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Real-Time Optimization of Distribution-level Energy Resources

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

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Technology Marketing Summary

Distributed energy resources (DERs), including electric vehicles, energy storage devices, controllable loads, and renewable energy systems, allow consumers and aggregators to optimize their use of energy, while partaking in futuristic distribution-level ancillary service markets. DERs collectively enable utilities to provide grid services at the transmission-distribution interface. However, a seamless integration of high levels of DERs with the broader electric grid has been a persistent problem, with many states offering different forms of regulation and with DERs mostly managed using ad hoc solutions. A holistic solution that allows seamless integration of high levels of DERs is essential for increasing efficiency and reliability of the nation’s grid, allowing for greater renewable penetration, and increasing social welfare.


Researchers at NREL have developed a novel real-time control architecture to optimize the operation of DERs at residential, commercial, and industrial levels. The real-time system enables (portions of) feeders to emulate virtual power plants providing services to the rest of the grid, while ensuring satisfaction of electrical limits and maximizing customers’ benefits. This system can be integrated with legacy hardware and/or new advanced systems to optimally manage both individually-controlled DERs and aggregations of DERs. By virtue of the proposed engineering approach, the DERs collectively regulate the powers at an electrical point to respond to grid dispatch signals such as an automatic generation control, a ramping signal, or a 5-minute dispatch. Overall, this architecture allows end customers to minimize their payments and partake in grid operations while guaranteeing power quality in the distribution network. 

  • Enables (portions of) distribution systems to act as virtual power plants providing frequency regulation and regulating services, while addressing customer, utility, and aggregator needs
  • Large scale integration and coordination of renewable sources of energy
  • Interoperability with legacy grid components and advanced distribution management systems
  • Platform for aggregators and service providers for real-time DER optimization
Applications and Industries
  • Distribution systems and microgrids
  • Residential and commercial distributed energy resources
  • Electric utility companies, aggregators, and service providers
Technology Status
Technology IDDevelopment StageAvailabilityPublishedLast Updated
NREL ROI 16-124ProposedAvailable07/26/201707/26/2017

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To: Erin Beaumont<>