Sandia conducts multi-disciplinary research and development to enable grid modernization and large-scale deployment of renewable and distributed energy resources.

Addressing the Challenges

Electric power grids are facing a major transformation, driven by the need to integrate renewable energy, improve energy efficiency, and allow consumers more control over their energy consumption. One of the challenges of renewable power generation is that it can be interrupted, and this variability affects the stability of the power produced.

As the penetration of renewable generation sources (such as wind, solar, or wave energy) has risen due to state and regional renewable portfolio standards, grid managers must account for sudden, unforeseeable power output increases/decreases from these uncontrolled grid resources. This adds complexity to grid operation in excess of that contemplated by current control/contracting schemes.

Distributed Energy Technologies Laboratory

Distributed Energy Technologies Laboratory

To properly serve consumers, the grid must maintain and control generation that can (nearly) instantaneously ramp up and down in response to changes in load. As it evolves, the “smart grid” will combine established power technologies with advanced analytics, smart devices, and automation to create a more reliable, resilient, flexible, secure, and efficient power system that has a lower environmental impact. To help electric utilities and grid operators deal with these issues, Sandia draws upon its expertise in a number of science and engineering disciplines including energy security, complex energy systems, renewable energy, and enabling technologies (such as energy storage).

Supporting the Modernized Grid

Sandia has pioneered work in renewable energy since the 1970s, with a growing focus on supporting the cost competitiveness and energy security advantages of renewable and distributed energy resources. The lab’s work helps address challenges to modernizing the grid and electricity, such as voltage and frequency disturbances caused by increased renewable energy penetration, power systems operations and planning, and control and security of microgrids.

To enable future large-scale deployment of distributed energy resources and renewable energy, Sandia develops disruptive solutions including advanced simulation tools, new power electronics concepts, adaptive control and protection systems, and new testing methodologies and standards. Sandia maintains and continually improves research and development capabilities, including technical expertise and state-of-the-art testing facilities to address complex technical challenges, in partnership with government agencies, national laboratories, universities, and industry stakeholders.

Sandia develops and applies advanced modeling and simulation tools to analyze the impact of large-scale distributed energy resources and renewable energy deployment on the grid and to develop innovative strategies and technical solutions. Sandia develops and validates multi-domain models for grid analysis and advanced decision support tools for R&D operations and planning. Sandia also pioneers quasi-static time series (QSTS) power flow, state estimation, and stochastic analysis techniques that are computationally efficient and scalable. Using these tools, researchers study challenges such as emerging dynamic behavior introduced by smart inverters, distribution feeder hosting capacity, optimal decision-making under high uncertainty, and interconnection frequency performance with high-shares of variable renewable generation. We partner with utilities and software providers to ensure these advances are applicable and widely available.
Sandia’s comprehensive power electronics and controls R&D program focuses on improving capabilities, efficiency, and reliability of next generation inverters and converters. The lab also designs cyber-secure controls that aggregate renewable energy and distributed energy resources optimally aggregated into microgrids or virtual power plants to support resilience and grid support. Sandia’s solutions include communications-based island detection using power line carrier and synchrophasor schemes, development of controls that enable grid support functions and island detection, and development of interoperability test protocols.
Sandia works with industry, utilities, and government agencies to validate and demonstrate advanced smart grid technologies in laboratory environments and real-world demonstrations. Sandia applies automated testing platforms to evaluate cybersecurity, interoperability, grid compatibility, controls performance, reliability, and safety of renewable energy and distributed energy resources devices and systems. Technology validation and demonstration activities also make use of control and power hardware-in-the-loop capabilities, including Sandia’s SCEPTRE emulytics platform that combines controls, cybersecurity, communications, and power systems domains. The System Validation Platform (SVP) tool to accelerates the development, certification, and standardization of distributed energy resources technologies through rapid and fully automated laboratory evaluation. Finally, Sandia conducts full-scale demonstrations involving customer and utility assets.
With major stakeholders, Sandia pursues standardization or implementation of best practices related to interconnection, interoperability, and safety of renewable energy and distributed energy resources. Sandia has been a major contributor to standards related to arc fault detection and mitigation, interoperability, disturbance tolerance, and grid support functionality. Sandia’s contributions span scientific basis, development of testing procedures, and harmonization across the industry. With national and international partners, Sandia leads working groups under the International Smart Grid Action Network Smart Grid (ISGAN) International Research Facility Network (SIRFN), IEEE 1547, Smart Inverter Working Group, UL 1741, Smart Grid Interoperable Panel (SGIP), and multiple other collaborations.
Sandia maintains integrated laboratory facilities that provide capabilities for real-world research and development of renewable and  distributed energy resources technologies.  These facilities, combined with technical expertise in power electronics, cybersecurity, high performance computing, visualization, controls, and reliability science, provide a test platform to support advanced research and development on a wide variety of distributed energy resources and renewable energy technologies: