TBEIC: Speeding the Path-to-Grid

The TBEIC Grid Test-Bed Lab is intended as a commercializing platform for testing and evaluating grid compatibility, interoperability, and readiness of advanced energy solutions.  The Lab’s design is based on a sensor rich and controllable representative circuit that will mimic a utility distribution system capable of simulating the impacts on this system resulting from specific (client) technology solutions in a “real” operating environment of loads and disturbances.  The goals of this bi-directional power and communications platform may be summarized as follows:

  • Provide a Representative Distribution Circuit for testing grid compatibility, interoperability and “readiness” of client technology solutions
  • Enable a wide range of Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) to effectively interface with key grid-compatibility evaluation resources
  • Mimic and simulate impact and control of client solutions on utility distribution systems
  • Enable testing of communications and control, monitoring, protection and protocol issues
  • Enable testing of and provide feedback on the impact and capabilities of distributed energy resources performance and grid management by client technology-solutions
  • Provide clients the capability to demonstrate the effectiveness of solution technologies such as energy storage, electric vehicles, photovoltaic systems, wind generation, ice storage, consumer energy management devices and systems

By focusing on intermediate grid technologies (i.e., the technologies that help connect and control devices on the grid), TBEIC will make it possible for energy management technologies, renewable power generation, energy storage and others to more quickly develop and prove grid readiness.  A key feature of the TBEIC grid-enabled infrastructure will be its robust power electronics base.  Power electronics utilize semiconductor switching devices to control electrical power flow and convert it from one form to another to meet specific needs. The conversion process requires some essential hardware: a control system, semiconductor switches, packaging, thermal management systems, passive components (such as capacitors, inductors, and transformers), protection devices, DC and AC disconnects, and enclosures. This hardware is referred to collectively as a power conversion system (PCS). In the electric grid, power electronics have two main uses: (1) power flow control and (2) interface with electric generation and storage.  The primary focus of the TBEIC test bed is on the latter – building a test and development ground for the design, demonstration and optimization of technologies that are either connected to or serve as key components of the integrated grid infrastructure.

FirstEnergy will be an active collaborator in facility design to provide technical consultation and review of plans and capabilities as well as providing feedback to start-up companies.  In addition, FirstEnergy is interested in establishing a lab for deployment testing of utility equipment, such as distribution automation, voltage management and metering which supports our smart grid activities and creates access to utility technical expertise at TBEIC.  This lab demonstrates FirstEnergy as a committed participant collaborator and end user of ultimate tech development at TBEIC.

Technical Plan Part 1:  Core Test-Bed Technology– Utility Management Components
The major design and construction modules of the proposed FirstEnergy/TBEIC Lab test-bed include:
Mock-up (low voltage) electric distribution system – indoors.  The primary purpose of the internal-use facility is to validate control methodologies in a small scale to evaluate if the system management and control capabilities of a client’s technology are appropriate for integrating device inverters, communications and control network.  (In fact, most DER technologies and systems as well as loads operate at low voltage, including microgrids.) The indoor mock-up distribution system will provide for testing of multiple client devices to help clients ensure operability, compatibility with algorithms and response to control and management mechanisms prior to testing on a full voltage system.  The specific components comprising the indoor module include:

  • Minimum of  5 circuit breakers
  • Capacitor banks
  • Load banks (resistive and inductive, to manage and mimic load capabilities)
  • Relays/Protection systems (bi-directional)
  • Sensors
  • Meters
  • Communications Network

Full voltage utility distribution circuit connection, (capability up to 1MW) – outdoors.  The primary purpose of the outdoor module is to enable client technologies to be tested at a higher voltage scale once compatibility with control and management (indoor module) mechanisms have been validated.  Pending the design and resulting specifications that will comprise a portion of the timeline associated with Year 1, the outdoor module is envisioned – external to the building – to enable manipulation to full-scale voltage (approximately 15,000 volt) as a system capable of connecting to the electric grid where the test system could connect to full-distribution voltage.  The specific components comprising the outdoor module include:

  • Circuit breakers
  • Fuses
  • Switches
  • Transformers
  • Protective devices/ relays
  • Communications
  • Sensors
  • Load banks
  • Capacitors
  • Meters

Home Area Network (HAN) and Consumer Device Testing, Control and Communications Capabilities.  Identified as a key area of interest and innovation and a focus for product commercialization by our commercialization partner, Intwine, the HAN applications are a priority for TBEIC’s Lab testing capabilities and connections.  Intended to mimic the “meter side” of a utility system, TBEIC intends to complement Tri-C’s proposal to develop a HAN-based home simulator for skills-training and commercialization using a bi-directional power and communications link.  Anticipated components of this module include:

  • Communications hub
  • Consumer gateway communication device
  • Consumer devices
  • HAN/facility area network devices

These Modules will form the core technology of TBEIC’s Lab Test-Bed and upon build-out, will enable FirstEnergy to use these Modules as a customer of the initial test-bed functionality while further developments get underway for Thrust 2.

Technical Plan Part 2:  Core Test-Bed Integration Technologies Environment
A key challenge of today’s renewable energy industry is how to coordinate the operation and interface of DERs with the utility grid operations and customer demand.  Design as well as construction, installation and operational launch will focus on the test-bed’s ability to respond to this critical industry challenge.

 Integration Technologies Environment Design – In order to respond to this industry challenge, a key focus for design is to enable a standard test bench for injecting alternative energy into the utility power grid.  As such, design will include the following major components:

  • DC-DC converters will be used to regulate the output voltage at 600 V level. Buck/boost topologies and a closed-loop control algorithm are to be applied to accept various source voltage levels and maintain a constant DC output level. A thyristor gating circuit will be designed and built to provide gate pulses to the thyristors.
  • C-AC inverters are to be used to convert (for example) 600 V DC into three-phase 60 Hz output. An embedded control board is to synchronize the phase with the regular 480 V utility supply. With feedback on customer requirements during the design phase, the latest technologies in the power electronic, embedded system and digital signal processing will be applied to both DC-DC converters and DC-AC inverters.
  • Circuit breakers are to automatically connect and disconnect the supplies and loads from the main circuits.  The built-in relays in the circuit breaker can be controlled remotely by programmable logic controllers (PLC).
  • Wireless meters are to collect the voltage, current, and phase data at varies nodes of the circuit. Data is transmitted through a peer-peer wireless communication network and  collected by the central wireless receiver. The wireless receiver collects and sends the meter data to the web/database server for further processing.  Analysis of the power factors, line frequency, voltage waveform, power conversion efficiency, and line harmonic contents is calculated and displayed on a web page that updates itself every one second.
  • Web/database server will monitor and store the voltage, current, phase data in the entire system. Real-time application software is used to communicate with PLCs for connecting/disconnecting supplies and loads based on the demand and supply ratios.
  • One electrical motor and one electrical vehicle (EV) charge station will be used to simulate the loads. A variable speed motor drive can be controlled by the PLC to increase/decrease the speed of the motor, and provide a variable load situation.

How these components may enable DERs to interface with the low voltage distribution test bed is illustrated in Figure 1.  In the commercial scale, the injection of solar energy into the grid has to wait for the demands on the power utility grid.  The components described will enable this type of energy “supply” to interface with the core test-bed such that demand and supply information will be processed in real-time. A circuit breaker will be closed automatically when the grid demand matches the supply capability of the test lab; otherwise the circuit break is to remain open.  The utility grid can also disconnect this circuit breaker at any given time.  An active filter will be used to eliminate 3rd, 5th, and 11th harmonic components from e.g. 480 V supplies.  How these components may enable DERs to interface with the medium voltage distribution test bed is illustrated in Figure 2.


TBEIC Believes

“I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success... Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.”

-Nikola Tesla