As more of the makeup of the U.S. electric grid is characterized by renewable energy resources like solar and wind, a need for intelligent inverter-based grid services arises.
The DOE has set its sights on the task, dedicating $25 million, alongside a partner cost-share of $10 million, to launch the Universal Interoperability for Grid-Forming Inverters (UNIFI) Consortium.
Co-led by NREL, along with the University of Washington, and the Electric Power Research institute, the consortium will seek to unify the integration and operation of synchronous machines and inverter-based resources in electric power grids.
NREL said at the current scale of growth in renewables, inverter-based resources are fundamentally changing the physics of the grid by replacing traditional physical generators with fast-response digital devices.
Inverters are already working in concert with old methods of grid operation in many places. On the island of Maui, inverter-based resources like solar and wind are nearing providing 100% of local power, which comes with a new set of opportunities for optimizing the way the grid is operated.
NREL said grid-forming inverters could enable renewable integration at scale with added security, resilience, efficiency, and affordability.
Over the next five years, UNIFI will build consensus on functional requirements and interoperability of grid-forming technologies through the unification of research capabilities and project objectives.
The consortium will use federated hardware test beds housed at partner institutions to demonstrate these next-generation power systems. This will include a facility at least 20 MW in size using different manufacturer technologies and operating scenarios.
UNIFI will also use its findings to produce industry-standard models and tools to facilitate growth in renewables, and will build training materials for the future workforce.