Published: Sept. 3, 2020 By

Kyri Baker and Wangda Zuo Kyri Baker and Wangda Zuo

New research at CU Boulder funded by the U.S. Department of Energy will create an open source tool to optimize how large and small energy systems interact with each other, potentially improving efficiency and resiliency of the power grid dramatically.

The $4.16M project is led by Associate Professor Wangda Zuo with Assistant Professor Kyri Baker as a co-investigator. Both are based in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering. Bryan Birosak and Ellen Edwards at CU Boulder’s Facilities Management are also members of the team. Other outside partners in the project include Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, University of Texas Austin, Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and Amzur technologies.

Zuo said the proposal specifically looks at the interactions between district energy systems and microgrid energy systems. District energy systems, like the one found on CU Boulder’s campus, are a highly efficient way to heat and cool many buildings in a given area from a central plant. By sharing thermal resources, this system can reduce the carbon intensity of heating and cooling in buildings, reduce energy costs, improve air quality and better allow for the integration of renewable energy sources.

Linking these systems to a microgrid – a mini version of an electric grid – could result in energy efficiency improvement of at least 25% overall, Zuo said. It would also allow those smaller grids to keep working in case of disaster, increasing community resiliency. Zuo said the goal is to increase the number of continuous operating hours in the event of outage by 25%.

Linking and optimizing the interactions between district energy systems and microgrid energy systems have been promising solutions for improving efficiency and resiliency for some time. Zuo said it remains underutilized, however, particularly in the United States.

In addition to computer modeling during the project, Zuo said the campuses of CU Boulder and UT Austin would be used for real-world case study between the systems.

The proposed open-source modeling and optimization tool builds off past work on campus and “extends the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s existing URBANopt platform and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Modelica Buildings library to support cooperative, district-scale design and optimization for both district energy and microgrid systems,” said Zuo.

He said such a tool has never been created before.

“Our goal is to create a holistic tool for the coordination of intelligent thermal-electrical networks. That is essential for the optimal design of grid-interactive, efficient district energy systems,” Zuo said. “This is a really exciting project that continues work my lab and others have been doing on campus.”

This award is fundeded by ​U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) under the Advanced Manufacturing Office.