Office of Electricity

Enabling a Smart Power Grid

November 2, 2016

You are here

Complexity seems to be a fact of modern life, and while there are times to strive for simplicity, adding complexity to systems has led to performance improvements we can’t live without.  Anti-lock brakes are much more complex than manual brakes, but the benefits created by this additional complexity go well beyond the older alternatives.  Anti-lock brakes were not born on the highway – they were born in the lab, and through successive and increasingly realistic testing in safe environments and on tracks. This technology profoundly changed the safety of motorcycles, trucks and cars. 

Our electric grid is undergoing a similar transition. It is far more complex than it used to be, but the advancements of the last decade have demonstrated that, as more automation systems interact, more requirements are placed on the system, and more customer assets interact with the grid, additional complexity is inevitable but perhaps even desirable. Where, then, can we test new grid technologies, systems and ideas as they emerge from the lab?

The Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE) is working with Idaho National Laboratory (INL) to enhance the places where we can test advanced systems, at the scale of a real neighborhood or zip code, without risk to actual customers. Under the guidance of OE, INL works with industry, universities and government stakeholders to provide a testing environment which reduces the risks and enables real world validation and verification of new ideas, devices and systems including new smart grid devices, distribution automation, communication systems, renewable energy, and grid scale energy storage. The ability of the utility industry to provide reliable service and restoration of services is critical to the economic health and stability of our communities. An adaptive power system facilitates more reliable operations.

INL just broke ground this week on enhancements to its Critical Infrastructure Test Range Complex, which is part of INL’s 61 miles of transmission system, seven substations and associated distribution systems.  It is a dedicated section of distribution lines providing a realistic testing environment for ideas, devices and systems related to the adoption of a smart grid that uses predominantly digital technology. This approach supports more reliable, resilient and flexible energy delivery while increasing security and efficiency of the system. The dedicated test system provides additional lines and a mesh framework to ensure the environment is more consistent with current industry distribution practices, and can be configured to reflect a broad range of U.S. distribution infrastructure and can support utilities in the secure adoption of new smart grid technologies.

OE drives electric grid modernization and resiliency in the energy infrastructure. Leadership requires forward thinking and strategic investments. Investments in our national labs accomplish an important mission of enabling tomorrow’s smart grid, today. Our investment in INL’s expansion is the latest example of OE’s commitment to enabling leading edge research and industry partnerships to ensure our Nation's sustained economic prosperity, quality of life, and global competitiveness.

Today, the economy is fueled by technology innovation and intergraded into all aspects of our lives including the power grid. The Nation depends on access to an abundance of secure, reliable and affordable energy resources. Through a mix of technology and policy solutions, OE is addressing the changing dynamics and uncertainties in which our increasingly complex electric system operates. Our investments at INL leverage effective partnerships, solid research and best practices to address diverse interests in achieving economic, societal, and environmental objectives through grid modernization and smart grid adoption.