Leaving Uncertainty Behind: Real Time Simulation for Microgrids

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Kati Sidwall, of RTDS Technologies, explains how microgrid popularity and a growing market has ramped up demand for testing facilities and detailed microgrid simulation. 

microgrid simulation

Kati Sidwall, simulation specialist, RTDS Technologies.

The relevance of microgrids to the modern power system has become so significant that fewer and fewer players – whether utilities, equipment developers, policymakers or consumers – can afford to ignore them. These unique systems must be capable of functioning both as a seamless part of the surrounding grid and as independent, self-contained networks. They often include various distributed energy resources, multiple tiers of control and vendor-diverse intelligent devices. Given these performance expectations and this complexity of build, the demand for detailed microgrid simulation and testing facilities is high.

A different type of testing: hardware in the loop

Modeling tools have played a longstanding role in power systems analysis, equipment development and project implementation. Traditionally, these programs run offline – they are software tools which run on the user’s PC to represent the behavior of the grid. Events can be simulated in order to analyze system behaviours before (or after) they occur in the real world. While these non-real time simulation programs remain a critical tool for the modern power system engineer, real time simulation offers an entirely new spectrum of opportunities through “hardware in the loop” testing.

It is key to remember that many system conditions and contingency events are prohibitively difficult or dangerous to induce in the real power system. In order to understand how our microgrid protection and control systems will react to these scenarios, a safe and controlled environment is required.

Running on a custom-designed, dedicated parallel-processing computer, real time simulators operate at sufficient speed to allow the user to connect external equipment to the simulation. This means that centralized microgrid control systems, SCADA systems, protective relays, and local distributed energy controllers can be connected to the simulated microgrid in a closed loop and thoroughly tested before they are installed in the system. This ability to perform closed-loop testing throughout the development process and also at pre-commissioning is a unique and singular benefit that real time simulation offers to microgrid projects.

Reducing risk in real time

As real time simulation becomes more commonly used by engineers to support microgrid, smart grid and non-wires automation projects, it is important for not only technology leaders, but also for policy and thought leaders to be aware of the role this technology can play in shaping tomorrow’s grid. The “real time” aspect means that the testing process is fast, efficient and flexible. Distribution engineers can test a wide variety of scenarios in a short amount of time (often without human interaction through an automated testing feature) and can easily change the microgrid system parameters or test alternative network topologies. One or many devices from a variety of vendors can be connected to the simulated system simultaneously to gauge interoperability.

It is key to remember that many system conditions and contingency events are prohibitively difficult or dangerous to induce in the real power system. In order to understand how our microgrid protection and control systems will react to these scenarios, a safe and controlled environment is required. Real time simulation offers the opportunity to de-risk the deployment of novel schemes or strategies, ensure and increase ease of device interoperability, and increase the reliability, safety and efficiency of microgrid projects for EPCs, utilities and end customers. This is a technology to watch in the microgrid space.

Kati Sidwall is a simulation specialist at RTDS Technologies.

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