A unique partnership between Penn State and industry members is working to advance solar and wind energy through energy storage and microgrid systems education and training. The Energy Storage and Microgrid Training and Certification (ESAM-TAC) program is part of the GridSTAR Center, a smart grid education and research center at Penn State at The Navy Yard, located in Philadelphia.
A microgrid refers to a system of electrical generation sources, such as solar and wind, coupled with energy storage that can provide energy to buildings, campuses, and telecommunication systems. Microgrids can be connected to the existing electric grid or can function independently in case of emergencies. The large-scale deployment of microgrids and energy storage will require a new approach to how electricity is generated and managed and will include the increased use of batteries and other forms of energy storage.
“A common criticism of renewable energy is that it varies with sun and wind conditions,” said David Riley, professor of architectural engineering and director of the GridSTAR Center and ESAM-TAC program. “The electric grid was not built to handle the variable energy created by wind and solar. Smart technologies and batteries can act like shock absorbers on the grid while also improving the economic performance of solar and wind farms.”
Another challenge facing the broad deployment of renewable energy is the lack of the workforce needed to make it happen.
“The development of new technologies is important, but we have economically viable storage and renewable energy systems already,” Riley said. “We also need to skill up if we are going design and build energy storage and microgrid systems. The ESAM-TAC program is helping us gain the capability to teach students, engineering professionals and electrical workers what they will need to know to make energy storage affordable and reliable.”
“A large part of the ESAM-TAC program is dedicated to the safety of electrical workers and technicians in the field,” Riley said. “Most of the electric grid uses alternating current (ac) power, which is also the focus of existing electrical engineering and electrical worker training. Batteries and solar PV are direct current (dc), which has much different characteristics. Consequently, energy storage and microgrids require engineers, contractors and electrical workers to learn about how dc systems work and how to ensure safety of people who are exposed to high-voltage dc electricity.”
In the last year, five workshops were conducted by ESAM-TAC partners in Philadelphia, Ann Arbor, Detroit and Los Angeles to help instructors prepare to teach electrical workers about safe and productive energy storage and microgrid construction. These instructors will be among the first to implement the ESAM-TAC curriculum and certification program at their institutions.
The ultimate goal of the ESAM-TAC project is to enable the deployment of renewable energy by helping prepare engineers, builders and electrical workers with the knowledge and skills to design energy storage and microgrid systems at all scales.
A unique element of the ESAM-TAC program is that the curriculum is based on lessons learned in the design and construction of multiple energy storage and microgrid systems at Penn State’s GridSTAR Center. These systems include microgrid technologies for homes, buildings and electric vehicles.
Todd Stafford, the executive director of the electrical training ALLIANCE emphasized the value of the GridSTAR facilities and the Navy Yard Headquarters.
“The fact that this program includes hands-on experience with real energy storage and microgrid systems is hugely important,” he said. “It is allowing us to create education and training programs that will be respected by manufacturers and utilities that demand a highly skilled workforce.”
Part of the project includes the design of hands-on training equipment coupled with virtual reality training tools.
“The hands-on piece allows participants to demonstrate the unique skills and readiness needed to safely build high-voltage DC systems,” Riley said. “The virtual training enables us to expose students to simulated microgrid and energy storage systems that would be expensive to create in real life, as well as potentially hazardous.”
The ESAM-TAC program is funded through the National Science Foundation Advanced Training and Education program, as well as contributions from the National Electrical Contracting Association, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the electric training ALLIANCE.