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UT Alumni Receives DOE Award Providing Reliable Power for Community in Puerto Rico

Max while working on the electricity data collection from one businesses in Adjuntas! That business has now become part of the current Microgrids project.

Maximiliano Ferrari, R&D Assistant Staff Member and UT Alumni and McClure Scholar, has been awarded the U.S Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) funding opportunity for his research at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). The research project aims to provide reliable power for Adjuntas, Puerto Rico, a community that was severely impacted by Hurricane Maria in 2017. 

Ferrari, born in Argentina and raised in Columbia, is a former UT PhD student. He became interested in UT because of the Bredesen Center and its collaborations with ORNL. Ferrari works with the Bredesen Center as a research staff associate in the Grid Components and Controls group. His work focuses on distributed energy and grid management, researching the efficient and affordable implementation of renewable energy systems.

Ferrari is the co-principal investigator of project “Resilient Operation of Networked Community Microgrids with High Solar Penetration”  along with Ben Ollis from ORNL. The project received a three-year SETO funding opportunity for community microgrids. 

This award opportunity stems from a trip Ferrari took in 2019 to Puerto Rico where he participated in the beginning stages of this community-based microgrid project. The 2019 trip was funded by the McClure Scholarship and the Bredesen Center. 

“None of this would have happened without receiving a McClure scholarship, which enabled me to travel to Puerto Rico and stay in Adjuntas for one month. At the time, I was still a PhD student and wasn’t aware of the ongoing work by Casa Pueblo.” Ferrari said. “When I arrived, I was blown away – they had a community microgrid in preparation and had cultivated support from multiple companies and nonprofits. I was able to learn from them and cultivate a relationship, which facilitated the current collaboration.” 

Alexis Massol, the founder of Casa Pueblo, the leading organization of the microgrid project

Alexis Massol, the founder of Casa Pueblo, the leading organization of the microgrid project

Alexis Massol, the founder of Casa Pueblo, the leading organization of the microgrid project.There will be a collaborative effort between UT, The University of Central Florida, the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez, and a non-profit called Casa Pueblo that leads the project. Casa Pueblo is partnered with the Honnold Foundation to provide the community with reliable power before the next hurricane season.

With the SETO funding, researchers are working to develop technologies that will enhance the reliability of network microgrids based on solar and battery storage. 

“The SETO funding is a great benefit to build on the ongoing work in Adjuntas. It’s going to enable us to develop new algorithms, test them in state-of-the-art facilities at ORNL and our partner institutions, and deploy these technologies in the field,” Ferrari explains.

Women leading the installation of the mircogrids PV panels

Women leading the installation of the mircogrids PV panels

Ferrari is appreciative of the opportunity to partner with the Casa Pueblo organization and provide the community of Adjuntas with sustainability by creating an environmental resource hub. 

“I’m so glad that we’re able to partner with them in order to evaluate how a networked microgrid works in the field and how it could be deployed elsewhere to make communities more resilient in the face of ever-increasing natural disasters,” Ferrari added.

Beyond this project, Ferrari plans to continue working on microgrids and utilizing them as a tool to establish cleaner energy systems.

To learn more about how the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office supports early-stage research visit, SETO 2020 Systems Integration.