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fully edited. Content may change prior to final publication. Citation information: DOI 10.1109/TSG.2017.2717447, IEEE
Transactions on Smart Grid

Model predictive control of distributed air-conditioning loads to

compensate fluctuations in solar power
Nariman Mahdavi, Member, IEEE, Julio H. Braslavsky, Senior Member, IEEE, Maria M. Seron
and Samuel R. West

AbstractFlexible loads such as residential air-conditioners modulated by DLC to follow the fluctuations in power output
(ACs) can be directly controlled to provide demand-side regula- of local renewable energy generation, which, depending on
tion and balance services in electricity grids. Large aggregations communication lags, may need to be forecast with sufficient
of ACs offer a resource akin to that of a distributed energy
storage system, which may be used to compensate fluctuations anticipation and accuracy [7]. One-minute ahead forecasts are
in the power output of local renewable energy generation. This used in [8] to achieve smoothing of wind generated electricity
paper formulates distributed and centralised model predictive in a minimum-variance load control strategy. Five minute-
control (MPC) strategies to balance fluctuations in solar power ahead wind and solar generation forecasts are used in [9] to
generation by directly controlling the aggregate demand of implement an optimal distributed load control strategy.
clusters of distributed residential ACs. The proposed receding-
horizon control strategies rely on a new second-order linear time- Numerous recent studies have shown that the aggregate de-
varying model for the aggregate demand response of a population mand of populations of thermostatically controlled loads may
of heterogeneous ACs to changes in thermostat setpoints under be effectively controlled by broadcasting small offsets to the
varying ambient temperature. The performance of the proposed thermostat setpoints. Utilities commonly use this approach in
MPC strategies is analysed in a numerical simulation study open-loop DLC of hot-water systems to reduce peak demand.
implementing AC demand tracking of 1-minute fluctuations in
actual PV capacity based on persistence and sky imager short- In contrast, the use of DLC to provide fast power regulation
term solar forecasts. The results show that distributed and services, such as smoothing rapid fluctuations in the power
centralised MPC strategies achieve comparable performance, output of a wind or PV generator can substantially benefit
with better performance of persistence forecasts in a shorter from feedback control to maintain the controlled demand in
prediction horizon, and better performance with sky imager synchronism with the power source and systematically reduce
forecasts on a longer prediction horizon.
regulation errors [7], [8], [10][12].
Index TermsModel predictive control, distributed control, Model predictive control (MPC) is an optimisation-based
centralised control, demand response, air conditioner loads, solar control strategy that has been widely applied in the process
PV, solar forecast, sky imager.
control industry since the 1970s due to its ability to cope with
constrained inputs and states [13], [14]. The application of
I. I NTRODUCTION MPC has since been extended to many other areas, and in
Wind and solar energy are set to lead the transition of recent years has attracted increasing interest in the control of
electricity grids to lower dependence on fossil fuels and electrical networks [10], [15][17]. MPC has great potential to
meet national renewable energy targets [1]. However, this handle complex problems involving large numbers of control-
transition is not without technical challenges. The expansion of lable resources, while explicitly accounting for system con-
residential rooftop photovoltaic (PV) generation, for example, straints and disturbances to compute optimal control actions
may be hindered by difficulties in their integration into legacy in real time [15], [17].
grid systems. It has been argued that rapid fluctuations in PV This paper develops an MPC strategy for the DLC of a
output, such as those caused by passing clouds, can potentially distributed population of ACs to compensate rapid fluctua-
impact power balance and quality, motivating some utilities to tions in PV power at a substation or distribution transformer
restrict PV installations in low-voltage networks [2]. aggregation level. The core of the proposed MPC design is a
Rapid fluctuations in wind and PV power output may be new temperature-dependent model for the aggregate demand
smoothed through the use of energy storage [3]. However, response of a distributed population of ACs to small thermo-
energy storage systems can substantially increase the costs stat setpoint changes. These changes can be computed using
of deploying renewable energy. A cost-effective demand- feedback from aggregate demand measurements. The proposed
side alternative is the direct load control (DLC) of flexible model integrates recent results from [7], [18]. Distributed
loads, such as air conditioners (ACs), water heaters, and pool and centralised MPC strategies based on this model are then
pumps to provide regulation reserve [4][6]. The aggregate proposed for the aggregate AC demand to track fluctuations
demand of a distributed population of such loads may be in local PV power generation over sustained periods of time
based on short-term solar forecasts.
N. Mahdavi and J. H. Braslavsky are with CSIRO Energy, PO Box The closest related prior work to the present paper is a
330, Newcastle NSW 2300, Australia, and also with the School of EECS,
University of Newcastle, Australia (e-mail: nariman.mahdavimazdeh and centralised MPC design recently published in [10], where
julio.braslavsky an aggregate state-bin demand model is used to directly
M. M. Seron is with the School of EECS, University of Newcastle, Australia control the demand of loads in each bin. While [10] clearly
S. R. West is with CSIRO Energy, PO Box 330, Newcastle NSW 2300, demonstrates the potential of MPC to control these loads
Australia (e-mail: to track a rapidly fluctuating power signal, it presents two

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Transactions on Smart Grid

significant drawbacks for practical implementations: (1) each of DLC of population of thermostatically controlled loads [7],
of the controlled loads is assumed to have in place fast [8], [12], [20]. Namely, the dynamics of the room temperature
bidirectional communications with the centralised controller, for the ith AC in the population (i = 1, 2, . . . , n) is given by
which may introduce non-trivial capital costs, as pointed out dTi (t) 1
by the authors; and (2) the end-use load temperatures are = [Ti (t) Ta (t) + mi (t)Ri Pi i ], (1)
dt Ci Ri
not directly controlled and may exceed specified boundaries
note that the results shown in [10] assume end-of-use 0
if Ti (t) T + u(t)
temperature regulation bands four times wider than those mi (t + ) = 1 if Ti (t) T+ + u(t) (2)
typically used in commercial ACs.

mi (t) otherwise,

The present paper improves on the work of [10] by for-
mulating MPC schemes both in distributed and centralised where the continuous state Ti (t) is the regulated temperature,
variants, for a population of ACs that may be segmented into and the discrete state mi (t) is the state of the relay, which
clusters representing aggregate load per zone-substation or switches the AC compressor on and off according to the
distribution-transformer. Clustering adds substantial flexibility hysteretic control rule (2). The setpoint offset u(t) is a control
in a practical implementation, and allows accommodating signal that broadcasts in a one-way communication scheme
different parameter distributions, different solar variability to all of the ACs in the population. The continuous-state
forecasts, or customised end-of-use temperature requirements dynamics (1) is a simplified model that combines air and solid
per cluster, while keeping a common tracking goal for the mass thermal dynamics; see for example [10], [21], which use
aggregate demand of the total population. In contrast with a second-order model of the form
[10], only unidirectional communications (broadcasts) to the dTi (t) 1
= [Ti (t) Ta (t) + mi (t)Ri Pi i ]
ACs are required to implement the proposed MPC schemes. dt Ci Ri
Furthermore, since the proposed controllers directly manipu- 1
late AC thermostat setpoints, the ensuing strategies can offer + [TM,i (t) Ti (t)], (3)
Ci RM,i
guaranteed end-of-use temperature margins by imposing a dTM,i (t) 1
constraint on control actions, easily implemented in MPC. = [Ti (t) TM,i (t)],
dt CM,i RM,i
The model formulated in the present paper for the aggregate
demand of ACs in a cluster is strongly aimed at enabling prac- where TM ,CM , and RM represent the mass temperature, thermal
tical implementation: it has a simple linear second-order model capacitance and thermal resistance.
structure, and is directly parametrised by ambient temperature Using either (1) or (3), the relay control law (2) main-
and the distributions of physical parameters (thermal power, tains the temperature Ti (t) oscillating around the temperature
resistance and capacitance) defining the dynamics of ACs in setpoint Tr (t) = u(t) + Tr0 within the hysteresis deadband
the population considered. As argued in [18], such parameters |Ti (t) Tr (t)| (T+ T )/2, where Tr0 = (T+ + T )/2. The
may be identified from readily available grid and weather data period of the oscillations depends on the difference between
following a Bayesian inference approach. Ti and the ambient temperature Ta , and is also a function of
In the rest of the paper, Section II discuses AC dynamics the thermal capacitance Ci (kWh/ C) and thermal resistance
and develops an ambient-temperature dependent model for the Ri ( C/kW) of the room, the electrical power Pi (kW) and the
aggregate demand response of a heterogeneous population of cooling coefficient of performance i of the ith AC.
ACs. Section III formulates the proposed MPC schemes in In general, the coefficient of performance i is a function
distributed and centralised variants for clustered population of of the difference between ambient and regulated room temper-
ACs. Section IV analyses the achievable performance of the atures, Ta (t) Ti (t). However, it may be reasonably approxi-
proposed schemes through numerical simulations in a case mated as a linear function of just the ambient temperature. We
study built upon real solar PV generation data. The numerical adopt the linear model in [18], which is based on experimental
results compare 1-minute PV power tracking performance results for a ZB45KCE compressor,
achievable using solar forecasts based on persistence and sky
(Ta ) = 0.14(Ta 35) + 0 , (4)
imager observations using a methodology developed in [19]
for prediction horizons of 2 and 5 minutes. Conclusions and where 0 is a nominal value at 35 C/27 C
future work are discussed in Section V. room temperature, and the ambient temperature is in the range
20 C Ta 35 C.
II. A TEMPERATURE - DEPENDENT SECOND - ORDER MODEL The normalised aggregate demand z(t) of a population of n
FOR THE AGGREGATE DEMAND OF A POPULATION OF AC S such ACs independently operating with the dynamics (1)-(2)
is given by the ratio
A. Single AC regulation dynamics
ni=1 mi (t)Pi
We consider a population of n ACs that independently z(t) = . (5)
regulate room temperatures using thermostats and on-off relay ni=1 Pi
controllers. The dominant dynamics of the regulated tempera- Equation (5) provides a convenient way to numerically study
ture for each of these ACs may be approximated by a simple aggregate demand dynamics, assuming the distributions of
model consisting of a differential equation driven by the state thermal parameters C, R and P are known. By simulating
of a relay with hysteresis, which is widely used in studies an artificial array of n independent sets of Equations (1)-(2)

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Transactions on Smart Grid

coupled with (5), one can analyse the effects that parameter troduce ambient temperature as a slowly varying exogeneous
distribution and external signals such as setpoint offset have parameter, Ta = Ta (t) by using from [18] the approximation
on the aggregate power demand of the population. This is
Dss (Ta ) = (Ta Tr )/RP(Ta ), (6)
the approach used in the present paper to simulate the actual
natural and controlled demand of a population of ACs. for the steady state demand Dss (Ta ). This yields the proposed
second-order LPV model for the aggregate demand z(t) (5)
defined by
B. Aggregate demand modelling
x(t) = A(Ta )x(t) + Bu(t), (7)
The exact aggregate dynamics of such a population is rather 0
y(t) = D (Ta ) C(Ta )x(t) D (Ta )u(t), 0
complex and has motivated numerous modelling approaches,
starting with [22], [23], and in more recent years [8], [11], with
[12], [24], [25]. These models, however, have in general had 2 f1 (Ta ) f2 (Ta ) 1
limited translation into practically implementable DLC designs A(t) = , B= , (9)
1 0 0
due, for example, to high dimensionality required for model  
C(Ta ) = g1 (Ta ) g2 (Ta ) , (10)
fidelity, and the complexity of estimating model parameters
and states necessary to control real-world populations. where
To circumvent these practical limitations, the work in [7] f1 (Ta ) = d (Ta )| log(r(Ta ))|/,
developed a heuristic mean-field modelling approach that
f2 (Ta ) = 1 + log2 (r(Ta ))/ 2 d2 (Ta ),
retains, within a low-complexity linear time invariant (LTI)
model structure, an analytical dependence on the distributed 1
g1 (Ta ) = f1 (Ta ) + d (Ta ) cot(t 1 d (Ta )) D0
physical parameters that define the thermal dynamics of ACs RP(Ta )
in the population. While the LTI model developed in [7] 2d (Ta )(D f D1 ) exp(t 1 f1 (Ta ))
performs well under almost constant ambient temperature, its + , (11)
sin(t 1 d (Ta ))
fidelity can degrade significantly over sustained periods of time 1
D0 ,
where ambient temperature can vary by several degrees. This g2 (Ta ) = f2 (Ta )
RP(Ta )
observation motivated in [18] the extension of the modelling
2 (T+ T )C
approach from [7] to analyse the effect of changes in ambient d (Ta ) = , T = 2 )P(T )D f (1 D f )
, (12)
temperature on the aggregate demand response under the T (1 + rel a
1D f
(1 D f )|

assumption of constant AC temperature setpoints. | erf 0.5+
This section integrates results from [18] and [7] to formulate r(Ta ) = , (13)
| erf(2D f ) D f |
a linear parameter-varying (LPV) model structure [26] that  
1 C (a 7/8)(T+ T ) 1 1 1 log(a)
can more accurately describe the aggregate demand response t = 2 )P(T )D f
; D = + erf ,
of a population of ACs to changes in temperature setpoints (1 + rel a 6 6 2rel
 2 log(3)

over periods of time with significant variations in ambient a = exp log( 2) rel log(2)
temperature. Using expressions developed in [18], ambient
temperature is introduced in the LTI model structure developed and D0 , D f are functions of ambient temperature given by
in [7] as a persistently slowly varying exogeneous parameter. D0 (Ta ) = (Ta Tr0 )/RP(Ta ), (14)
Frozen at a given value, the proposed LPV model represents a
stable LTI system as in [7]. If the parameter varies sufficiently
D (Ta ) = (Ta Tr0 0.5)/RP(Ta ). (15)
slowly, properties of the trajectories of the slowly time-varying
parameter system may be shown to follow, using LPV system C. LPV model performance
theory (e.g., [26, Chapter 1]), from the properties of the The proposed LPV model (7)-(15) (as those in [7] and
frozen parameter system. As we will illustrate in simulated [18]) is derived based on the analysis of the aggregate demand
responses in the next section, changes in ambient temperature response of the AC population to a step change in temperature
are typically much slower than the natural dynamics of the ag- setpoint offsets, and under the simplifying assumption that
gregate demand response of ACs, which numerically justifies only the thermal capacitance C is distributed in the pop-
the proposed LPV model structure. ulation. However, we argue that this LPV model can still
Following [7], [18], the LPV model introduced next assumes capture the dominant dynamics of the demand response of
that the AC population is heterogeneous solely in thermal a heterogeneous population even when all of the parameters
capacitance C, which is log-normally distributed with mean are distributed, not only C, and under significant variations
C and standard deviation C = rel C . Thermal resistance R, in ambient temperature and general changes to setpoint (not
rated electrical power P, temperature setpoint Tr0 , and (Ta ) necessarily a step).
are all assumed identical for all the ACs. The performance of the proposed LPV model (7)-(15) is
Consider the LTI model proposed in [7] for the normalised illustrated below by comparing its simulated output against
aggregate demand response z(t) of a population of ACs to the demand response of a heterogeneous population of 10,000
a common simultaneous change in their temperature setpoint ACs aggregated using (5), where the individual AC dynamics
offset u(t) under constant ambient temperature Ta . We in- are simulated using both first and second-order models (1)

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Normalised aggregate demand

and (3), and where all parameters are distributed with realistic 1
Simulated population by (1)-(2)
values for means and variances as given in Table I. 0.8 Simulated population by (2)-(3)
LPV model
0.6 LTI model

Parameter Mean Description
value 0
R 2 C/kW Thermal resistance (log-normally distributed). -0.2
C 3.6 Thermal capacitance (log-normally distributed). 2am 4am 6am 8am 10am noon 2pm 4pm 6pm 8pm 10pm 12pm
kWh/ C 31
Ambient temperature ( o C)

RM 1 C/kW Mass thermal resistance (log-normally dis- Setpoint temperature ( C)o 20.4
tributed). 26
CM 4.3 Mass thermal capacitance (log-normally dis- 23
kWh/ C tributed). 20 20
P 2 kW Electrical power (log-normally distributed). 2am 4am 6am 8am 10am noon 2pm 4pm 6pm 8pm 10pm 12pm
3 Coefficient of performance (uniformly distributed
[2.5, 3.5]).
T 19.5 C Lower end of hysteresis band. Fig. 1. The response of the LPV model (8) and LTI model developed in [7]
T+ 20.5 C Higher end of hysteresis band. versus the normalised power demand response of 10,000 simulated ACs by
rel 0.2 Standard deviation of log-normal distributions as (1)-(2) and (2)-(3) (top) to 0.5 C step change in setpoint temperature at 8am
a fraction of the mean value for R,C and P. till 7pm and real ambient temperature during a day (bottom)

Normalised aggregate demand

Simulated population by (1)-(2)
Figures 1 and 2 show the responses to step and sinusoid Simulated population by (2)-(3)
changes in temperature setpoint offset with real ambient tem- LPV model
LTI model
perature during an entire day. Notice how the output of the 0.6
LTI model from [7] (with fixed Ta = 26 C) can reasonably
approximate the response of the 10,000 simulated ACs only 0.4

when the ambient temperature is around 26 C, but it drifts 0.2

apart significantly elsewhere. In contrast, the proposed LPV
model response provides a consistently better approximation 0
2am 4am 6am 8am 10am noon 2pm 4pm 6pm 8pm 10pm 12pm
over the entire range of ambient temperatures. 31
Ambient temperature ( o C)

Note in Figure 1 how both LTI and LPV model responses o
Setpoint temperature ( C)
26 20
yield large errors in the transients immediately following the
step time. This may be attributed to the fact that the means
20 19.8
and variances of the nominal parameters used in the model 2am 4am 6am 8am 10am noon 2pm 4pm 6pm 8pm 10pm 12pm
structure (7)-(15) are both computed using the nominal means
and variances of the parameters in Table I, which may not the Fig. 2. Same as Figure 1, but with a sinusoid change with amplitude of 0.1 C
in setpoint temperature at noon till 7pm.
best choice to minimise model error. This particular choice is
taken for comparison with the heuristic proposed in [7]. The
response of the proposed LPV model structure can produce a for control, with effective tracking performance, are 2 and 5
substantially closer approximation to the population response minutes. Hence, the rate of change in ambient temperature is
by tuning these parameters through a system identification in this case around eight times slower than that of the natural
process using results from [18], as shown in Section IV-B. system response under fixed ambient temperature conditions
We observe also from Figures 1 and 2 that the use the (LTI model), and no less than 100 times slower than the target
second-order thermal dynamics model (3) to construct the controlled response (see also Figure 4).
simulated population demand response does not make a sub-
stantial difference with respect to that obtained using the III. M ODEL PREDICTIVE CONTROL DESIGN
simpler first-order thermal dynamics model (1), which agrees
with the common adoption of the latter observed in the In this section we introduce the proposed distributed and
literature. centralised MPC schemes to regulate the aggregate power of
To support the consideration of ambient temperature as a population of ACs. We adopt a simple one-way commu-
a persistently slowly varying parameter in the LPV model nication approach that simultaneously broadcasts temperature
(7)-(15), observe in the typical daily evolution of ambient setpoint offsets to all ACs in a population. However, to be able
temperature shown at the bottom of Figure 1 that it takes more to engage end-users in a DLC programme that offers different
than eight hours for ambient temperature to traverse the entire levels of potential disruption to comfort during DLC events,
range of daily temperatures (about 20 degrees at this location). we consider a cluster-based control. In the proposed cluster-
In contrast, the typical transient step response of the population based control approach, one signal is broadcast per cluster,
of ACs with realistic distributed parameters shown at the top of rather than a one signal broadcast all ACs in a population.
the same figure takes about one hour to traverse its maximum Each cluster will contribute to compensate intermittency in
range (see also [7], [18]). Furthermore, as will be seen in the a common PV output signal. The number of clusters and their
case study of Section IV, the prediction horizons considered needs can vary for different retailers and populations. Thus,

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a total population of n ACs is divided into c clusters, where For a given cluster, the observer gain Lki is computed at each
each cluster has its own setpoint offset ui , i = 1, 2, ..., c. sampling time step as a standard steady-state optimal quadratic
In either the distributed or the centralised MPC schemes, filter gain
short-term forecasts (2 to 5 minutes ahead) of fluctuations
Lk = (Ak PkCk0 )(Ck (Pk + Q)Ck0 + R)1
in solar power at a given location will be used to provide
regulation of rapid fluctuations in solar capacity by modulating obtained by solving the covariance matrix Pk from the discrete-
aggregate AC demand. The proposed MPC schemes, compu- time algebraic Riccati equation
tations and implementations are described in this section.
Ak Pk PkCk0 (Ck PkCk0 + R)1 )Ck Pk A0k + Q = Pk .

A. Distributed MPC scheme with weights Q = I, R = 0.1, where the transpose of a matrix
M is denoted by M 0 (see, e.g. [27, 22.10.3]). Here, the
The proposed distributed MPC scheme is illustrated in superindex i is dropped to simplify the notations.
Figure 3, where each control signal (temperature offset) ui , 2) Aggregate demand prediction model: Let N be the
i = 1, . . . , c, is controlled by an MPC in each cluster. The prediction horizon, then the prediction model for the ith cluster
aggregate demand of each cluster can be measured at a can be written over the prediction horizon [k, (k + N 1)]
distribution transformer, and fed back to generate the state
estimates required for the MPC predictions. These predictions k++1|k = Aik+ k+|k
+ Bik+ uik+|k , (19)
are computed using the linear time-varying model proposed
with = 0, 1, . . . , N 1, initialised at each time sampling time k
in Section II-B and a linear observer, with very small model i = xi using the aggregate demand model state estimate
by k|k k|k
orders (order 2 per cluster, in contrast with the state-bin model
obtained from (18). Observe in (19) that at each sampling
in [10], which in their simulations is of order 200). The
instant k the predictions require forecasts of the ambient
aggregate demand of the population is computed as
temperature Ta ((k + )) to compute Ak+ and Bk+ along
c the prediction horizon [k, k + N 1].
z(t) = zi (t), (16) 3) Model parametrisation: The actual system, a population
of ACs, has several distributed physical parameters as listed in
where zi (t) is the aggregate demand of each cluster as per (5). Table I. The prediction model parameters can be taken to be
In the distributed scheme, each cluster contributes to com- the (nominal) mean values of the actual system, or identified,
pensate the variations of the common reference signal accord- as shown in Section IV-B.
ing to its weight wi , which is the fraction of controllable 4) Objective function: The main control objective for the
demand resource in the ith cluster with respect to the total ith cluster is the partial mitigation of the fluctuations in the
controllable demand resource of all clusters aggregated. common reference signal according to its own weight wi . Thus,
MPC is implemented as a sampled-data controller using the we propose the objective function
LPV model (7)-(8) discretised with sampling period = 1 N1
minute, t = k, (k + 1) . . . , which yields the discrete-time Ji = (wi zref i 2
k+ yk+|k ) , i = 1, 2, ..., c, (20)
LPV model =0

xk+1 = Ak xk + Bk uk , where zref k+ is the desired value of z(t) in (16) at time k + ,

(17) yik+|k is the predicted output estimation at time k + , and wi
yk = D0k Ck xk D0k uk ,
is the clusters weight.
where Ak = eA(Ta (k)) , Bk = (eA(Ta (k)) I)A1 5) Constraints: Since the control signal represents the ACs
k B, I is the
identity matrix, and Ck , D0k represent C and D0 as per (8) setpoint offset, it should be within the desired range for end-
evaluated at Ta (k). users of each cluster. For example, one group may have agreed
To model the aggregate demand of the ith -cluster, the to setpoint changes of up to 0.5 C, while another can tolerate
matrices in the discrete-time state model (17) follow from setpoint changes of up to 2 C. In this case, we have
the common continuous-time LPV model structure (7)-(8), but 0.5 u1k 0.5 ; 2 u2k 2.
possibly with distinct parameters per cluster, which will be
denoted by adding the superindex i, e.g., Aik , Bik .
B. Centralised MPC scheme
1) Aggregate demand model state observer: Since the only
assumed measurable variable is the aggregate AC demand at In the centralised scheme, the control signals (temperature
distribution transformer level, represented by the output of the offsets) ui , i = 1, . . . , c, are controlled by a single MPC at utility
proposed LPV model, the states of the system to implement the or substation level. The aggregate demand of the population is
MPC controller need to be estimated in real time. This is done computed as the weighted summation of the aggregate demand
by means of a linear observer driven by aggregate demand zi (t) of each cluster, i.e.,
measurements assumed at distribution transformer level, zik , c
z(t) = wi zi (t), (21)
xk+1|k = Aik xk|k
+ Bik uik|k + Lki (zik yik|k ), i=1
yik|k = D0,i i i 0,i i
k Ck xk|k Dk uk|k .
where zi (t) is given by (5), and wi is the weight of each cluster.

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signal for
u1 Thermostat offset broadcasts
demand Thermostat Thermostat Thermostat
control control control

m1 T1 m2 T2 ... mn1 Tn1

Cluster 1 + +

z1 Feeder 1 measurements
.. .. ..
uc Thermostat offset broadcasts
Thermostat Thermostat Thermostat
control control control

mnnc +1 Tnnc +1 mnnc +2 Tnnc +2 ... mn Tn

Cluster c + +

zc Feeder c measurements

Fig. 3. Cluster-based distributed MPC scheme using thermostat setpoint offset broadcasts.

Here, the prediction model is the same as in the distributed output zik . Thus, after minimisation of the objective function,
MPC scheme, but there is only one objective function that can the measured output of the system z(t), see (16) and (21), is
be expressed as expected to follow the desired trajectory zref (t).
N1 Finally, note that the proposed implementation for the
J= (zref 2
k+ W Yk+|k ) , (22) distributed MPC scheme requires a coordinating aggregator
=0 with knowledge of the fraction of available demand resource
at each cluster, wi , as well as the reference signal for the
where zref is the desired value of z(t) in (21) at time k + ,
 k+ 0 aggregate demand z(t) in (16). Although the available number
W = w1 w2 . . . wc Rc is the clusters weight vector, of ACs that determines the available resource of each cluster
h i0
and Yk+|k = y1k+|k y2k+|k . . . yck+|k Rc is the vector can dynamically change with different weather conditions,
of predicted output estimations at time k + for all clusters. time and type of the day, the fraction for each cluster can be
reasonably assumed almost constant. This assumption remains
true as long as the weather conditions of all clusters change
C. MPC implementation
at the same time. This further means all the clusters should
In the distributed MPC scheme, the optimal control se- be within the same climate zone.
quence ui from time k to k + N 1 is individually computed
for each cluster by solving the following optimisation problem IV. C ASE STUDY
subject to the appropriate input constraints:
This section analyses the performance of the proposed MPC
min Ji , i = 1, 2, ..., c. (23) strategies on a simulated general heterogeneous population
uik ,uik+1 ,...,uik+N1
of n =1000 ACs with distributed parameters as per Table I.
In the centralised MPC scheme, the vector of optimal The population is assumed to be divided in three clusters
control sequence U from time k to k + N 1 is obtained for comprising w1 = 65%, w2 = 25% and w3 = 10% of the ACs.
all clusters by solving The mean electrical power of the ACs in these are respectively
4kW, 5kW, and 6kW.
min J, (24) In all simulations below, the ACs in the population are
Uk ,Uk+1 ,...,Uk+N1
0 represented by 1000 independent sets of dynamics (1), (2) with
where Uk = u1k u2k . . . uck Rc is the clusters input

a common temperature setpoint and regulation hysteresis band.
vector at time k. The simulations are initialised with the ensemble dynamics in
At each step, the first element of the optimal control steady-state, which means that the initial proportion of ACs in
sequence is chosen as the current control signal and applied the ON state (m = 1) is equal to D0 , defined by the initial value
to both prediction model and population of the ith cluster. By of ambient temperature using (14). Initial room temperatures
using the observer gain Lki described in the prediction model, of the ACs are sampled from a uniform probability distribution
the estimated output yik|k will approximately track the system with support on the hysteresis band [T , T+ ].

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We consider two choices for the desired signal to be tracked that the thermostat state of each AC in the population does
by the population of ACs: a) the locally generated solar PV not change its behaviour excessively frequently, despite the
power, obtained from PV output measured at the CSIRO Black frequent fluctuations in solar capacity in the period considered.
Mountain site, ACT, Australia, see section IV-A, and b) the For illustration, the switching actions of two individual ACs
short-term solar forecast based on sky imager observation at are shown in the last plot of Figure 5, where it may be observed
that site or persistence method, see section IV-C. In the first they only switched four times during the 2 hours of simulation.
part, the performance of the centralised and the distributed
MPC schemes are investigated that provides an upper bound 2000
PV generation
on the controllers expected performance by using the solar PV

power (kW)
1500 z(t) at Distributed MPC
power. In the second part, we study the effects of different
solar forecasts methods on the performance of centralised or 1000
distributed schemes.
Additionally, we introduce a method for model parameter 500
0 20 40 60 80 100 120

Temperature setpoint
identification and compare the results with the case that 1
nominal values are used as the parameters. u2
Figure 4 shows the generated PV power and its 2 minute 0.5

offset ( o C)
ahead forecasts on a very hot summer day in 2014, with
maximum temperature of 37 C and fluctuations of up to 400
kW per minute. Some fluctuations occur between 10am-noon,
the box in Figure 4, where ambient temperature changes from 0 20 40 60 80 100 120
29 to 34 C and some occur before 10am. In this paper, we 1 m1

focus on the modulation of aggregate AC demand to com- m700
pensate fluctuations in power supply due to short-term solar 0
variability between 10am-noon, where enough AC resource is 0 20 40 60 80 100 120
available. We cannot use the aggregate AC demand to mitigate time (minute)
the fluctuations before 10am, since temperature is not high
enough for the end-users to turn their ACs on. Fig. 5. Simulated aggregate demand z(t), see (16) in the distributed MPC
scheme (thin red line) versus solar PV generation (thick blue line) (top),
unconstrained control input to each cluster (middle), and ON/OFF state of the
1500 40 relay for two sample ACs (bottom). Prediction horizon N = 2.
Ambient temperature (oC)

PV generation
PV forecast The results of the centralised MPC implementation when the
PV power (kW)

Amb. temp. clusters share the same probabilistic distributions of parame-

1000 30
ters as in the distributed case are shown in Figure 6. Note that
the magnitude of the control signals are very different for each
500 20
cluster, which suggests an unfair relative contribution of the
clusters with respect to their sizes in tracking a common goal.
This is in contrast of the distributed MPC, where all clusters
0 10 have more or less the same relative contribution.
2am 6am 10am 2pm 6pm 12pm
Fig. 4. PV generation, 2 minute ahead PV forecast, and ambient temperature PV generation
power (kW)

of 14 November 2014, CSIRO Black Mountain site, ACT, Australia. The box 1500 z(t) at Centralised MPC
specifies the changes from 10am-noon.

A. Solar PV generation 0 20 40 60 80 100 120
Temperature setpoint

Here, the solar PV generation is used as a reference signal, u3
offset ( o C)

sometimes called perfect forecast, in two different strategies: 1 u2

i) distributed MPC with a common tracking goal, and ii) 0.5
centralised MPC. The model has been discretised with = 1 0
minute, and parametrised with nominal values of each cluster.
By utilising the proposed distributed control method, the 0 20 40 60 80 100 120
tracking performance of the PV generation and control inputs 1 m1

can be observed in Figure 5. Since the share of each cluster m700

in compensating a common tracking goal depends on the 0
available number of ACs in that cluster, the order of magnitude 0 20 40 60 80 100 120
time (minute)
of locally optimised control inputs are quite similar in the un-
constrained case. The difference between the locally optimised Fig. 6. Similar to Figure 5, but for the simulated aggregate demand z(t) in
inputs is due to the different parameters of the clusters. Note the centralised MPC scheme.

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Figure 7 illustrates the response of the constrained cen- which maps the effect of ambient temperature on the aggregate
tralised case, where the input to each cluster is constrained power demand of a population of ACs. This non-linear model
to the acceptable limit for the end-users of each cluster. Here, shares the same parameter set of the LPV model (7)-(15),
we assume 0.5 C for Cluster 1, 0.7 C for Cluster 2, and 1 C and may be identified using weather and demand data, with
for Cluster 3. It can be seen that after t = 55, the magnitude no need for identification experiments involving simultaneous
of the input to the first and third cluster (u1 and u3 ) has changes in temperature setpoint.
increased with respect to their values in the unconstrained Here, the ambient temperature shown in Figure 4 is fed to
case, see Figure 6, to let the second input u2 reduce its a population of ACs, each governed by (1)-(2) with nominal
value under the acceptable limit of 0.7. Note that the tracking parameters listed in Table I. The generated normalised aggre-
performance of the constrained case is very similar to the gate demand of each cluster and ambient temperature are then
unconstrained performance. However, at t = 112, all inputs used as an input-output set for the non-linear model in [18]
have been saturated, and hence, the output of the system to identify the parameters. Table II shows the mode of the
cannot follow the desired trajectory. estimated distribution for each parameter, when = 3 is used
for all clusters.
PV generation
power (kW)

1500 z(t) at Centralised MPC TABLE II

Parameter Nominal Estimation Estimation Estimation
value Cluster 1 Cluster 2 Cluster 3
0 20 40 60 80 100 120 P=4kW P=5kW P=6kW
Temperature setpoint

u3 R 2 2 1.6 1.6
u2 C 3.6 6.26 5.6 5.7
offset ( o C)

u1 Tr 20 18 18 18.5
rel 0.2 0.38 0.34 0.36

-0.5 Figure 8 shows the simulated results of the unconstrained

0 20 40 60 80 100 120
centralised MPC, when the prediction model of each cluster is
1 m1

parametrised with the estimated parameters listed in Table II.

It can be seen that by tuning the parameters, the spike at t = 60
0 20 40 60 80 100 120
has completely disappeared and MPC tracks the PV generation
time (minute) very well.

Fig. 7. Same as the centralised scheme in Figure 6, but inputs are constrained
as |u1 | 0.5, |u2 | 0.7, and |u3 | 1. 2000
PV generation
power (kW)

1500 z(t) at centralised MPC

B. Identification of model parameters
As it can be seen in Figures 5-7, there is a spike at t = 60 1000
regardless of the MPC control strategy. This spike occurs right
after a sudden change of 400 kW per minute in the solar PV 0 20 40 60 80 100 120
Temperature set point

generation, when the MPC tries to compensate the error by 1.5

creating a step change in the setpoint offset. 1 u2
offset ( C)

Even though the LPV model response gives a good approx-

0.5 u1

imation of the aggregate demand response of a population of

ACs over a range of varying ambient temperature, as shown in 0
Figures 1-2, the model response computed with the nominal -0.5
parameter means and variances displays a relatively large error 0 20 40 60 80 100 120
with respect to the population demand response right after the time (minute)
step change in the setpoint temperature. This is the reason of
Fig. 8. Unconstrained centralised MPC with identified parameters as in
the tracking error spike observed at t = 60. Table II.
So far, the LPV model has been parametrised with nominal
mean values of a population, following the heuristics proposed
in [7]. However, the LPV model structure with parameters
identified to minimise model errors will more closely model
the population demand response, and improve closed-loop C. System performance
performance, as we illustrate next.
For parameter identification, we take the Bayesian approach To compare the distributed and centralised MPC perfor-
proposed in [28] with the non-linear model developed in [18], mance we will use the following mean absolute percentage

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error (MAPE) indexes

PV generation
100 K |zref (t) z(t)| z(t) at Distributed MPC
MAPE1 = zref (t) ,

power (kW)
K t=1 1500 Skycam forecast

100 |PVactual (t) z(t)|
MAPE2 = PVactual (t) , 1000
K t=1
where K is the total number of simulation sample time, and the 500
0 20 40 60 80 100 120
reference signal zref (t) could be either of actual PV generation 2000
PV generation
PVactual (t), persistence forecast PVpersistence (t), or sky imager
z(t) at Distributed MPC

power (kW)
forecast PVskycam (t). While MAPE1 compares the output with

1500 Persistence forecast
the reference signal, MAPE2 always compares the output with
the actual PV generation, regardless of the choice for reference 1000
Persistence forecasting is a standard method for produc- 500
ing a baseline case for comparison of forecasting methods. 0 20 40 60 80 100 120
Persistence forecasting is based on the assumption that the time (minute)
conditions at the time of the forecast will not change over
Fig. 9. The output of the distributed MPC scheme after parameter identifica-
the prediction horizon. So, the previous and present PV mea- tion versus the actual PV generation, when a 5-minute ahead skycam forecast
surements are simply used as the future values. To compare (top) or a 5-minute ahead persistence forecast (bottom) is used as a reference
with persistence forecasting, a variety of solar forecasting signal.
techniques might be employed, such as statistical, satellite
and numerical weather predictions, see e.g., [29], [30] and From this maximum achievable performance, 90% and
the references therein. However, ground-based imagery (sky- 87.7% reduction in the solar variability have been achieved,
cams) are generally accepted to provide more accurate short- respectively, by persistence and skycam forecasts in N=2 min-
horizon forecasts from visible cloud observations with fast utes prediction horizon. It can be seen that the performance of
update intervals, only limited by image acquisition frequency. persistence forecast is better in shorter horizons. However, the
[19]. solar variability reduction of the persistence forecast dropped
Figure 9 shows the output of the distributed MPC scheme into 85% when the prediction horizon is N=5 minutes. For
after the prediction model is parametrised with estimated val- the skycam forecast, on the other hand, it remains around the
ues in Table II, when 5-minute ahead skycam and persistence same value and suggests a better option for longer horizons.
forecasts are used as reference signals. As illustrated, the
MPC outputs of both cases track the forecast signal fairly
well. However, due to forecasting errors, the overall tracking V. C ONCLUSIONS
performance does not perform as well as the case illustrated This paper develops an MPC strategy to control the ag-
in Figure 8, where the PV generation was used as a reference gregate demand of distributed populations of ACs to com-
signal. pensate fluctuations in solar generation output at a substation
Table III lists the MAPE of the output z(t) in several or distribution transformer aggregation level. The proposed
centralised and distributed MPC cases with different prediction strategy relies on a new linear slowly varying parameter model
horizons and different reference signals, using the prediction for the aggregate demand response of a population of ACs
model with nominal and identified parameters. Note that to common changes in temperature setpoints, parameterised
MAPE2 shows the overall performance that is the upper bound by a real ambient temperature profile. Based on this model,
in the achievable performance with different solar PV forecast practical distributed and centralised MPC schemes are for-
methods, while MAPE1 only shows the tracking performance mulated to modulate the demand of clusters of ACs to track
of the reference signal. fluctuations in PV capacity. Numerical simulations show that
Observe that in all cases the MAPE results of the distributed solar variability can be reduced by 91.5%, MAPE = 8.5%, at
MPC are quite similar to the centralised MPC, or sometimes PV capacities equal to the peak AC demand using a prediction
better, which shows the effectiveness of the distributed MPC model based on nominal parameter values. Solar variability is
for the control of a population of ACs without using any reduced by 94.2%, MAPE = 5.8%, when a prediction model is
information from the neighbouring cluster. parametrised using values identified from simulated population
Additionally, the performance of the system has been data. Additionally, persistence and sky imaging short-term
improved when the prediction model is parametrised with PV forecasting methods have been used as reference signals
identified parameters rather than the nominal values. This to illustrate their overall achievable performance. Persistence
improvement is significant when the PV generation signal, yields better results for shorter prediction horizons and sky
PVactual , is used as a reference signal. For example, the MAPE imaging for longer horizons. The overall performance with
error of 5.8% shows the solar variability can be reduced by these PV forecasts, however, is not as good as in the case
more than 94% with minimal impact to end-user comfort where PV generation is directly used as a reference signal,
levels. which indicates substantial improvements in performance can

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MAPE results computed for centralised and distributed MPC with different reference signal zref and different prediction horizon N, using the prediction
model with nominal and identified parameters.

Nominal model parameters Identified model parameters

Reference Index Centralised Centralised Distributed Distributed Centralised Centralised Distributed Distributed
zref (t) N=2 N=5 N=2 N=5 N=2 N=5 N=2 N=5

PVactual MAPE2 9.96 8.33 8.55 8.51 5.8 5.76 5.85 5.81
PVpersistence MAPE2 11.5 16.33 11.87 16.36 9.9 15.04 10.1 15.1
MAPE1 8.22 8.53 8.42 8.53 6.11 6.51 6.22 6.53
PVskycam MAPE2 13.88 12.42 13.64 12.56 12.31 12.3 12.28 12.24
MAPE1 5.45 4.5 6.14 5.11 6.7 5.05 6.4 5.1

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Transactions on Smart Grid

Nariman Mahdavi (M16) received the B.Sc. de-

gree from Isfahan University of Technology, Isfahan,
Iran, in 2004, and the M.Sc. and Ph.D. (first class)
degrees from Amirkabir University of Technology,
Tehran, Iran, in 2007 and 2011, respectively, all in
Electrical Engineering. He was a Guest Researcher
with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Re-
search (PIK), Potsdam, Germany, 2011. Since 2013,
he is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with the Energy
Business Unit of the Australian Commonwealth Sci-
entific and Industrial research Organisation (CSIRO)
and the University of Newcastle, Australia. His main research interests
are modelling and control of complex systems, demand side management,
computational intelligence, and their applications in controls.

Julio H. Braslavsky (M99- SM13) graduated as

Electronic Engineer from the National University of
Rosario, Argentina, in 1989, and received the Ph.D.
degree from the University of Newcastle, Australia,
in 1996. He is a Senior Research Scientist with the
Energy Business Unit of the Australian Common-
wealth Scientific and Industrial research Organisa-
tion (CSIRO). He has held research positions at the
Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, (1996),
the University of California, Santa Barbara, USA
(1997), and the University of Newcastle, Australia
(1998-1999, 2002-2010). In 1999-2002 he was Adjoint Investigator with
the National Research Council (CONICET) and Associate Professor at the
National University of Quilmes, both in Argentina. He is currently Associate
Editor of the IEEE Transactions on Control Systems Technology and was
Associate Editor of the IEEE Transactions on Automatic Control (2010-2014).
He is a Conjoint Senior Lecturer with the School of Electrical Engineering
and Computing at the University of Newcastle. His research interests include
modelling, analysis and control of energy systems, demand-side energy
management, and switched and sampled-data control systems.

Maria M. Seron received the Electronic Engineer

degree from the Universidad Nacional de Rosario,
Argentina in 1988 and the Ph.D. degree from The
University of Newcastle, Australia in 1996. During
1997-1998, she held post-doctoral positions in Bel-
gium, Australia and the USA. From 1999 to 2002,
she was an Associate Professor at the Universidad
Nacional de Rosario, Argentina. Since 2002, she
has been a Research Fellow with the Centre for
Complex Dynamic Systems and Control, the Uni-
versity of Newcastle. Her research interests include
constrained control, fault tolerant control and hybrid systems.

Samuel R. West is a Senior Experimental Scientist

working in the Grids and Energy Efficient Systems
Program in CSIRO Energy. He specialises in the
development and application of computer science,
software engineering, machine learning, big data an-
alytics and computer vision techniques in renewable
energy grid integration, solar forecasting and energy
efficiency domains.

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