Microgrid Controller, Components Enhance SolarTAC’s New GridNXT Test Facility

Lessons from a HIMC2017 “bonus day” tour

microgrid-controller-ties-together-test-facilityOn the HOMER InternationaI Microgrid Conference (HIMC2017) “bonus day,” HOMER Energy invited attendees to tour a number of microgrid-related facilities in the Denver area. I was lucky enough to attend all three tours along with microgrid industry professionals from around the world. All three tours were amazing: The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) facility in Golden, with its net-zero building constructed from renewable or sustainable materials. And the Alliance for Sustainable Colorado’s LEED Platinum building in downtown Denver, which is making the switch to a DC powered microgrid. But the highlight for me was the last tour of the day, a visit to a solar testing facility near Denver International Airport.

‘SolarTAC is the largest private, multiuser U.S. test facility for solar technologies.’

Even though I live in the area and work in the industry, I didn’t come to the tour with any knowledge about the Solar Technology Acceleration Center (SolarTAC). It looks like a solar plant from the outside, but as we soon found out, it is actually the largest private, multiuser U.S. test facility for solar technologies that provides clients with a state-of-the-art research, demonstration, testing, and validation site for a wide variety of solar technologies.

Our hosts for the tour were SolarTAC executive director Dustin Smith and Steve Drouilhet, founder and CEO of Sustainable Power Systems and an internationally renowned expert in renewable energy microgrid design (Steve had given a presentation at HIMC2017 two days earlier). We toured the extensive grounds, through multiple solar arrays created and used by solar product companies to test new technologies. All equipment and technologies in these arrays are installed by the company doing the testing, but Smith explained that he, along with M&O contractor MRIGlobal, manage and maintain the facility, providing day-to-day support for the projects and data-gathering.

New microgrid test facility, GridNXT, features SRS Universal Microgrid Controller

SolarTAC has recently expanded its mission by constructing a new microgrid test and demonstration facility, GridNXT. The facility incorporates an initial suite of microgrid components, providing a basic operating microgrid that will allow microgrid component vendors and system integrators to test new components and control strategies in a realistic full-scale microgrid setting. These include a 500 kW diesel genset, four 60 kW solar PV inverters, a 1000 kW grid intertie, a 400kW/300 kVAR load simulator, a 100 kW wind turbine simulator, and a 1500 VDC solar array simulator. Sustainable Power Systems’ Universal Microgrid Controller ties all these components together into a working microgrid and serves as the control backbone for the new facility. The SPS microgrid controller has been used in various microgrid projects, both grid-tied and off-grid, in the U.S. and China.

‘GridNXT  gives organizations the ability and location to cost-effectively test new technologies’

The SolarTAC solar and microgrid testing facility is fascinating because it gives organizations the ability and location to cost-effectively test new technologies without having to build a working microgrid from scratch first. The generator, inverter, and solar energy provided can be used to test new products in both off- or on-grid applications, identifying strengths and weaknesses. This SolarTAC microgrid testing facility is a much-needed resource for our industry’s and our world’s energy future. Manufacturers of renewable energy, storage, and control components interested in testing at the GridNXT facility should email Dustin Smith at dtsmith@mriglobal.org. Companies interested in integrating their products with the SPS Universal Microgrid Controller should contact Steve Drouilhet at steve@sustainablepowersystems.com.

Read more about HOMER Energy’s new Combined Dispatch Algorithm, which accurately models microgrid controllers, in Peter Lilienthal’s column on Microgrid News & Insight. And to stay up-to-date on the latest in microgrid technology, subscribe to our newsletter using the form on the top right corner of this page!

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