August 2, 2018
News Release

Smart Ideas Wanted for Grid Modernization

Plug & Play DER Challenge Issues Call for Concepts

Susan Bauer,
K Kauffman,
Donald Cutler,
Smart Ideas Wanted
  • Electric vehicle charging requires integration and interaction with the power grid, as do many distributed energy resources like local solar power. The Plug & Play DER Challenge seeks visionary interoperability capabilities for a universal way for these technologies to connect and operate in harmony.

A consortium of national labs and nonprofit organizations has announced a call for concepts to engage the smart grid community in demonstrating visionary interoperability capabilities on how facilities with distributed energy resources, or DERs, integrate and interact with the utility grid.

The Plug & Play DER Challenge is being organized and administered by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy's Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium. The challenge is being rolled out in collaboration with DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the Smart Electric Power Alliance, the Electric Power Research Institute, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, alongside other project industry advisors.

Lack of interoperability drives up costs, reduces system performance, and creates vulnerabilities.

-Bruce Nordman

"The future of local solar power and electric vehicle charging requires coordination with the flexibility in demand and storage to ensure a reliable and resilient electric grid," said Steve Widergren, principal engineer at PNNL and interoperability project lead for the consortium. "Integration must be simplified across the board. This event challenges industry to leapfrog to a universal way that all these technologies can connect and operate in harmony with little fuss or bother."

The goal of the project is to improve interoperability as a means toward easing technology integration across various devices and systems, including related end-use systems such as buildings, electric vehicles, and DERs. Distributed energy resources, or DERs, are smaller decentralized electrical generation, storage, and flexible load devices and methods that connect to the electric distribution grid.

"Lack of interoperability drives up costs, reduces system performance, and creates vulnerabilities," said Berkeley Lab research scientist Bruce Nordman. "Particularly, in the case of DERs, interoperability-related problems make it more difficult to integrate high amounts of renewable energy sources and energy storage."

"The Plug & Play DER Challenge is designed to be a catalyst for new and innovative thinking on the critical issues involved in DER interconnection and integration, which are themselves central to our increasingly complex and digital energy system," said Christine Stearn, Senior Manager for the Smart Electric Power Alliance's 51st State Initiative. "What is particularly exciting for SEPA is the opportunities the project presents for collaboration across a range of industry stakeholders and experts."

"Interoperability ensures that the many connected devices and assets in a smart and integrated grid can communicate with each other in a transparent, secure, and accurate way," said Mark McGranaghan, Vice President of Distribution and Energy Utilization for EPRI. "The Plug and Play Challenge provides an opportunity for power system stakeholders to share, learn, and collaborate on the journey toward interoperability, for the benefit of the public."

The GMLC is a strategic partnership between the DOE and 13 national laboratories to bring together leading experts and resources to collaborate on national grid modernization goals. GMLC is working closely with partners in industry, academia, and across cities and states to deliver on the objectives outlined in DOE's Grid Modernization Multiyear Program Plan across six broad technical areas. Through a comprehensive portfolio of projects, these integrated efforts will deliver new concepts, tools, platforms, and technologies to better measure, analyze, predict, and control the grid of the future.

In the first phase of this challenge, teams will devise specifications for an interface that supports DER integration, and then develop proposals for demonstrating the integration process with hardware and software. Presentations and initial concept proposals are due on Sept. 7. A webinar on August 16 will introduce participants to the requirements.

Qualifying submitters will be invited to present their concepts for a DER integration interface at North American Smart Energy Week Sept. 24-27, in Anaheim, California.

The Plug & Play DER Challenge will conclude with live demonstrations of the hardware and software interface for integrating DERs with a utility grid. The demonstration will take place at a public event targeted for 2019.

The Challenge Overview, with full details on timelines, specifications and requirements, can be found here.

Key Capabilities


About PNNL

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory draws on its distinguishing strengths in chemistry, Earth sciences, biology and data science to advance scientific knowledge and address challenges in sustainable energy and national security. Founded in 1965, PNNL is operated by Battelle for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. DOE’s Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit For more information on PNNL, visit PNNL's News Center. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.