U.S. opens $135 million clean energy research center

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The U.S. Energy Department and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have opened the Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF) in Golden, Colorado, the only one in the nation focused on utility-scale clean energy grid integration.

Colorado-based Advanced Energy Industries has become the first industry partner to sign on with ESIF and will start work at the facility developing lower cost, better performing solar power inverters.

Located at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s campus in Golden, Colorado, the nearly 17,000 square meter facility is the first in the U.S. to help both public and private sector researchers scale-up promising clean energy technologies, from solar modules and wind turbines to electric vehicles and efficient, interactive home appliances — and test how they interact with each other and the grid at utility-scale.

Advanced Energy Industries is using the ESIF to test its new photovoltaic inverter technology with the facility’s utility-scale grid simulators and hardware-in-the-loop systems. Advanced Energy’s inverter will help support a smarter grid that can handle two-way flows of power and communication while reducing hardware costs, according to NREL.

The Energy Department is encouraging utilities, manufacturers, universities and other national labs to fully utilize ESIF’s capabilities and resources.

The latest Energy Department user facility will house more than 15 experimental laboratories and several outdoor test beds, including an interactive hardware-in-the-loop system that lets researchers and manufacturers test their products at full power and real grid load levels. The ESIF will also feature a petascale supercomputer that can support large-scale modeling and simulation at one quadrillion operations per second.

"Our National Laboratories are a national treasure that help America’s entrepreneurs and innovators to accelerate the development of new technologies," said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. "This new facility will allow for an even stronger partnership with manufacturers, utilities and researchers to help integrate more clean, renewable energy into a smarter, more reliable and more resilient power grid."

NREL Director Dan Arvizu added that the facility was "an excellent example of the impact that federally-funded research can have on solving national problems beyond the scope of private investment. And, it demonstrates the importance of partnerships among the federal government, industry, and academia."

ESIF is aimed at overcoming generation, transmission, distribution and end-use challenges to support a cleaner, affordable and more secure U.S. energy mix, including research into next generation building technologies, microgrids, energy storage batteries and utility-scale renewable energy.

"As the cost of clean energy technologies continues to come down, seamless and efficient grid integration will help make resources and products even more affordable, while giving Americans more control over how they use energy in their homes and businesses," NREL said in a statement.

ESIF is the latest addition to the Energy Department’s national network of user facilities that provides nearly 30,000 scientists and engineers each year with open access to some of the world’s best instruments and tools, including x-ray sources, accelerators and supercomputers. Corporate users pay the full cost of conducting research and retain their intellectual property and data rights, while users who agree to publish their research results are charged a discounted fee.

In the last four years, solar generation in the U.S. has more than doubled, while at the same time the costs of photovoltaic systems has dropped 80%.

"As more and more solar power contributes to the U.S. energy mix, lower cost advanced solar inverters will help usher in an increasingly diverse electricity portfolio, while providing American consumers and businesses with reliable and affordable energy options," NREL said.

The U.S. Congress provided $135 million to construct and equip the user facility. The White House’s 2014 budget request includes an additional $20 million for facility operations.