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DOE awards $231 million for grid upgrade projects

As the East Coast recovers from disruption to the electrical grid caused by snowstorms, the Obama administration looks for ways to make the grid more robust.

The US Department of Energy has announced awards of up to $220 million over three years to 14 consortiums to develop technology for modernizing the US electrical grid. DOE’s national labs will manage a total of 88 grid technology projects, most of which team multiple labs and public- and private-sector partners.

Separately, DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA–E) awarded a total of $11 million for seven projects to develop open-access models and data repositories to help improve behavioral modeling of the grid. Three of the ARPA–E projects are headed by DOE labs, three by universities, and the other by a private firm. The awards range from $1 million to $2 million.

US Energy secretary Ernest Moniz said in a statement that updating the grid “is essential to reducing carbon emissions, creating safeguards against attacks on our infrastructure, and keeping the lights on.” The programs build on recommendations from quadrennial reviews of energy and technologies.

The projects not associated with ARPA–E are to be performed under the rubric of the Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium. Funding will support R&D in advanced storage systems, clean energy integration, standards and test procedures, and a number of other key grid modernization areas. The effort recognizes regional differences in grids (there are three major grids, known as interconnects, in the US) and will strengthen regional strategies while defining a diverse and balanced national strategy, a DOE release said.

Consortium projects range in size from $600 000 to $13.5 million, and run for one to three years. Topical areas include solar energy, fuel cells, electric vehicle–grid integration, wind and water power, advanced grid modeling, advanced distribution management systems, transmission reliability, and transformer resilience. The national labs worked together to shape the consortium program, responding to a request from DOE to establish a comprehensive R&D effort to modernize and secure the grid.

Through the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), DOE spent about $4.5 billion to improve reliability of the grid (see Physics Today, April 2009, page 23). Since 2010, the stimulus funding was used to deploy a wide range of advanced devices, including more than 10 000 automated capacitors, over 7000 automated feeder switches, and about 15.5 million smart meters. More than 1300 phasor measurement units, devices that report frequency conditions in transmission lines 30 times per second, also have been installed using ARRA monies.

The ARPA–E program Generating Realistic Information for the Development of Distribution and Transmission Algorithms (GRID DATA) seeks to improve existing algorithms used in modeling how power can be most efficiently transmitted and distributed. Current models are outdated, inaccurate, or incomplete, and models using real data from the grid can’t be shared publicly for security and privacy reasons. The GRID DATA program will develop new models and data repositories that can be used by researchers developing emerging optimization technologies.

Further information on the GRID DATA and the Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium programs can be found on their websites.

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