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Controlling for Inconsistency


Micro-grids are small scale power grids that utilize renewal energy sources, such as wind and solar, to create power. With an increasingly taxed power grid supplying the United States with electricity, the micro-grid movement has gained momentum and more and more people are investigating “off grid” living. Unfortunately, the major hurdle with micro-grids in their current state is reliability, as most alternative energy resources are inconsistent.

Solar electric panels glisten in the morning sunlight at the Octillo experimental power generating station in Tempe AZ. 2007-06-16.Ostrowski’s team is investigating methods for improving this reliability by providing a framework for determining an individual grid’s specific requirements, beginning with optimizing thermal control. Thermal load can account for as much as 60% of a building’s consumption of electricity.

Ostrowski’s team is working on creating a scalable system for determining a thermal schedule that maximizes the reliability of the critical systems while maintaining an optimal outcome. The task becomes far more complex in real-time, when adjustments must be made instantaneously based on ever changing circumstances. Ostrowski’s goal is to create a “warm-starting” technique which can serve as the jumping off point for real-time problem solving.

“Our goal is to provide a framework for deciding the specific requirements of a given system,” said Ostrowski. “Rather than continually solving a new optimization problem from scratch, a ‘warm-starting’ technique must be developed so that the updated problem can be solved in real time. The research question, then, is how does one modify an existing solution to account for evolving data.”

Final 2Micro-grids have potential future applications in a variety of areas, including military posts, refugee camps and aid facilities in the third world. The partnering LDRD project intends to take the Flexible Research Platform building at ORNL off-grid for up to a week at a time, a task Ostrowski’s research will be integral to accomplishing.