12 May 2009
Modeling the new national power grid
America's infrastructure is changing in ways its designers never anticipated.
Distributed and intermittent electricity generation, such as wind power, is rapidly expanding, smart meters are giving consumers more control over their energy usage, and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles may someday radically increase the overall demand for electricity. The evolution of America’s energy needs has forced scientists and engineers to re-examine the operations, efficiency, and security of the national power grid. The creation of a more secure and efficient national power grid requires significant innovations in the way we transmit electricity and monitor its use.
“Modeling and simulation have proved to be effective tools for the power industry on many levels,” said Mark Petri, U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory’s technology development director during workshop on the issue. “We need to develop a comprehensive and integrated approach that will enable us to better understand the full implications of an evolving power grid as we plan for future demand and power sources.”
The workshop centered on the need for new methods to simulate the national power grid by modeling the creation and flow of electric power as well as the grid’s connection to other critical infrastructures, such as transportation, gas, water, and communications. Through detailed simulations of how to supply and transfer electric power around the country, researchers can bolster not only the grid’s security but also its reliability, efficiency, and resiliency.
“Implementing smart grid technologies on a large scale will not be trivial,” Petri said. “The challenges go beyond technical and economic issues. The smart grid technologies could fundamentally change how national power grid systems operate and respond to disruptions.”
Because of the great diversity of ways in which electricity is created, distributed, and consumed, engineers face a challenge in creating reliable models of large power networks. They have to deal with the intermittent nature of some of the sources (like wind or solar), optimize how power is transmitted, and balance economic, security, and environmental priorities when finding solutions.
“In the short-term,” Petri said, “these simulations could help devise ways to solve the problem of grid congestion, which currently costs consumers many hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Even small improvements in grid efficiency that better models and simulations would produce would make the investment cost-effective.”
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