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Smart Ideas Wanted for Grid Modernization

Plug & Play DER Challenge issues call for concepts

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A consortium of national labs and nonprofit organizations has announced a call for concepts to engage the smart grid community in demonstrating visionary interoperability capabilities for how facilities with distributed energy resources, or DERs, integrate and interact with the utility grid.

The Plug & Play DER Challenge is being organized and administered by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) for the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium (GMLC). The challenge is being rolled out in collaboration with DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA), the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, alongside other project industry advisors.

“The future of local solar power and electric vehicle charging requires coordination with the flexibility in demand and storage to ensure a reliable and resilient electric grid,” said Steve Widergren, principal engineer at PNNL and interoperability project lead for the consortium. “Integration must be simplified across the board. This event challenges industry to leapfrog to a universal way that all these technologies can connect and operate in harmony with little fuss or bother.”

The goal of the project is to improve interoperability as a means toward easing technology integration across various devices and systems, including related end-use systems such as buildings, electric vehicles and DERs. DERs are smaller, decentralized electrical generation, storage, and flexible load devices and methods that connect to the electric distribution grid.

“Lack of interoperability drives up costs, reduces system performance and creates vulnerabilities,” said Berkeley Lab research scientist Bruce Nordman. “Particularly in the case of DERs, interoperability-related problems make it more difficult to integrate high amounts of renewable energy sources and energy storage.”

“The Plug & Play DER Challenge is designed to be a catalyst for new and innovative thinking on the critical issues involved in DER interconnection and integration, which are themselves central to our increasingly complex and digital energy system,” said Christine Stearn, Senior Manager for the Smart Electric Power Alliance’s 51st State Initiative. “What is particularly exciting for SEPA is the opportunities the project presents for collaboration across a range of industry stakeholders and experts.”

“Interoperability ensures that the many connected devices and assets in a smart and integrated grid can communicate with each other in a transparent, secure and accurate way,” said Mark McGranaghan, Vice President of Distribution and Energy Utilization for EPRI. “The Plug and Play Challenge provides an opportunity for power system stakeholders to share, learn, and collaborate on the journey toward interoperability, for the benefit of the public.”

The GMLC is a strategic partnership between the DOE and 13 national laboratories to bring together leading experts and resources to collaborate on national grid modernization goals. GMLC is working closely with partners in industry, academia, and across cities and states to deliver on the objectives in six broad technical areas, as outlined in DOE’s Grid Modernization Multiyear Program Plan. Through a comprehensive portfolio of projects, these integrated efforts will deliver new concepts, tools, platforms and technologies to better measure, analyze, predict and control the grid of the future.

In the first phase of this challenge, teams will devise specifications for an interface that supports DER integration, and then develop proposals for demonstrating the integration process with hardware and software. Presentations and initial concept proposals are due on Sept. 7. A webinar on August 16 will introduce participants to the requirements.

Qualifying submitters will be invited to present their concepts for a DER integration interface at North American Smart Energy Week Sept. 24-27, in Anaheim, California.

The Plug & Play DER Challenge will conclude with live demonstrations of the hardware and software interface for integrating DERs with a utility grid. These demonstrations will take place at a public event targeted for 2019.

The Challenge Overview, with full details on timelines, specifications and requirements, can be found here.

Media contacts:
K Kaufmann, [email protected], 202-379-1637
Susan Bauer, [email protected], 509-372-6083
Donald Cutler, [email protected], 650-847-8077
Julie Chao, [email protected], 510-486-6491

About Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory addresses the world’s most urgent scientific challenges by advancing sustainable energy, protecting human health, creating new materials, and revealing the origin and fate of the universe. Founded in 1931, Berkeley Lab’s scientific expertise has been recognized with 13 Nobel Prizes. The University of California manages Berkeley Lab for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. For more, visit

About Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is the nation’s premier laboratory for scientific discovery in chemistry, earth sciences, and data analytics and for solutions to the nation’s toughest challenges in energy resiliency and national security. Founded in 1965, PNNL is operated by Battelle for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit PNNL’s News Center. Follow us on FacebookGoogle+InstagramLinkedIn and Twitter.

About EPRI
The Electric Power Research Institute, Inc. (EPRI, conducts research and development relating to the generation, delivery and use of electricity for the benefit of the public. An independent, nonprofit organization, EPRI brings together its scientists and engineers as well as experts from academia and industry to help address challenges in electricity, including reliability, efficiency, health, safety and the environment. EPRI’s members represent more than 90 percent of the electricity generated and delivered in the United States, and international participation extends to 40 countries. EPRI’s principal offices and laboratories are located in Palo Alto, Calif.; Charlotte, N.C.; Knoxville, Tenn.; and Lenox, Mass.