonomously for more than a week, much longer than commercial-ready microgrids that rely on battery power.

“With the extreme scenarios we experience in California, such as wildfires, communities really need a resilient and sustainable energy supply,” Min said. “We believe microgrids are the solution.”

Researchers also plan to invite city and community leaders to visit the Lab and view demonstrations of several “smart” buildings that are using a sophisticated building control software, which collects information to find energy performance bottlenecks in HVAC systems, lighting and other system components. Using an energy efficiency optimization software, researchers have shown energy consumption in commercial buildings can be reduced by at least 20 to 30 percent by automatically adjusting energy controls in response to changing conditions, Min said.

“We’ve already deployed this technology in several buildings at the Lab, resulting in tremendous benefits,” Min said. “We think this technology is ready for deployment, and it’s easy to install. It represents a very low investment of time and money, and it produces benefits immediately.”

The third piece of the effort is using modeling and simulation to show property owners, city planners and others how to design an efficient infrastructure for charging electric cars. Researchers said the technology can determine how to best site charging stations for electric vehicle fleets. It also can be used to determine the logistics of community electric car-share programs, which have been implemented by others at several low-income housing complexes in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Effective deployment of electric car-share programs can reduce emissions and provide low-cost transportation options to residents who wouldn’t normally choose to purchase an electric vehicle, Min said.

The researchers plan to engage with community groups and city leaders at conferences and symposiums, and work with energy providers and vendors to license or deploy the technologies. Initially the focus of their efforts will be on communities in the San Francisco Bay Area and the greater San Joaquin Valley, with the potential for a much broader expansion. Inquiries from the community are welcomed as well.

“The ideal result is seeing technologies that were developed with the support of the U.S. government benefit all sorts of communities,” Wong said.

For more information, contact wong133 [at] llnl.gov (Robin Wong) at 925-422-5815.