Grant improves solar energy, storm preparedness efforts

As the frequency of severe storms increases, UConn continues to develop more advanced technologies and resources to prepare communities for power outages and reduce recovery time.

The latest initiative — made possible by a recent $4.4 million federal grant — improves cities’ access to solar power and battery storage in the event of a storm or other emergency that affects power. In addition, the project will unlock resources for rural Connecticut towns that typically take a long time to restore power.

Junbo Zhao, Associate Director of Eversource Energy Center, and his team have been awarded a $4.4 million award by the U.S. Department of Energy under the Solar Energy Technologies Office’s (SETO) Renewables Advancing Community Energy Resilience (RACER) program. The grant aims to enable communities to use solar and solar-plus storage to prevent power disruptions caused by extreme weather and other events, and to quickly restore power in the event of an outage.

“This is a strong indication of our faculty’s innovations in solar energy, battery energy and power systems research for the benefit of communities in Connecticut and beyond,” said Kazem Kazerounian, dean of the UConn School of Engineering.

This project will develop and demonstrate proactive community outage preparedness and an active solution to autonomously restore last mile visibility, referred to as PROACTIVE, to achieve community resilience using solar power and other distributed energy resources.

“Due to the lack of proper tools to predict outages, stakeholders face the challenge of predicting infrastructure damage and its severity in advance, significantly hampering outage preparedness,” says Zhao, professor of electrical and computer engineering. “After extreme events, there is also a lack of robust sensor and communication systems that allow rapid assessment of infrastructure damage and the availability of assets and energy resources to support rapid recovery.

“This PROACTIVE project will develop and demonstrate a two-layer risk-aware preparedness and grid transparency that includes safe, equitable, coordinated and automated recovery tools for community energy resilience to address these challenges,” Zhao says.

PROACTIVE will be the latest mitigation and recovery technology for the Eversource Energy Center, located in the Innovation Technology Building at UConn Tech Park. The center uses its outage prediction model to predict the impact of storms, using meteorological data to proactively position recovery teams ahead of inclement weather.

“Climate change is one of the biggest challenges we face as a society, and the intensity and frequency of storms will continue to increase,” said Pamir Alpay, Interim Vice President of Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UConn. “Working with our partners at Eversource, we are committed to developing technology and advancing research to improve our ability to mitigate the impact of these storms and keep Connecticut residents safe.”

For community resilience, this project will demonstrate that adequate pre-event preparation based on granular outage predictions would greatly speed up the process of outage recovery, such as: B. Dispatch of crew members, resource allocation and coordination of local resources. The results of this project will directly inform community leaders about the need to improve the resilience of their energy systems and evaluate the potential combined solar energy and energy storage solutions.

Junbo Zhao
Junbo Zhao, associate director of the Eversource Energy Center, will shortly demonstrate the capabilities of the new technology to West Hartford and Hartford officials.

Zhao says this is where collaboration and coordination between different communities becomes a key component. Through the program, a wealthier city like West Hartford with significant amounts of solar and energy storage systems could provide excess energy to a neighboring community like Hartford.

Zhao says his team will meet with community leaders and stakeholders in West Hartford and Hartford to demonstrate the technologies and how they can benefit respective cities.

It will take three years to fully implement the program, Zhao said. This year will be the research and development phase, followed by demonstration of capabilities to the communities and finally rollout to all communities Eversource serves.

UConn was selected as part of the Renewables Advancing Community Energy Resilience (RACER) funding program, an attempt to increase the resilience of energy systems and improve communities’ readiness to withstand and recover quickly from disasters. PROACTIVE is one of several projects that will develop and demonstrate sensors and communication technologies that allow rapid identification of available resources to re-energize a power system after an extreme event. Further information on the selected projects can be found here.

The Eversource Energy Center at the University of Connecticut is a partnership between New England’s largest energy company and the School of Engineering; the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources; and the School of Business, located in the Innovation Partnership Building at UConn Tech Park. Founded in 2015, the partnership is dedicated to using cutting-edge research to solve real-world challenges where weather, security and energy intersect.