Buildings Operated as Smart Micro-Grids

Electricity grids in the U.S. and other countries are being strained by increasing demand. Distributed generation sources, including photovoltaic arrays and wind turbines, can help meet demand but introduce undesirable power variations due variations in solar radiation and wind speed. Buildings, if operated as smart micro-grids capable of providing needed services to the local distribution system, can help tame the unwanted fluctuations by reducing loads and adjusting the characteristics of consumed electricity (real and reactive power). Key elements of micro-grids are supervisory software capable of optimizing electricity usage and bidding services to the grid and active power electronics that control photovoltaic systems, variable-speed motor drives and the charging and discharging of plug-in hybrid and pure electric vehicles.

The Building Technology Program, together with Boston University researchers, are investigating aspects of building micro-grids with the support of the National Science Foundation. MIT’s work includes the development of detailed models of the thermo-fluid and electrical response of HVAC systems to changes in control inputs and an investigation of the scaling of building-level results to neighborhoods and cities. The work is supervised by John Fernandez and Les Norford and includes MIT graduate students David Blum, Jonathan Krones and Young-Jin Kim.