Jan Kleissl is the principal investigator on the grant and director of DERConnect. He is a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. Photo courtesy of UC San Diego.

UC San Diego will receive a $39 million grant to build a testbed to allow universities, utilities and industry leaders to gain a better understanding of how to integrate renewable energy resources into the power grid, it was announced Monday.

The grant from the National Science Foundation will fund construction of the testbed, dubbed DERConnect, which will allow for testing “to validate future technologies for autonomous energy grids in real-world scenarios.”

According to the university, a lack of test cases on a realistic scale has been a major hurdle to the adoption of energy sources like solar panels, wind turbines, smart buildings and electric vehicle batteries, in addition to a lack of stability as opposed to traditional energy sources, such as natural-gas power plants.

DERConnect will include more than 2,500 distributed energy resources on the campus’ microgrid, including fuel cell and solar panels, a dozen classroom and office buildings and 300 charging stations for electric vehicles. The project will also involve the construction of a new energy storage testing facility on the East Campus.

The testbed’s control center will be housed in Robinson Hall, in what will be a fully controllable building that can be disconnected from the campus’ grid at any time, according to UCSD.

“We will be replicating the entire California power grid on one campus,” said Jan Kleissl, a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UCSD and the project’s principal investigator.

The goal is to begin testing equipment in 2022, and to make the testbed available to outside research teams and industry leaders by 2025.

University officials said decarbonizing the electrical grid, protecting it from cybersecurity attacks and making it more resilient are major drivers for the project.

“The ultimate goal of any grid is reliability, and it is a top concern at UC San Diego, as we must constantly power medical centers and major research facilities,” said Gary Matthews, vice chancellor of Resource Management and Planning. “The ability to interact with buildings and change their energy profile intelligently both enhances grid stability and saves a tremendous amount of energy. We support this living laboratory at the highest level, as this grant allows us to put infrastructure in place for future research, collaborating with leading scientists on real world solutions.”

— City News Service