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Cycle 5 (2015 Deadline)

Towards Smart Microgrids: Renewable Energy Integration into Smart Buildings

PI: Mohamed Riduan Abid (, Alakhawayn University, with co-PIs Mohamed Bakhouya, International University of Rabat and Khalid Zinedine, University Chouaib Doukkali 
U.S. Partner: Driss Benhaddou, University of Houston
Project Dates: December 2016 - November 2019

Project Overview:

Besides being a global concern, energy efficiency is growing as a potential market with very promising development and environmental impacts. Smart Grids (SGs) promote energy efficiency in electrical grids, mainly via the integration of renewable energy (thus minimizing greenhouse gas emissions) and via the leveraging of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). ICT is a key element in the optimization of the Demand/Response (DR) variance, which stipulates a real-time dissemination of data between SG components, namely, smart meters at the production site (i.e., renewable energy sources), sensors measuring electricity consumption at the consumer site, and actuators. The interconnection of these components needs a reliable network: the Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI).

This project will leverage energy efficiency in smart buildings by promoting “context awareness” whereby the switching on and off of electrical appliances will be based on the context, i.e., temperature, number of people in rooms, humidity, light, and so forth. To this end, these researchers plan to deploy a holistic platform that implements a real-world microgrid testbed at a building on the Alakhawayn University campus. The deployed smart microgrid model will be promoted for deployment by other organizations at the national level, especially since Morocco is adopting a promising policy for renewable energy integration. In the medium term, the team hopes to promote this technology in sub-Saharan countries as well, given Morocco's geographical location. Supporting research in renewable energy can foster the growth of the green economy in Morocco and in the longer term create job opportunities for Moroccan youth. The project intends to have a positive impact in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, in line with USAID's Global Climate Change and Development Strategy. It is also in line with a Moroccan national initiative to promote renewable energy development.

Summary of Recent Activities

In this quarter ending December 2017, the PI and his team presented their project at the Fifth NAS ARAB-AMERICAN FRONTIERS Symposium (Nov 2-4, Rabat, Morocco). A relevant poster, about "Renewable Energy Integration into Smart Buildings", is available online at the NAS (National Academy of Sciences) site.The PI along with his 3 PhD students attended the 5th IRSEC (International Renewable and Sustainable Energy Conference) - December 4-7, 2017, Tangier, Morocco, and presented two relevant papers.

In terms of real-world deployment: they started the deployment of two Labs, one at the AUI and the other at the UIR/UCD sites. At the AUI site, they received the NI (National Instruments) material, and the NI LabView software. They verified and tested the relevant components, e.g., compaqRio (RealTime and FPGA) module, wireless cards, analog and digital IO modules. They have set the first prototype of the USAID-NI Lab at Alakhawayn University which is basically meant to simulate and present "micro-Grid" and "Renewable
 The first prototype of the USAID-NI Lab at Alakhawayn University. Photo courtesy of Dr. Abid
Energy Integration into Smart Building" concepts to students and interested community. They have started by deploying a demonstration featuring the CompactRIO controller module via running an appropriate LabView program. This consisted on simulating a “Smart Home” implemented on a wooden board. In the second stage of the USAID-NI Lab, they will integrate a PV panel (renewable energy) generating a direct electrical current (DC) which will be then fed to the Inverter. The latter will convert the DC current to Alternate current (AC) which is then ready for consumption by "smart home" appliances. In the next stage, and after integrating storage (batteries), they will be studying the operational mode of their experimental micro-Grid via testing and monitoring the behavior of all involved micro-Grid components.

At UIR/UCD site, two main activities were conducted: They have first introduced a preliminary demand/response control approach for PV-Grid system, and studied its performance at EEB-Lab (Energy Efficient Building). The second activity consisted on the development of a Wind system-based model of the Wind turbine we have deployed at EEB-LAB. The model was validated by simulation and experimentation consumption of the investigated building. Mainly, these PV systems have been deployed recently for water pumping and local load usage in remote sites, which are not connected to the grid. These systems use storage devices (e.g., batteries) to store produced/extra solar energy during the day for eventual usage at night (e.g., lighting). However, the intermittent nature of the systems’ output needs be addressed in order to promote efficient following actual needs. In this context, they are further investigating the selection of suitable dimensions for these standalone PV systems.

Regarding the deployment of the WSN (Wireless Sensor Network), we have been continuously surveying different existing technologies in order to decide on the most cost-effective solution fitting the needs of their project. The survey, under development, is divided into two main parts: first, we reviewed available microcontrollers - in the market - to investigate alternatives to the Arduino micro-controller. Besides, they researched the possibility of using Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) chips instead of regular microcontrollers. The second part of the survey goes through wireless communication technologies for WSNs. This basically compares Zigbee, Wifi, and Bluetooth. Furthermore, and in the context of selecting appropriate Wireless technology for our WSN, they have been attending a training with Prof. Abraham Ryu from KOICA (Korean International Cooperation Agency who is a retired engineer who worked in developing secure wireless communication solutions for the Korean military. One of his most famous products is called “PicoCast”. The main title of the training was “ICT Industry in Morocco” and it is a first step towards developing a Wireless ICT system within Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane. The training is supposed to take one year and a half. In the first half a year, Prof. Ryu is focusing on the Spread Spectrum technology as it consists the base of his famous product. Ideally, they are seeking the input of Prof. Ryu in developing a suitable/marketable wireless technology for our Wireless sensors in the USAID project. They already presented their USIAD project to Prof. Ryu, and he showed enthusiasm to cooperate with us.

Concerning the HPC (High Performance Computing) component, they started developing an energy efficient Raspberry Pi Cloud based on 15 nodes (a node contains a Raspberry Pi 3 board + external hard disk), in addition to a Switch that is connected to the local network. 

In the next quarter (3 months), the PI and his team are planning to hold their semester meeting at UIR/Rabat by February in order to present/decide on the project progress, needs, and challenges. They will also be meeting with potential stakeholders (in the Renewable Energy) in Morocco in order to seek plausible venues for Project extension and product integration into the Moroccan market.

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