Vanderbilt to collaborate on $4.8 million ARPA-E microgrid control project

Vanderbilt computer engineers will collaborate with colleagues at North Carolina State University on a new $4.8 million project to develop technology to co-design and control microgrids.

The award was among 68 grants exceeding $175 million announced this week by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). The research and development projects are aimed aim at developing disruptive technologies to strengthen the nation’s advanced energy security. The ARPA-E OPEN 2021 program prioritizes funding high-impact, high-risk technologies that support novel approaches to clean energy challenges.

The researchers have been working on an open source microgrid controller using RIAPS—the Resilient Information Architecture Platform for Smart Grid—developed by Vanderbilt and NC State.

Gabor Karsai

“RIAPS is a software platform for building distributed, fault tolerant, real-time applications,” said Gabor Karsai, professor of computer science and electrical and computer engineering, who leads the Vanderbilt team. “Its capabilities make it ideal for microgrid functions like energy management, islanding transitions, and frequency control.”

The new round of funding will expand the system to include design capabilities.

Srdjan Lukic, deputy director of the FREEDM Systems Center and professor of electrical and computer engineering, leads the NC State team.

The three-year project will develop, implement, and demonstrate a structured microgrid coordination/control co-design flow that yields the selection of the right equipment, integrated control, and a communication architecture. Each RIAPS hardware ‘node’ uses a low-cost embedded computing device that hosts a suite of cyber-secure control algorithms to effectively manage renewable generation while providing power to critical loads.

NC State will work on the algorithms for the design flow and on field testing, together with Commonwealth Edison, an electric utility, while the Vanderbilt team will implement the design tools and core software for the nodes. Vanderbilt’s effort is budgeted at $2 million.

Microgrids can isolate when needed, such as during and after extreme weather events, when the rest of the grid may be damaged, yet continue to provide energy from local resources such as solar PV, batteries, or generators. The team’s approach to designing and operating microgrids will enable effective integration and management of renewable energy generation on the power distribution system while providing power to critical loads.