Ohio State hosts DOE Connected Communities kickoff
U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) officials spent a day on The Ohio State University campus this week to kick off their Connected Communities initiative. They were joined by leaders of Connected Communities project awardees, including an Ohio State team of researchers.
In October 2021, DOE announced $61 million for 10 pilot projects that will conceive, optimize, build and refine “connected communities,” in which buildings and distributed energy resources – such as photovoltaic solar panels, electric vehicle charging stations and storage – are controlled in coordination with the electrical grid. This leads to optimized energy consumption within the community, providing a model for reducing the building sector’s contribution to the climate crisis.
As one of 10 selected projects, Ohio State received a $4.9 million DOE grant to be used over the next five years.
Led by College of Engineering Associate Dean of Facilities Michael Hagenberger, Engineering Assistant Professor Jordan Clark and ENGIE Project Manager Caitlin Holley, Ohio State’s project leverages the university’s public-private partnership with Ohio State Energy Partners established in 2017 by ENGIE North America and Axium Infrastructure. Since then, the partners have embarked on a transformation of the 485-building Columbus campus with the installation of nearly 1,000 smart meters, approval of more than $190 million in energy efficiency measures and implementation of a central analytics and control platform. These infrastructure upgrades have resulted in Ohio State’s Columbus campus becoming the one of the nation’s leaders in campus energy management and a replicable pilot for other communities.
Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy Acting Assistant Secretary Alejandro Moreno said the breadth of academic researchers, utility leaders and government officials in attendance represented the future of the energy sector.
Ohio State was the only academic institution selected to lead a Connected Communities project. The other project awardees include: Electric Power Research Institute, Inc.; IBACOS, Inc.; PacifiCorp; Portland General Electric; Post Road Foundation; Slipstream Group, Inc.; Spokane Edo; and SunPower Corporation.
The Ohio State project team will develop and manage its “Connected Community” as a pilot cluster of campus buildings, of diverse vintage and use type, and energy assets controlled by artificial intelligence (AI) tools. The energy assets include: multiple central chiller plants; a steam plant; 65,000 square feet of solar power photovoltaics; 29 electric vehicle charging stations; and 50 megawatts of wind energy through a power purchase agreement.
ENGIE’s novel Smart Institutions platform will integrate data from these assets – streams of real-time utility data such as electricity and chilled water from campus buildings, hyperlocal weather data and occupancy data via wireless access points – to facilitate resource utilization decisions and control campus buildings in coordination, following extensive modeling in the project’s first few years.
Buildings account for 74% of U.S. electricity consumption – and even more during times of peak demand. Moreover, the way electricity is generated and consumed is changing year by year, fueled by the rapid adoption of renewable energy resources like hydropower, wind, and solar. Due to these sources’ variability and events exacerbated by climate change, it is more complicated than ever to deliver power when people need it most. Still, maintaining today’s energy system is not enough. To fully decarbonize the grid by 2035 and the economy by 2050, every tool will be necessary: energy efficiency to reduce demand, beneficial electrification to eliminate distributed emissions, and flexible integration of distributed energy resources.
“What we have here is a suite of new technologies that offer opportunities for flexibility in the power sector,” he said. “These projects are helping show the boundaries of what we can predict, how we make the best possible decisions, and creating a space where we can practice that and learn.”