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SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 30: Towers carrying electical lines are shown August 30, 2007 in South San Francisco, California. With temperatures over 100 degrees in many parts of the state, the California Independent System Operator, which manages most of the California electricity grid, is planning on declaring a minor power emergency later in the day, followed by a Stage 2 power alert during the late afternoon, indicating that power reserves have fallen below five percent. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

DOE’s Grid Vision

A Conversation with Carl Imhoff and Bryan Hannegan

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Department of Energy is embarking on a major new initiative to inform and support modernization of the electric grid to make it a multi-directional “internet of electricity.” That would enable the grid to carry increasing volumes of renewable power and distributed generation while achieving higher levels of security and resilience. Two of the principal architects of that DOE effort recently responded to questions from The Energy Times.

This is the first of a two-part series. Next week: What the Grid Should Enable.

Energy Times: What is the scope of the Department of Energy grid modernization effort?

Imhoff and Hannegan:  The intent of the DOE Grid Modernization initiative is to bring together leading experts and resources from the Department of Energy and its national laboratories to deliver the technical and institutional innovations needed to enable public and private stakeholders to modernize the power system.  On November 6th, Deputy Undersecretary Mike Knotek launched the Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium to engage 13 national labs with all DOE grid programs to frame a new integrated approach for planning and delivering DOE innovations and thought leadership in support of grid modernization.  The power system is increasingly strategic to delivering our nation’s economic and security goals, and new paradigms for generating, delivering and securing our grid are required over the next several decades. This new, crosscutting approach ensures that R&D investments are fully coordinated and capabilities across the national labs and other R&D providers are fully leveraged.  Technical teams, comprised of 65 leading scientists and engineers from across 13 national labs, are aligned with six technical thrusts, which include sensing and measurements; devices and integrated systems; system operations and power flow; design and planning tools; security and resilience’ and institutional support. Through close collaboration, we can bring the best of the best to each technical challenge. The initiative also provides an entirely new business model for DOE’s implementation of grid research.  Consortium members are developing a five-year program plan that outlines an integrated approach to grid research funding across DOE’s three stewards – the offices of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and Energy Policy and Systems Analysis.  Other DOE grid programs such as Fossil Energy, Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy and the Office of Science are engaged as well.  DOE plans to develop a single strategy and annual program plan for its entire grid R&D portfolio through the effort.


Carl Imhoff - PNNL


Energy Times: When will it be done?

Imhoff and Hannegan: Modernization of our grid will entail dramatic transformations and entirely new paradigms, with close collaboration required across industry, states, federal agencies, regulators and numerous other stakeholders.  It’s not a short-term proposition, so the consortium was created without a specific end date.  A four-year effort will deliver clear products designed to accelerate grid modernization across the nation’s infrastructure.  It will include significant engagement with the utilities, vendors, and state and local government entities.  A number of regional demonstrations of the emerging new concepts will be launched in partnership with industry and the states to accelerate the impact of the DOE innovations.

Energy Times: Broadly speaking, is it about finishing the conversion of the grid from analog to digital capability, and from one-way to multi-directional electricity flows?  

Imhoff and Hannegan: Broadly speaking, it’s about guiding grid modernization activities for the next several decades. Central to that will be increasing the grid’s digital capacity, enabling two-way power flow for distributed generation, and improving security and resilience to all hazards – cyber, physical and other risks.  But it also addresses the development of tools and control paradigms that leverage the capabilities of new digital grid technologies to deliver improved reliability and economic productivity.

Energy Times: How will it lead to greater energy efficiency and cost reduction. Will it allow for more modest generation reserves?

Imhoff and Hannegan:  DOE’s aim is to deliver advances - tools, platforms, new concepts - by 2020 that will enhance the ability of industry to achieve three outcomes by 2025: a 10 percent reduction in costs associated with power outages; a 33 percent reduction in the cost of reserve margins while maintaining reliability; and a 50 percent cut in costs associated with distributed generation. All told, we estimate this would result in an annual savings of approximately $7 billion.  Also new controls, controls strategies and digital tools will greatly increase energy efficiency in end use. With buildings accounting for 70 percent of our nation’s energy use, for example, new control strategies to engage buildings would bring tremendous value to the grid while improving the efficiency of the building fleet itself.

Carl Imhoff and Bryan Hannegan, are the chair and vice chair of the Department of Energy’s Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium. Imhoff is Battelle Pacific Northwest National Laboratory manager of electricity market sector. Hannegan is National Renewable Energy Laboratory associate director of energy systems integration.


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