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Research and Innovation

Research and development and innovation are needed if we are to significantly extend the operating life of our substation and transmission assets. Expect to see life extension become a major factor in the near term. Why? Because the hazard index for transformers grows exponentially after 40 years of use and because so many of our transformers have been in place for more than 40 years.

Research and development is going to be needed to find technologies like Georgia Tech NEETRAC's Smart Wires (power electronic switch series reactance) to control power flows and to enable us to rapidly respond to faults. We need technologies to enable us to monitor conductor temperatures and dynamically adjust line ratings. We also need controllable network transformers that will enable us to manage the dynamic current flows delivered by distributed generation sources. Going forward, we will be subject to more events that could result in voltage collapse or transient instabilities, so we need to have appropriate control and response systems in place.

A low-cost, high-cycle-life energy storage system could help address these issues. In addition, companies like Varentec (Dr. Deepak Divan) are designing low-cost distributed VAR (volt-ampere reactive) systems for voltage support at the end of the distribution system in a smart grid to reduce the requirements for transmission VAR support.

V&R Energy Systems Research is using phasor measurement data as direct input to ultra-fast load flow algorithms to enable us to predict dynamic thermal limits, voltage constraints and voltage instability. This will enable us to reliably load transmission assets to maximum loads with specified safety margins.

We are now seeing the commercialization of the smart grid in the reduction of peak demand and in conservation voltage reduction. Also interesting is the development of distribution fault anticipators that can give early warnings on potential failures. We're also seeing advances in research on super-hydrophobic coatings for conductors and insulators to eliminate ice storm damage. These same coatings will mitigate the disastrous impacts of bird droppings on line and substation insulators. NRECA Cooperative Research Network (CRN) is demonstrating superhydrophobic coatings with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

I am quite impressed with smart wires and dynamic line ratings when we couple ultra-fast load flow calculations with optimization routines. We also have access to advanced high-temperature and low-sag conductors provided by companies including 3M and Southwire that enable us to increase capacity on our right of way by 50% to 100% without compromising system reliability.

There are many private companies and government labs leading the charge in grid software development: Players include V&R Energy System Research, ABB, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

EPRI is quite active in funding research in all areas within the T&D space, including its efforts in “green circuits.” The NRECA CRN is demonstrating digital fault anticipators and ultimately transmission fault anticipators, working with both the Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory and with Texas A&M to further improve system reliability.

T&D research and development should take more risks in the area of post-silicon-based power electronic switches like silicon carbide and gallium nitride, as well as my personal favorite: Dr. Jim Davidson's chemical vapor deposition diamond (CVDD) built into field effect transistors at Vanderbilt University. CVDDs can be radiation-hardened (important in the case of future solar flares or EMP attacks) and operate at high voltages, high temperatures and high currents. This could lead to more robust, lower-cost HVDC terminals, electric-vehicle power electronics, solar, energy storage and wind power conditioning systems.

Electric utility operating systems will need to optimize ultra-high-speed load flows as we take advantage of phasor data enabling us to provide near real-time transmission system optimization of VAR resources. Thus, our operators can access soon-to-be-developed dynamic guides, which can be accessed during periods of high system loadings and when dealing with transients via power system visualization tools. Advanced software also will enable us to reduce transmission system losses and congestion, and/or increase available transfer capacity.

I've been active in research for 40 years, and I categorically state that today we have more technologies at our disposal in the T&D space than I've seen in my lifetime. Let's work together to put emerging technologies into play. Only then can we optimally and reliably shuffle electricity between sources and sinks. But this requires we get our heads out of the sand, open our eyes and ears, and make bold decisions that will benefit generations to come.

Dale Bradshaw ( is president and CEO of Electrivation, and a senior program manager and consultant for the NRECA's Cooperative Research Network.

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