Our Nation’s electric power system consists of thousands of generators, hundreds of thousands of miles of high-voltage power lines, and millions of miles of distribution lines, serving millions of electricity customers across the country. Within this expansive system, there are over 55,000 transmission substations that serve as the interconnection points between generation, transmission, distribution, and customers. Given the ubiquitous nature and importance of these critical nodes, substations present a tremendous opportunity to improve performance of the electric grid. The development of advanced substation technologies that enable new functionalities, new topologies, and enhanced control of power flow and voltage can increase the grid’s reliability, resilience, efficiency, flexibility, and security.

The future of substation technology along with advancements in grid power electronics is examined in “Solid State Power Substation Technology Roadmap,” a new report from the Office of Electricity’s (OE) Transformer Resilience and Advanced Components (TRAC) program. As the electric grid evolves to accommodate additional generation sources, complex loads, and a changing threat environment, new and pressing challenges face the electricity delivery system, especially for substations. On the path toward grid modernization there are valuable opportunities to improve the performance of substation components and to rethink their design.

A solid state power substation (SSPS), defined as a substation or “grid node” with the strategic integration of high-voltage power electronic converters, can provide system benefits and support the evolution of the grid. SSPS converters, envisioned as a system consisting of modular, scalable, flexible, and adaptable power blocks that can be used within all substation applications, can serve as power routers or hubs with the capability to electrically isolate system components and provide bidirectional alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC) power flow control from one or more sources and to one or more loads—regardless of voltage or frequency.

OE’s technology roadmap highlights the potential benefits of broader utilization of SSPS converters, documents a technology adoption trajectory that minimizes risks and costs, and identifies several research and development (R&D) challenges and critical gaps that must be addressed to realize the SSPS vision presented. SSPS technology will face many R&D challenges that must be addressed as it evolves. The report presents a summary and roadmap of both technical and institutional activities needed to address the gaps identified over the near term, midterm, and long term.

Addressing these activities requires participation from industry, academia, and government laboratories on topics spanning hardware design and development, real-time simulation, control algorithms, system protection, power electronics, thermal management, magnetics and passive components, network architecture, communications, cyber-physical security, and computation. Expertise in analysis, markets, regulations, standards, testing, and education will also be needed.

SSPS technology has the potential to disrupt the current market as it spans every aspect of electrical power generation, transmission, distribution, and consumption, including infrastructure support services and opportunities for upgrades. SSPS converters will also represent a new technology group that has the potential to tap into a multibillion-dollar industry, creating new U.S. businesses and jobs and generating economic advantages.

The expansion of SSPS technology development within the United States would bolster domestic energy security as well, further strengthening OE’s defense critical energy infrastructure program. Greater integration of SSPS converters within substations can improve power quality, system stability, and system operations. They will improve asset utilization, substation and transmission line capacity, and distribution system performance through power flow control, improved peak management, and load sharing between circuits. System protection and reliability will be enhanced through the ability to rapidly isolate and stabilize faulted parts of a system. Modular, standardized converter designs will increase security and resilience by reducing the criticality of substation components, while providing built-in cyber-physical security and the availability of black start support capabilities.

The “Solid State Power Substation Technology Roadmap” envisions a future where this technology is mature, reliable, secure, and cost-effective; broadly used across the grid in a variety of substation applications; and an integral part of the future electric power system.

For more information, access the full “Solid State Power Substation Technology Roadmap” report.

Learn more about the Transformer Resilience and Advanced Components program.