The University of New Mexico and PNM have announced the launch of an innovative pilot project designed to help businesses determine how to optimize energy usage and save money. UNM Graduate Students are directing the Cloud-based Energy Resource Scheduling (CERES) initiative, which is funded by a $250,000 PNM grant to the UNM Foundation.

Funds will enable the students to set up and monitor the Distributed Energy Resource – Customer Adoption Model (DER-CAM) equipment in several New Mexico businesses.  DER-CAM was developed at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and is designed to optimize energy management at advanced business facilities that generate their own power while still connected to the public utility grid. Using solar panels, fossil fuel plants, or other resources to produce power for individual homes or businesses while connected to the grid is referred to as distributed generation.

“This project addresses opportunities that are critically important to PNM and the community as a whole – expanding the use of renewable energy resources, promoting energy efficiency, and preparing students for the high-tech jobs of the future,” said Pat Vincent-Collawn, PNM chairman, president, and CEO. “It is another great example of how the business community can and should partner with the state’s research universities to support student success and help build sustainable economic growth.”  

The UNM research team and PNM worked together to recruit a variety of businesses that use power at different times of the day and in different ways to ensure collection of an appropriate range of data. The research team estimates that participating businesses will save between 10 and 20 percent on utility costs, based on a trial project involving the UNM Mechanical Engineering Building. The project will conclude in the fall semester of 2014.

This project will not only take us into the future of renewable energy sources but it has built a solid foundation for the partnership between UNM and PNM, “UNM President Robert G. Frank said. “We strive to create connections to people and institutions with ideas, talent and knowledge and we have found that connection with PNM.”

An important component of the project is obtaining better data concerning distributed energy resources – electric generation located on-site rather than at large centralized locations. Solar energy is the most common type of distributed energy for businesses. Currently, only a small number of businesses use distributed energy resources for electricity and still rely primarily on utility-supplied power. However, this is predicted to change rapidly over the next several years as the cost of solar generation declines.

The CERES program is a cloud-based service linked to buildings and facilities using distributed energy resources.  The system schedules the operation of these resources to achieve the maximum benefit, minimizing costs and emissions and optimizing the benefits of heating and cooling. The work being done at UNM is intended to effectively merge the interest of the end user and the utility in a sustainable business model.

“The basic assumption in this research is that distributed energy resources are at the beginning of an exponential expansion,” said Andrea Mammoli, director of the UNM Center for Emerging Energy Technologies. “The partnership with PNM is of fundamental importance. We will gain experience in applying the service to various facilities in the PNM service territory, and in doing so, streamline the process of implementing this service to a large number of future customers.”

The DER-CAM system developed by the Berkeley Lab will be operated by facility owners with some assistance from a team of technical advisors.  The research team will also be closely monitoring system operations to see if the highly individualized energy management creates any unintended consequences to the flow of power on the electrical grid. 

This past summer, two UNM graduate students spent time at Berkeley Lab training to operate the system and make any needed modifications at the PNM customer sites.  The students will also work with UNM staff members who run the Mechanical Engineering Building project to understand details of the database that is critical to operating the system.

 A third graduate student will work with the optimization algorithm and electric power flow simulation tools to balance the needs of individual power users with system requirements. The team is supervised by Mammoli, by Physical Plant engineers Han Barsun and Richard Burnett and by PNM engineers.