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Research: LA and Japanese partners look to set standards for new technologies

By Arin McKenna

Officials from New Mexico and Japan, including Gov. Susana Martinez, gathered en masse to dedicate the new Smart House Monday afternoon, which is the last link in the $53 million Smart Grid demonstration project.

“The Smart Grid and Smart House are pioneering results stemming from the strong collaboration between Los Alamos County, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and NEDO (New Energy and Industrial Technology and Development Corporation), efforts that will demonstrate how to meet a community’s residential power needs,” Gov. Martinez said.

“This is the first U.S. international project of its kind. And as we stand here today, with project construction complete, I know that New Mexicans across the state are proud to have reached such a significant milestone,” she told the crowd.

Norio Sasaki, president and CEO of Toshiba Corporation, called the technology for this demonstration project the most advanced in the world. The project combines several key elements to test and improve Smart Grid technology.

The grid is composed of more than 4,000 photovoltaic (PV) panels that produce 1 megawatt (MW) of power. PVs produced by Kyocera are supplying 90 percent of the power generation, with 10 different cell-types by other companies producing an additional 100 kilowatts (kW). This will provide data on the efficiency of each type of PV panel.

The Department of Public Utilities also plans to install another 4,000 panels to increase power generation to 2 MW.
The PV array has been scheduled to be online sporadically since this summer, as the system is being integrated into the overall power supply mix.

Once it is completely integrated, the array will supply a high proportion of the power to 2,000 homes in the Barranca and North Mesa areas. This is giving scientists the opportunity to study ways to successfully integrate a stable renewable energy supply into the power mix under actual operating conditions.

Providing a stable flow of power is the major challenge for renewable energy, since the amount of power generated fluctuates according to the intensity of the sunlight. This project incorporates two key elements to solve that issue.

The first is a hybrid system of batteries that combines sodium sulfur batteries (NAS batteries) from NGK Insulators and lead acid batteries from Hitachi. The batteries store the power generated by the PV array and can discharge the power as it is needed, with a response time of one second.

The lead acid batteries only hold 1.2 MW hours of energy, so they are being used to respond on demand to fluctuations such as reduced production due to cloud cover. These batteries have a 17-year lifespan (most solar collection batteries have a five-year lifespan) and require less maintenance than most batteries.

The NAS battery system can discharge 1,000 kW of power for six hours, enough to supply 700 homes. Since these batteries can hold energy for longer periods, they are being used to schedule discharges at specific periods when the grid output is not expected to meet the forecast demand.

The final piece of the puzzle is a state-of-the-art computer system called Micro EMS (energy management system). EMS records and forecasts both supply and demand and coordinates the discharge from the batteries to meet demand, which Kyosera Corporation Executive Vice President Tatsumi Maeda called “a highly intelligent energy management system.”

The Smart House will demonstrate how to optimize renewable energy by designing houses and appliances that reduce energy usage and adapt to fluctuating power supplies.

Features of the house include passive solar design, its own PV array and storage battery to augment power from the grid, a “smart” meter to indicate usage and power supply available in real time and smart appliances  as well as an HVAC system that responds to the amount of power available. Computer systems that allow residents to monitor and control usage are being demonstrated and tested by Kyocera, NEC and Sharp.

NEDO Chairman Kazuo Furukawa, who led the keynote speakers for the ribbon cutting, stressed the importance of this type of research.

“Due to the unexpected accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant, it became necessary for Japan to undertake a review of its energy policy. The Japanese government is currently carrying out in-depth discussions on the new base energy policy plan,” Furukawa said.

“One of the things we are discussing is expanding the renewable energy technologies. There is no doubt that Smart Grid technologies will become increasingly important as they are capable of controlling the balance of energy power supply and demand.”

“Both laboratories are world leaders for power generation research, so by working together, we hope we can lead the global standard for the power systems,” Furukawa said in a follow-up interview.

Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Charlie McMillan stressed the importance of developing Smart Grid technology for national security and the lab’s unique ability to undertake projects such as this.

“I was also reminded that the lab’s energy usage constitutes 70 to 80 percent of the electricity needs in the county, so we have a very strong interest in the success of this project,” McMillan said. “The data we get from this project will provide valuable insight into solving energy issues.”

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, who has been a strong supporter of the project, also spoke at the event.  He said, “This is a very forward thinking idea that has come to fruition because of a lot of commitment and dedication, not only to local communities and the advancements of technology, but to secure concerns related to climate change around the world.”

For all its importance, the Smart House sits on a non-descript piece of land overlooking Los Alamos Canyon behind the CenturyLink building on Trinity Drive.

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