Recently I joined a panel of energy experts at the New York Times conference Energy for Tomorrow: Building Sustainable Cities. Given that the world’s urban population is expected to increase by more than 3 billion over the next 40 years, we discussed strategies and solutions to sustainably and effectively meet our future energy demands. Central to the conversation was the role a modernized electric grid will play in this effort.

To successfully transition to a smarter, more reliable and modernized electric grid — the Energy Department is investing in a wide range of research and deployment (R&D) activities. From innovative energy storage technologies to microgrids — our R&D investments will add critical capabilities to our electric grid and do so in a cost-effective manner.

image via Shutterstock
image via Shutterstock

One of many exciting R&D areas we’re focusing on is learning more about the health of the electric grid. As part of the Recovery Act, we have partnered with utilities across America to deploy sophisticated sensors known as synchrophasors that monitor the flow of electricity with greater precision and provide unprecedented insight and information on system health. Soon, these real-time measurements will allow system operators to identify and respond to deteriorating or abnormal grid conditions more quickly. That improved awareness will lead to improved reliability, reduced severity of blackouts, and faster restoration of power following power outages.

Learning how to understand and interpret all of this synchrophasor data will be crucial. The Energy Department recently announced seven awards for researchers and students to conduct research with synchrophasor data collected from utilities. This funding will also allow universities to develop curricula and training to better prepare the smart grid workforce of the future.

As our electric power system grows more complex, advanced modeling tools that simulate the electric grid must keep pace. We have leveraged the expertise of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) to develop an open-source modeling tool– GridLAB-D™ — to simulate and evaluate the effectiveness of smart grid technologies. Today, using PNNL’s GridLAB-D™ tool, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is helping local utilities better understand the power distribution system and all of the components that affect its behavior, such as weather, retail markets, distributed resources, demand response and more. With access to PNNL’s advanced modeling techniques and high-performance algorithms, rural co-ops are fully plugged-in to the latest world class grid technology and analysis so that even small utilities can easily model and evaluate smart grid technologies and advance grid modernization.

R&D also plays a vital role as we face increases in sophisticated cyber attacks. OurCybersecurity for Energy Delivery Systems (CEDS) program is working hand-in-hand with industry to reduce the risk and impact of energy disruptions due to cyber attack. Learn more about our strategy to protect the electric grid from cyber attack by viewing the 2011 Roadmap to Achieve Energy Delivery Systems Cybersecurity.

As our energy demands continue to evolve, so must our capabilities to respond to those demands, and a solid R&D effort is a vital component of our ability to respond successfully.

To learn more about national efforts to modernize the electric grid, visit the website of the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability.

doe-energyEditor’s Note: EarthTechling is proud to repost this article courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy. Author credit goes to Patricia A. Hoffman.

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