Editor’s Comments: A Digital Orchestra

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Digital pings, percussive thumps, and violin notes emerge as coordinated sounds from a building on Stanford University’s campus. But inside, the Stanford Laptop Orchestra’s tangled cables and video game equipment make it more closely resemble an IT department after a network crash than a conventional music ensemble.

The 15 members of the Stanford Laptop Orchestra meet each week during the spring semester to combine computer technology, music theory, and human creativity and make inventive melodies.

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With the help of homemade sound equipment made from modified car speaker drivers, high-efficiency amplifiers, and IKEA salad bowls, the group plays compositions by running software programs while a digital platform and human conductor carefully coordinate the timing and intensity of the different instrument sounds.

Since the orchestra was founded in 2008, the ensemble has composed 200 original pieces and developed nearly as many innovative instruments. Some of these musical instruments rely on video-game controllers that translate movement into melodic compositions, while others interpret facial expressions as sound. The results are ethereal.

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As instruments evolve to produce new tones with code and cutting-edge technologies, conducting the ensemble advances in parallel. To accommodate the wide range of sound-making devices and unify data streams, the group’s software platforms have become increasingly elaborate.

A similar transformation is taking place in the energy industry today with the diversification of generation and storage resources making energy management more complex. As technologies evolve and configurations shift, dispatching assets and coordinating resources within energy networks becomes increasingly complicated. The solutions are brilliantly creative.

In this issue of Distributed Energy magazine, we explore the technologies emerging today that support the efficient orchestration of diverse energy resources. From open protocols and software platforms to smart inverters and algorithms for predictive analytics, we celebrate the successful coordination of interoperable assets in a rapidly evolving energy landscape.

In “Managing the Microgrid”, we share several tools for optimizing microgrid performance. We learn that today’s open protocols, software platforms, and digitized energy architectures not only coordinate DERs; they also facilitate enhanced analytics and modeling. Together, these technologies ensure heightened performance, ROI, and reliability.

In “Sunny Side Up”, we look at innovations in solar cells and components, as well as the policy changes that have catalyzed solar energy adoption. Today’s solar panels are more attractive than ever, disguised as solar glass or rooftops, and they are also far more efficient with higher energy outputs. Paired with digital smart inverters, they can be managed remotely and easily integrated with other resources.

In “Betting on David Against Goliath”, we explore ways in which microturbines provide optimal power generation in microgrid applications. Not only are they smaller and less complicated than standard turbines; they are also less expensive and easier to maintain. We take a close look at their quick startup time, predictable and stable output, and their ability to load follow—ramping up or scaling back based on power need.

The building automation market is experiencing rapid expansion. In “Access and Integration”, we outline a few of the technological shifts supporting that growth. Today, mobile access allows for remote monitoring and analytics. Open protocols allow disparate digital systems to integrate information and communicate. Contemporary communications systems provide faster, more reliable data transmission and more complex algorithms for analytics. Together, these advancements are making automation platforms increasingly useful and valuable.

In “Power Quality of Microgrids”, we explore some of the less-celebrated attributes of microgrid architectures. From mitigating the effects of voltage sags, smoothing the response to fault events, frequency regulation, and stabilizing the power system from flicker and harmonic disturbance, we see that microgrids offer enhanced power quality.

With the support of innovative technologies and creative solutions, today we have the opportunity to create an energy future that
is more stable, resilient, and symphonic. It’s apparent that a well-led digital orchestra—one with coordinated technologies and commu­nications platforms—can produce exquisite melodies.

What systems and strategies does your organization use to manage distributed energy resources? De Bug Web

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