One of the challenges facing the renewable energy sector is integration – the massive electrical infrastructure of the United States, built over decades, can’t simply be shutdown and overhauled or easily spliced into. Unfortunately, the US has not had facilities to perform the megawatt-level research and development needed to adequately address this challenge – until now.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, located in Golden, Colorado, is building a brand new $135 million research facility to pioneer a 21st century overhaul to the United States’ aging energy infrastructure. The facility will be the first megawatt testing center in the nation, with state-of-the-art electrical systems simulations. The project LEED Gold project began in 2011, and has a completion date set for fall of this year.
“The ESIF will be the place to do hardware-in-the-loop testing with low-to megawatt-scale power capability,” said Dr. Bill Kramer, Senior Engineer at NREL. “It will allow researchers and manufacturers to conduct integration tests at power and actual load levels in real-time simulation, and evaluate component and system performance before going to market.”
The facility will span more than 185,000 square feet, providing space for over 200 employees and more than 14 fully equipped laboratories. ESIF will also host a teraflop-scaled supercomputer (planned to be expanded to petaflop-scale), enabling high-performance modeling and materials simulation. This will be the fastest computing system anywhere dedicated to energy efficiency and renewable technologies. With a power usage effectiveness rating of 1.06, the computing facility will also be among the most energy efficient in the world.
“ESIF will be one of a few facilities in the country capable of providing for the fully integrated field-testing of hardware and software technologies, enabling advanced visualization and simulation, establishing a virtual utility operations platform, and providing Smart Grid interoperability testing and validation," says Robert Shapard, Chairman of GridWise Alliance.
In order to achieve LEED Gold Certification, the facility employs recycling of waste energy from the laboratories to help heat the campus, with under floor air distribution and active radiant beams for cooling and ventilation. Daylighting and Energy Star rated equipment, among other green building features, will lower the building’s energy usage and maximize efficiency.
"Participation from utilities, equipment manufacturers, renewable systems integrators, universities, and other national labs and related industries in fully utilizing ESIF's capabilities will dramatically accelerate the research required to transform the energy system to one that is cleaner, more secure, and more reliable," says Dr. Dave Mooney, Director of NREL's Electricity, Resources and Building Systems Integration Center. With the advanced data generated by this cutting-edge research and development project, the United States and countries around the world will be better able to integrate emerging renewable technologies into existing power grids, and help modernize infrastructure for the next generation of energy production.