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From Grid Optics

Over the last 120 years, the power grid has served us well with affordable and reliable electricity. But going forward, the traditional grid is facing serious challenges. Rising demand, changing technology, and environmental and security concerns are already transforming the grid that we know. Scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) are tackling these challenges by developing the technology the grid of the future will depend upon.

Power Grid Computational Security and Reliability Flowchart

What will the grid of the future look like? The grid is transitioning from traditional one-way electron flow to a two-way flow of electrons and information. This transition reflects the meeting of grid evolution and information technology revolution.

Grid Evolution

The power grid as we know it is evolving. This evolution will continue at an accelerated speed. In the next 10-15 years, more than 15% of electricity will come from renewable sources, and more than 15% of loads will actively respond to grid constraints and incentive signals. Distributed generation, plug-in hybrid vehicles, and electricity storage are being added to the grid and will interact through the grid. This results in stochastic behaviors and dynamics the grid has never seen nor been designed for. Operating such a grid with sufficient reliability and efficiency is a fundamental challenge; especially when looking further into the future: multiple grid technologies and scenarios exist, but we lack modeling and simulation capabilities to evaluate how to drive the grid’s development. This is an important task to tackle given President Obama’s goal of 80 percent of the nation’s electricity coming from clean energy sources by 2035.

Information Technology Revolution

The information technology revolution has had a vital impact on the power grid and continues to do so. Hundreds of millions of new smart meters and sensors will be installed. Many of them will be high-speed sensors gathering measurements at 30 samples per second or higher, generating significantly more data than available today. These changes will turn the traditional one-way, electron flow grid with limited digital information into a two-way grid, sending both electrons and information. The challenge is how to take advantage of the information revolution: how to gather large amounts of data, process it at required speed and scale, and properly utilize this information to better manage grid planning and operations. Without addressing this challenge, the promises of grid evolution will remain unfulfilled.

While these complexities make predictions about the grid of the future difficult, our Future Power Grid Initiative (FPGI) aims to clarify the look ahead through the integration of communication and computational technologies with new grid sensor technologies. This groundbreaking research in data management, simulation and visualization is laying the foundations for a new power grid, giving operators, planners and policy makers the tools to fully comprehend and utilize the power grid of the 21st century.

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Last Update: 5 March 2014 | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory