Constantly Making the Grid Smarter – An Exclusive Interview with Smart Energy Technologies Expert Dr. Abraham Ellis
After a groundbreaking event in 2017, the educational program The Technical Symposium repeats with a noteworthy international line-up of speakers. Starting on 25 September, three highly renowned chairs of a carefully selected committee as well as remarkable keynote speakers will kick off three days of scientific and academic solar, energy storage and smart technologies content in the Anaheim Convention Center, CA, USA.
This content connects the technical side of the energy transformation and innovation initiatives in the energy sector to the business to business program at Solar Power International (SPI) and Energy Storage International (ESI), the largest gathering of its kind in North America.
The content presented during The Technical Symposium was carefully selected out of a large range of scientific abstracts submitted by technical researchers and developers from all over the world. A committee of 14 scientific leaders reviewed and scored each submission blindly to ensure the highest level of quality concerning the presentation topics over the three conference days.
Abraham Ellis, PE, PhD, Program Manager, Renewable and Distributed Systems Integration, Sandia National Laboratories will give the keynote speech on the event’s first day introducing the Smart Energy Technologies track.
Dr. Ellis is Distinguished Member of Technical Staff and Program Manager for Renewables and Distributed Systems Integration at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA. He directs a portfolio of research and development projects primarily sponsored by the United States Department of Energy.
Previously, Dr. Ellis worked at Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM), where he conducted transmission planning and interconnection studies for large-scale wind and solar power plants. Dr. Ellis has chaired technical committees related to wind, solar and storage modelling and standards. Dr. Ellis has a Ph.D. in power systems from New Mexico State University.
1. Dr. Ellis, your expertise focuses on future-proof development and smart integration of solar, wind and hydro power as well as energy storage. Could you start by telling us about the potential of each of these energy generation fields?
Simp stly put, renewable technologies have the potential to supply most of the electricity needs worldwide, and we will need storage (and demand flexibility) to make it all work. We know how to use wind, solar and storage to meet 100% of the demand at a relatively small scale, like a building or a remote system.
However, it will take time and effort for renewable generation to achieve their full potential at the global scale. We will have to overcome difficult technical and non-technical challenges along the way.
2. As part of a research complex conducting public-sponsored research, Sandia National Laboratories, what would you say were the most impactful contributions that national labs have made so far to enable the transition to renewable-based energy? What are the remaining challenges remaining, from your point of view?
Over time, national laboratories have laid the technical foundation for all sorts of technologies. These technical contributions span across all scientific and engineering areas. Making this kind of broad impact requires the application of world-class expertise and capabilities over a long period of time. That is the environment where national laboratories excel.
The most impactful contributions in the energy space, in my opinion, are advancements in materials, devices and systems have enabled the steady improvement in the performance, reliability, efficiency and safety of renewable generation, power electronics and energy storage technologies.
3. Renewable energy generation has enormous potential and the research in this field seems quite advanced. What is still in the way to switch over entirely to renewable energies?
I believe that systems integration has emerged as the major challenge to scale up the deployment of renewable energy generation. That is, renewable energy technologies, certainly wind and solar, and soon storage, are competing well with traditional generation technologies at scale. But we are still figuring out how a system based mostly on distributed and renewable-based generation will work.
Systems integration encompasses all necessary controls, communications, simulation models, technical standards and other technologies needed to ensure that the future grid can be more reliable, safe and cost-effective as it is today, even as it undergoes a transformation.
4. What is the state of the art in smart grid integration? What are the most promising smart technologies of our time?
We have seen the development and deployment smart grid concepts for a very long time. In fact, we are constantly making the grid smarter. Access to low cost computing power and high-speed communications down to the customer consumer, has made it possible for grid stakeholders (utilities included) to deploy increasingly sophisticated smart grid infrastructure.
What is new and challenging, in my opinion, is that the pace of change and systems complexity are rapidly accelerating. It is hard for me to call out a single smart grid technology as the most promising. However, given that the fastest changes are in the information arena, I believe that technologies that enable processing large amounts of data to extract actionable information, something we call Big Data, represents a promising and critical technology for the grid of the future.
Abraham Ellis, PE, PhD, Program Manager, Renewable and Distributed Systems Integration, Sandia National Laboratories