Grid Modernization
Distributed Energy Resources

Grid integration project to test smart inverters and distributed solar

Austin Energy in Austin, Texas, plans to launch a pilot project on Feb. 1 that will test an integrated distributed energy management system using smart inverters.

The utility is calling the project Austin Energy SHINES, which stands for Sustainable and Holistic Integration of Energy Storage and Solar PV, according to a Jan. 19 news release. The project will integrate 4 megawatts of solar, 4 megawatts of distributed energy storage, smart inverters, forecasting tools, market signals, advanced communications and a software optimization platform.

The goal of SHINES is to analyze and determine best practices for integrating renewable energy and storage on the grid at utility, commercial and residential scales, Austin Energy said in the news release. The project will test the reliability of components when interconnected as well as the feasibility of mass adoption.

"The ultimate goal is to reliably and affordably enable solar generation beyond practical limits, especially when solar installations are concentrated on certain distribution feeders," said Debbie Kimberly, vice president of customer energy solutions at Austin Energy, in the news release.

Austin Energy received a $4.3 million grant from the Department of Energy's SunShot Initiative for the pilot project. The total cost of the project is $8.6 million, said Karl Popham, manager of electric vehicles and emerging technologies for Austin Energy. The project is also supported by $1 million from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The remainder will come from Austin Energy funds, Popham said.

The project helps the utility move forward in meeting the city's plan to achieve 55 percent renewable energy generation by 2025, which includes specific goals for local solar and energy storage, the utility said in the news release.

SHINES is expected to span several years and enable two grid batteries to tie directly into the utility's distribution system. One is to be paired with a new, 3.2-MW community solar project and the other will support commercial and residential rooftop solar systems in a mixed-use development.

While smart inverter technology is not in widespread use, one of the goals of the project is to leverage this innovative, emerging technology, Popham said.

"We believe there is potential in smart inverter and related technologies to support mass penetration of distributed energy resources," Popham said. "Specifically, we look for this technology to maximize DER benefits in regards to grid reliability, dispatch, aggregation and customer value."

The smart inverters will communicate with the utility's proposed optimization platform and use simulated market signals and other data — weather forecasts, grid conditions — to allow the optimization tools to control and aggregate the distributed resources, Popham said.