August 2015

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EMAIL INTERVIEWGeorge Hernandez and Ken Sinclair

George HernandezGeorge Hernandez, Grid Modernization Technical Advisor, DOE EERE

George Hernandez joined PNNL in 2009 and works in the Advanced Building Controls group. Mr. Hernandez is a Staff Scientist and senior demand side management professional and is on detail at the Department of Energy.  While at DOE, he has co-authored the High Performance RTU Challenge, the Buildings Performance Database, the Low Cost Wireless Metering Challenge, Energy Information Handbook, the Portable Sensor Suitcase, Open Source Small Building Control System, and the Transactional Network project.  Mr. Hernandez has extensive knowledge, skills, and capabilities derived from a substantial career in demand side utility management across a wide variety of commercial and industrial sectors and utilities as both a corporate employee and an independent consultant. Mr. Hernandez received his BS in Mechanical Engineering from California State University and his Masters in Mechanical Engineering from The University of California at Berkeley. He is a Licensed Professional Engineer (PE) by the State of California.


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SinclairIt’s been some time since we checked in on the Building Technologies Office at DOE. What’s new and exciting?
Hernandez:  Over the past few years, the topics of Grid Integration and Grid Modernization have been a focus of the DOE.  Within our Buildings Technologies Office (BTO) these two topics have been the lightning rod for us to rethink the office’s relationship to buildings:

Our technology solution to this challenge is a product called VOLTTRON, and it’s pretty great.  In a few short years, it has demonstrated real solutions to many of these problems, proven itself in the marketplace, and garnered widespread interest and support from industry players.
SinclairSo, what is VOLTTRON?
Hernandez:  VOLTTRON is a distributed sensing and controls platform developed by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) for the Department of Energy for use by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and the Office of Electricity and Reliability (OE) to support Transactive Energy projects. Volttron is a secure, extensible, and modular technology that supports a wide range of applications, such as managing end-use loads, increasing building efficiency, integrating renewable energy, accessing storage, or improving electric vehicle charging. It is equipped to communicate with building systems (e.g. MODBUS or BACnet devices) and external services -- to help solve, in a technical capacity, interoperability of devices.  It has a robust built-in data historian and weather service, it supports OpenADR 1.2., and it has a flexible messaging system (publish/subscribe). It also has utility and supporting classes to simplify application development and a logging service for saving application results and logging information. More broadly, and more importantly to DOE, it is a highly interoperable reference platform for Transactive Energy applications, enabling the integration of buildings and the grid.  Throughout DOE it is being supported by various offices because just as it integrates technologies within a service territory, it integrates DOE funded solutions onto a common platform.  For example, utility solutions work with and within buildings or renewable and distributed energy resources solutions and can leverage building loads and equipment states to enhance services to all participants.  It is also built on, at its core, utility grade cyber security methods which have been tested to insure that the solutions and connected systems are robust, reliable, and secure. 

SinclairMore specifically, how does the VOLTTRON solution apply to buildings?  Is there an example that really showcases the technology and the opportunity?
Hernandez:  Today's buildings do not participate significantly in the larger energy market or provide services to power system operators. Buildings are stuck behind the meter! However, new smart grid technologies are creating a significant potential for buildings to participate in energy markets by providing ancillary services to power system operators. The smart grid empowers buildings, appliances, and equipment to think across the meter -- and exposes them to new, limitless opportunities, not just energy efficiency! Communication networks and advanced control systems are, of course, necessary enablers of this new potential, and VOLTTRON is the DOE’s platform that provides these capabilities.
To demonstrate the applicability of a VOLTTRON based solution, BTO has funded a project that initially targeted existing packaged air conditioners and heat pumps installed on small and medium sized commercial buildings. As your readers may know, these RTU’s contribute to 60% of annual air-conditioning consumption nationally. This is roughly 571 trillion Btus of site electricity and 1.8 quads of source energy annually (approximately 5% of all energy consumed by buildings!).  The project scope includes advanced controls and self-correcting controls that results in significant energy and cost savings as well as condition-based maintenance. In addition, this project demonstrates the utilization of RTUs for providing energy services to utilities using autonomous, distributed controllers. In one example, Oak Ridge National Lab demonstrated balancing PV against RTU loads in real time to smooth out the highly variable nature of the renewable generation -- to the point where the meter observed the system as a flat, and more easily managed, load.
The goal is to develop next-generation control strategies and validate those strategies.  The details of our projects can be found at [].
In addition to the Transactional Network project, BTO funded and competitively awarded a multi-year contract to Virginia Tech to develop a web-based Building Energy Management Open Source Software (BEMOSS) for optimizing electricity usage and implementing demand response (DR) in small- and medium-sized buildings.  In a short year, Saifur Rahman and his graduate students have developed VOLTTRON applications of market-ready and -viable products such as controlling and exercising device controllers for HVAC, lighting, and plug loads -- not just one of two demonstration devices but every commercially available device they could find. Independent of DOE, Saifur selected VOLTTRON as the core foundation of the BEMOSS solution because it accelerates development of market-ready products, and it readily addressed cyber security, interoperability, network loading, and messaging.  His student teams have really demonstrated the power of VOLTTRON and the ease at which one can develop applications and solutions quickly rather than spending countless hours on the underlying controls infrastructure.  DOE is working to remove all barriers and here we’re removing the “figure it out”-tax so companies can unlock market solutions through sensing and control!

SinclairHow are you planning on stepping out of the “ivory tower” and engaging the folks who are in the trenches of the real world market? 

Reliable ControlsHernandez:  We just concluded our second annual VOLTTRON technical meeting, graciously hosted at Virginia Tech, that provided an overview of the VOLTTRON platform, presented new developments and uses, discussed advancement of the Transactional Network concept, and continued to build and expand the user community around the platform.  Presentations included at the meeting provided not only an overview of Transactive Energy concepts but described current and future applications of VOLTTRON, outlined use cases of the technology, and showcased VOLTTRON’s potential to address buildings-related services (e.g. buildings’ energy efficiency, electric vehicle charging, or integration of onsite renewable assets). The meeting book from the meeting (and shortly the meeting presentations) can be found at [].  However, the most important fact about the meeting was 70% of the attendees were market players!  Every day we find out that more and more people are using, exploring, developing, and installing VOLTTRON -- from national companies to even the Department of Defense. 
EERE is also utilizing VOLTTRON as the integration platform for the research and development of all the EERE technology offices outside of buildings -- such as solar energy technologies, electric vehicles, thermal and electric storage technologies, fuel cell technologies, and wind energy technologies.  DOE’s goal is to integrate DER technologies to increase and enhance the hosting capacity of EE and RE solutions at scale within the utility sector (e.g. to increase or enhance reliability within a utility or municipality deploying DER.  This is a core requirement in order to realize our shared national clean energy goals. This coordination within and outside of DOE will help create a vibrant ecosystem of transactions and control strategies in a structured, standardized manner so that market uptake is trusted -- not adhoc, incremental, or divisive.
As Smart Grid News said recently, “Interested in Transactive Energy? STEAL this government software!”  Well actually, its free… []  


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