NREL pilots new AI-enabled Smart Community concept in Colorado


The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) will be testing the role artificial intelligence and real-time energy management can play in developing smart communities and accelerating the shift to digital and green energy systems.

NREL will install its cloud-based home automation and energy management platform, foresee, for consumers in the Basalt Vista community in the US state of Colorado.

The platform will enable the application of machine-learning algorithms and advanced data analytics to ensure smart energy management at the consumer home level and energy aggregation and coordination at a community level, according to NREL.

The software will allow consumers to monitor and control the energy usage of their smart home appliances including HVAC systems, water heaters, solar photovoltaic, energy storage, electric vehicle chargers, wireless energy monitors, and smart water monitors, in real-time.

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NREL claims the solution helps residential customers reduce energy bills by between 5% and 15% and if used across the US could result in about $10 billion in energy bill savings per annum.

Foresee, which leverages Amazon Web Services cloud platform, has the potential to help the US to accelerate its energy transformation by reducing the carbon footprints of both consumers and the utility. The platform allows an increasing amount of clean capacity from distributed resources to be used, according to NREL.

The technology supports business cases such as distributed energy coordination, voltage forecasting and regulation, and solar firming, according to a statement.

Three researchers standing in a lab.
Researchers at NREL integrate Foresee with a solar inverter, battery storage and other controlled appliances

For Basalt consumers, NREL is integrating its platform with advanced sensing technology developed by Copper and Conservation Labs to enable smart water and energy monitoring at an appliance level. Utility Holy Cross Energy will provide its customers for the pilot.

Data from the smart sensors will be integrated with foresee for autonomous energy and water management. The US Department of Energy is funding the project.

Xin Jin, a researcher with NREL said the aim is to use digital technologies to achieve energy equity, sustainability and decarbonisation.

Jin, said he is “curious to see the performance of foresee and the aggregator in the real world. Although we’ve tried to create models that are as close as possible to these homes, there are some elements, such as human behavior and occupancy, that are challenging to model. We’re excited to see how these uncertainties affect actual performance.”

Commenting on the development of the technology, research engineer Bethany Sparn, added: “The first year of the project was used to develop control algorithms based on simulated buildings. In the second year, we took those models into the lab with real equipment to identify integration challenges or hardware compatibility issues—and we worked out those kinks in the lab rather than in peoples’ homes.”

The launch of the pilot comes at a time calls for an inclusive and just energy transition are high. In the US, organisations such as the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) have called for an increase in the use of energy efficiency to ensure low-income consumers and communities such as Basalt are not left behind in the transition to smart energy networks. ACEEE says increasing focus on energy efficiency will ensure the energy transition is cost-effective.