The Battle for Grid Flexibility: Control architectures, information gaps, and grid optimization

Prof. Mads Almassalkhi


As energy policies push electrification and renewable generation, responsive behind-the-meter DERs, such as smart thermostats, heat-pumps, EV chargers, and residential batteries, are being lifted into the ether to become part of 3rd-party aggregator platforms that can supply wholesale energy market services (as virtual power plants or VPPs) or utility services (as a retail VPP). The services are delivered by coordinating the response of DERs in (near) real-time based on changing market/grid/emission reference (power) signals (i.e., feedback). This talk will discuss different control architectures for DER coordination and the role of what is measured/estimated to enable closed-loop feedback control. In addition, as electrification efforts scale up, large-scale actuation of DERs can impact local distribution feeders, which begs the question of who is in charge of distribution grid reliability, if utilities cannot control the DERs and aggregators cannot observe the grid? The talk will discuss this asymmetry of information and propose a dynamic hosting-capacity mechanism through which utilities and aggregators can co-exist without one becoming the other or sacrificing grid reliability. Lastly, I will share some new directions from incoming projects.

Speaker Bio

Mads R. Almassalkhi is the L. Richard Fisher Associate Professor at the University of Vermont and holds a joint appointment at PNNL as Chief Scientist. His research interests lie at the intersection of power systems, mathematical optimization, and control systems and focus on developing efficient algorithms that improve responsiveness of energy and power systems. He was the Otto Mønsted Visiting Professor at Denmark’s Technical University (DTU) in 2021-2022 and his work has been recognized with a recent NSF CAREER award in 2021. In 2016, Mads co-founded clean-tech startup Packetized Energy, which was recently acquired by the largest demand-response provider in the U.S. Prior to joining the University of Vermont, he was lead systems engineer at energy startup company Root3 Technologies in Chicago, IL. Before that, he received his PhD from the University of Michigan in Electrical Engineering (EE): Systems in 2013 and a dual major in Electrical Engineering and Applied Mathematics at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio in 2008. He currently serves as the Chair of the IEEE CSS Technical Committee on Smart Grids. When he is not working on solving energy riddles or teaching, he spends his time with his amazing wife and their three wonderful children.