Chilean researchers have leveraged data science to create a solution that maximizes the efficiency of grid-connected microgrids which are coupled to energy storage units.
The team of specialists, based at Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez’s (UAI) energy transition center Centra, is preparing to offer the product – an AI algorithm – to hardware manufacturers. 
A prototype is running in south-central region Maule and over the next year engineers will work on a market-ready model.  
The solution uses a combination of predictive and prescriptive analytics tools to support the decision-making performance of grid-connected self-supply systems. This, in turn, optimizes power management and system efficiency.  
Rodrigo A. Carrasco is a Centra researcher and director of the project, which is known as Gestión de Energía en Microrredes con Almacenamiento, or GEMA, and co-financed by national R&D agency Anid and science and technology fund Fondef. 
Carrasco told BNamericas: “We’ve realized that one of the forms [of deployment] that could generate the most interest, based on conversations we’ve had, is that power inverter manufacturers incorporate this intelligence into their high-end inverters [those with the highest level of functionality and control].”
The solution could be bolted onto operating systems as a smart energy-management layer or run via the cloud. 
“That’s where we see this could generate a lot of value, and that, effectively, those who have control systems implemented, such as inverter designers, could add this layer of intelligence and say ‘ok, now I’ll sell an inverter that lowers costs 10%.’”
A key feature of the solution is that operational decisions consider the margin of error in generation and demand estimates. The system can also provide the user with associated recommendations, such as when is the cheapest time of the day to use energy-hungry household appliances.
While the focus of GEMA is on residential and SME microgrids, engineers also tested the solution, using historical data, on a large-scale installation. Researchers fed in data from a megawatt-scale plant belonging to a project partner, a large food industry player. 
The system provided performance-improvement suggestions, “which raises the possibility of deployment in large plants and grid-connected systems,” said Carrasco, an associate professor at the university.  
Chile is home to more than 12,000 small, grid-connected installations, with a combined installed capacity of over 121MW. At the end of 2018, via net billing law No. 21,118, the size limit of qualifying projects was raised to 300kW from 100kW. 
The energy ministry has outlined distributed generation and microgrids as a policy focus area, a tool to help advance towards universal coverage. 
Carrasco worked on GEMA with UAI business school academic Tito Homem-de-Mello, engineering faculty academics Gonzalo Ruz, Carlos Silva and Jocelyn Olivari, and Universidad Diego Portales professor Francisco Jara. Benjamín Bastidas, José Luis Ortiz and Helena García worked as project engineers. 
Business sector partners were Metric Arts EY and MiroSolar, the former focused on data science and the latter is a national solar power company. Along with the food company, other collaborating firms were Impacto Renovable and Victron Energy.
ALSO READ: Sun rises on Chile university energy transition research, knowledge-transfer hub
Pictured, from left, GEMA project director and Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez (UAI) associate professor Rodrigo A. Carrasco, UAI engineering faculty academic Carlos Silva, UAI business school academic Tito Homem-de-Mello, and UAI engineering faculty academic Gonzalo Ruz. 
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