When it comes to increasing the efficiency of 160,000 miles of U.S. high-voltage transmission lines, the answer might be blowing in the wind.

In fact, when the wind blows just the right way on a high-voltage line, the line cools enough to safely increase the amount of current between 10% and 40%.

Under the U.S. Department of Energy’s Grid Modernization Initiative, Idaho National Laboratory (INL) is receiving $2.35 million over 3 years to further develop Dynamic Line Rating tools that maximize the capacity of power lines. Using weather data, customized algorithms, and advanced computer modeling, INL is improving the accuracy and reliability of these tools at a lower cost.

As part of this work, researchers from INL and Idaho Power have teamed up to install weather stations on more than 450 miles of transmission line in a windy part of southern Idaho.

“Our greatest challenge was to come up with a standard design that didn’t cost a fortune,” said Phil Anderson, project leader for Idaho Power. As it turned out, with INL’s help, Idaho Power was able to create Dynamic Line Rating weather stations and loggers by retrofitting some of the power quality meters it had developed in-house. The team plans to have all 47 weather stations mounted and operational this year.

The next challenge was finding software that could offer a complete view of the electrical and environmental conditions spanning all 450 miles, taking into account topography rife with rocks, canyons, and vegetation.

INL discovered a company called WindSim, which has the ability to incorporate multiple weather stations in a single computational fluid dynamics model. This custom software program, when combined with INL’s General Line Ampacity State Solver, analyzes airflow, ambient temperature, and solar irradiation to provide a real-time picture of conditions along the line.

These tools will help INL give planners, designers, and control-room operators the data they need to keep the lines running at maximum efficiency.

“Having reliable weather data and accurate models to predict line ampacity is where this truly becomes impactful,” said INL Project Lead Jake Gentle.

As utilities work to replace aging infrastructure and incorporate renewables from remote locations, unlocking extra capacity within existing transmission lines is proving essential. The culmination of this work promises to be a more robust and efficient electricity grid.