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NREL research shows that 5G can support microgrids

The implementation of 5G, or fifth-generation mobile network technology, promises to revolutionize a number of industries, according to a new report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and is well suited to support microgrids.

With funding from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, NREL researchers created a 5G testbed to study how the technology worked with microgrids and distributed energy systems.

Researchers created a model of a real military microgrid, including the solar panels, battery systems, vehicle chargers and protection equipment found on a real base in California.

They then tested a number of scenarios over the 5G network, such as power outages, cell tower failure, microgrid controller crash and recovery, congestion of other network devices, and cyber intrusions.

They found that when the microgrid is designed to maintain power for both communications and critical loads, 5G wireless technology could support distributed controls and strengthen the security and resilience of power systems.

“Our test scenarios were not only about checking the grid and microgrids for resiliency, but also about powering the 5G network itself,” said Brian Miller, chief of electrical power systems engineering at NREL. “If we can keep the grid running for resilient energy, that in turn keeps the communications network operational.”

A powerful combination of technologies

5G continues to be rolled out in many countries and is designed to address the explosive growth of data and connectivity in modern society. It is significantly faster, has lower latency, supports a higher density of connected devices in a given area, and provides better coverage than 4G, which is still the predominant mobile network technology in many parts of the world.

NREL’s research into 5G and microgrids was funded by the DOD as part of its FutureG program, an initiative that aims to research and develop the future generations of wireless networking technologies that will succeed 5G.

From the Department of Defense perspective, these new technologies are critical to providing long-term economic, military, and security benefits. The DOD is exploring how 5G could support expeditionary air base operations, flexible combat employment, and other rapid deployment scenarios.

NREL researchers found that the combination of 5G, distributed controls, and a renewables-based microgrid could benefit more than just the military. Utilities could also deploy the technologies to support distributed controls and improve network security and resiliency of their energy systems.

According to the report, “5G wireless communication, when using the deployed microgrid, maintained the system’s resilience against cyber-attacks through our distributed controller when nodes were disabled.” As a result, the system not only recovered successfully, but also continued to function as expected “at the edge between the primary and local controller.”

“Millions of energy devices will be connected, and our research shows the path to distributed, resilient, secure and energy-efficient operations, building on the 5G foundation,” said Tony Markel, senior researcher and project leader at NREL.