VOLTTRON-Based System for Providing Ancillary Services with Residential Building Loads: NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

Research output: NRELPresentation


Ancillary services entail controlled modulation of building equipment to maintain a stable balance of generation and load in the power system. Ancillary services include frequency regulation and contingency reserves, whose acting time ranges from several seconds to several minutes. Many pilot studies have been implemented to use industrial loads to provide ancillary services, and some have explored services from commercial building loads or electric vehicle charging loads. Residential loads, such as space conditioning and water heating, represent a largely untapped resource for providing ancillary services. The residential building sector accounts for a significant fraction of the total electricity use in the United States. Many loads in residential buildings are flexible and could potentially be curtailed or shifted at the request of the grid. However, there are many barriers that prevent residential loads being widely used for ancillary services. One of the major technical barriers is the lack of communication capabilities between end-use devices and the grid. End-use devices need to be able to receive the automatic generation control (AGC) signal from the grid operator and supply certain types of telemetry to verify response. With the advance of consumer electronics, communication-enabled, or 'connected,' residential equipment has emerged to overcome the communication barrier. However, these end-use devices have introduced a new interoperability challenge due to the existence of numerous standards and communication protocols among different end devices. In this paper, we present a VOLTTRON-based system that overcomes these technical challenges and provides ancillary services with residential loads. VOLTTRON is an open-source control and sensing platform for building energy management, facilitating interoperability solutions for end devices. We have developed drivers to communicate and control different types of end devices through standard-based interfaces, manufacturer-provided application programming interfaces, and proprietary communication interfaces. We document the ability to manage nine appliances, using four different standards or proprietary communication methods. A hardware-in-the-loop test was performed in a laboratory environment where the loads of a laboratory home and a large number of simulated homes are controlled by an aggregator. Upon receipt of an AGC signal, the VOLTTRON home energy management system (HEMS) of the laboratory home adjusts the end-device controls based on the comfort criteria set by the end users and sends telemetry to the aggregator to verify response. The aggregator then sends the AGC signal to other simulated homes in attempts to match the utility request as closely as possible. Frequency regulation is generally considered a higher value service than other ancillary services but it is also more challenging due to the constraint of short response time. A frequency regulation use case has been implemented with the regulation signals sent every 10 seconds. Experimental results indicate that the VOLTTRON-controlled residential loads are able to be controlled with sufficient fidelity to enable an aggregator to meet frequency regulation requirements. Future work is warranted, such as understanding the impact of this type of control on equipment life, and market requirements needed to open up residential loads to ancillary service aggregators.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages18
StatePublished - 2016

Publication series

NamePresented at the 2016 Intelligent Building Operations (IBO) Workshop, 10-13 July 2016, West Lafayette, Indiana

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PR-5500-66730


  • ancillary service
  • building load
  • connected appliance
  • demand response
  • hardware-in-the-loop
  • residential building
  • smart grid


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