Developing Transactive Energy: Advancing "Smart" Energy

Courtney Cromer

“Ask questions and see how far you can go” is the mantra of the 22 college students and recent graduates currently undertaking the Transactive Energy Project at Open Source Maker Labs in Vista California. Through sponsorship by the United States Navy and through collaboration with the Department of Energy, these students are researching an area of science that hasn’t been developed to the point of implementation thus far, yet has enormous potential to enhance both government and civilian operations in groundbreaking ways.

Overseen by the Naval Innovation Advisory Council (NIAC), this six month Transactive Energy Project looks to develop ways to harness energy efficiency and renewable energy. This will be done by designing grid systems on open source platforms that allow energy to be measured and scalable. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, transactive energy can be described as, “The evolving smart grid, with increased use of renewable energy generation and distributed energy management technologies, offers the potential for significant efficiency improvements through market-based transactive exchanges between energy producers and energy consumers.” Furthermore, this new grid will require novel economic tools and systems for these exchanges to take place.

Strides in transactive energy will universally provide government, industry and citizens ways to improve the energy efficacy of buildings, integrate electric vehicle use, improve the energy use in residential homes, and more. This would also allow providers and users to cut down on the costs of entry and prevent revenue loss due to wasted energy, which is a double-edged sword in reducing the carbon footprint. Progress in energy efficiency will inherently inform the Navy and Department of Defense of ways to implement national security measures due to the potential of energy independence, reliability, and flexibility.

Students are attempting to design and implement the open source grid system at OSML through the integrated use of existing grid infrastructure, local renewable energy sources, blockchain, and the internet of things. The recent innovations in blockchain in particular have taken the exploration of transactive energy to new heights. This is due to blockchain’s ability to implement an open platform system that would allow for secure transactions. Those working on the project are currently trying to incorporate this idea in novel ways. For example, CSUSM student Brian Estrabillo on the project’s blockchain team hopes to use Hyperledger Fabric and Composer to develop a network where smart contracts will be utilized for energy transactions.

The Naval Innovation Advisory Council became interested in starting this project by recognizing the talent pool they could connect with due to OSML’s involvement with the local colleges and universities. Due to the novelty of this technology, the TEP students started their work in the lab completely from scratch. Recent applied physics graduate Chris Delgadillo explains, “We were introduced to...a topic that most of us knew nothing about, it’s not taught in classes.” He adds, “There’s no textbook for it.”

Many came into the project without any previous hands-on experience, and were surprised how quickly they picked up on how to bring their ideas to life with the tools available at OSML. Cal State San Marcos senior Alyssa Martinez, explained that this opportunity to apply her physics knowledge to this project revealed skills and interests that she didn’t know she had. She highlights, “I am so thankful for working in the lab [OSML] because it has given me more confidence and knowledge on many different topics. I never was interested in energy, but I feel like I just never knew enough information to be interested and this lab has given me that and now I actually really enjoying learning about energy.”

Dan Green, a senior civilian Advisor to the Secretary of the Navy on the Naval Innovation Advisory Council elaborated on the importance of this project and why the Navy has high hopes for this area in multiple respects. He explained, “Transactive energy...can have parallel development on the military side and on the commercial side. In the Military we’re using it for energy resilience, ensuring we’re reducing our carbon footprint, ensuring we have energy security for the troops and the ships and the people in the field.” While this will help improve military operation, U.S cities will reap benefits of improved “smart” energy usage in buildings, automobiles, and more. Green says as more information on transactive energy is revealed, best practices will be shared across all industries which will lead to a wider spread implementation. An example of this includes the government sharing cybersecurity findings, while civilian industry will share their findings in energy management.

When asked about her thoughts on the future of sustainable energy, team member Alyssa Martinez elaborated on how the project will help everyday people save money and resources. She says, “I think this sustainable energy project is the future. Right now every household has to be on the main grid and there is too much strain on the grid, we hopefully are creating a product that can take people off the grid and then they can have their own individual power through renewable energy. I believe that people will be happy to be saving money and then further down the line hopefully we can create a network of people with our product.”

When it comes to the future, members of the NIAC are confident that these students and recent graduates have all the tools and talent necessary to create a bright path for transactive energy. Dan Green could be heard telling the team members in a recent debrief “your answer is the right answer” as he emphasized to these students and new professionals that they are a vital part of the future for this area of research. With the tools available at Open Source Maker Labs, the NIAC agrees that government and civilians are looking to the bright minds of this next generation to find the hidden solutions that will unlock these complex and intricate technologies.

To learn more about the Transactive Energy Project, contact us at