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Building Connected Communities

Building Connected Communities

By Luke Carothers

In October, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced funding for 10 projects that will conceive, build, and refine connected communities.  These connected communities will consist of buildings and distributed energy resources such as photovoltaic solar panels and electric vehicle charging stations and storage that are controlled in coordination with the electrical grid, leading to optimized energy consumption within the connected communities.  The DOE’s goal in providing funding to these projects is to provide a model that will reduce the building sector’s impact on the climate crisis.

One of the ten teams selected by the DOE to receive funding for this initiative is located in Columbus, Ohio at the Ohio State University.  Ohio State’s team for this project is led by College of Engineering Associate Dean Michael Hagenberger, Engineering Assistant Professor Jordan Clark, and ENGIE Technology Architect Mark Brown.  This project leverages the existing public-private partnership between the university and Ohio State Energy Partners, which was established by ENGIE North America and Axium Infrastructure.

This partnership has already resulted in a significant transformation of the Ohio State University Campus.  Since the partnership began in 2017, nearly 1,000 smart meters have been installed and more than $190 million in energy efficiency measures and implementation of a central analytics and control platform have been approved, making Ohio State the ideal campus to further develop a microgrid pilot.

The project will consist of developing and managing a connected community as a cluster of existing campus buildings and energy assets as a microgrid controlled by AI tools.  The energy assets that will be controlled by these tools include a 105-megawatt combined heat and power plant, multiple central chiller plants, a steam plant, 65,000 square feet of solar power photovoltaics, 29 electric vehicle charging stations, and 50 megawatts of wind energy from western Ohio through a power purchase agreement. 

These assets form the backbone of the microgrid, allowing the system to produce the majority of the heat and power it consumes itself.  According to Dr. Jordan Clark, the challenges associated with executing a project of this magnitude can be numerous, particularly when creating a system that accounts for different building types that have been constructed over a wide span of time.

The result of these challenges and monitoring of energy assets is a massive pool of data.  To meet these challenges and use this data in a meaningful way, ENGIE’s Smart Institutions platform will integrate data from these energy assets.  By utilizing streams of real time-data such as electricity and chilled water from campus buildings, hyperlocal weather data and occupancy data via wireless points, this system  facilitates resource utilization decisions and control campus buildings in coordination, following extensive modeling in the project’s first few years.

As this project unfolds, it will certainly push the boundaries of energy and sustainability research, providing a replicable model for other communities.  In addition, this project will help Ohio State move forward to their goal of carbon neutrality by the year 2050. Technology like state-of-the-art sensors, controls, and analytics allow us to improve efficiency and reduce future carbon emissions.

Luke Carothers is the Editor for Civil + Structural Engineer Media. If you want us to cover your project or want to feature your own article, he can be reached at lcarothers@zweiggroup.com.