DOE Selects NRECA to Optimize Distributed Energy Resources

(ARLINGTON, VA) — The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced today it is investing more than $1.3 million in research to create low-cost, demand-side management tools for improving the resiliency of the country’s electric grid and better controlling peak demand. Led by America’s electric cooperatives and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), the GridBallast project will optimize incorporation of distributed energy resources on the grid.

NRECA and its research partners will create two devices: a water heater controller and a device to control plug-in appliances. The mechanisms will use algorithms to continuously monitor the voltage and frequency of electricity feeds directly at the plug. In response to irregularities, the devices will turn electric appliances off and on while being careful to preserve quality of service.
Unlike traditional demand-response programs that manage devices from a central location, the new controllers will function autonomously, monitoring electrical anomalies in the field and making rapid, low-scale adjustments. Averting the need for communications infrastructure, GridBallast could reduce load control costs by at least 50 percent, the project’s leaders say.

“They will be faster than centrally-controlled demand response programs. They won’t require operator control. And they’ll minimize opportunities for cybersecurity intrusions,” said Jim Spiers, GridBallast principal investigator and vice president of NRECA Business and Technology Strategies. “The goal with GridBallast is to make load management an inherent part of grid operations rather than a central control action.”

Researchers will focus on defining control algorithms that will allow GridBallast devices to work together without a network. The research team assembled by NRECA includes experts from Carnegie Mellon University, Eaton and SparkMeter. Eaton will develop the water-heater controller. SparkMeter will build a smart circuit controller. NRECA and co-ops will pilot the devices on their systems in partnership with cooperatives.

GridBallast is the first cooperative-led project funded through DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Administration – Energy (ARPA-E), specifically the Network Optimized Distributed Energy Systems (NODES) program for advancing demand-side management technology.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is the national service organization that represents the nation’s more than 900 private, not-for-profit, consumer-owned electric cooperatives, which provide service to 42 million people in 47 states.