As the northeast blackout of 2003 and southwest blackout of 2011 demonstrated, small, seemingly isolated events on the power grid can get out of control quickly. In total, these two cascading grid failures left more than 50 million people without power. In both cases, lack of situational awareness on the part of grid operators was a contributor to the cascading effect.
It was these blackouts, along with more recent grid disruptions caused by extreme weather events, that led the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity to challenge the scientists and engineers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to develop new tools to better understand and prevent cascading blackouts. Working with partners such as Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), Siemens and GE, they developed the Dynamic Contingency Analysis Tool.
DCAT, as it’s known informally, simulates and analyzes cascading grid event sequences in high-resolution detail, whether they’re caused by extreme weather events, a cybersecurity attack or operational errors. It combines analysis of steady-state and dynamic operations to quickly search for and anticipate weak spots on the power grid, assess the impact of cascading outages on various grid assets, and directs grid operators to take the most appropriate corrective actions more quickly.
DCAT’s capabilities are used by ERCOT in Texas to improve grid reliability and resiliency during extreme events, and DCAT received a 2018 R&D100 award, as one of the most innovative technological breakthroughs in the world.
Working in the National Interest
As a national laboratory sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, PNNL advances scientific discovery and drives innovations that improve energy resiliency and enhance national security. Located in Richland, Washington, PNNL works in service to the nation, collaborating with other national laboratories and an extensive network of industry partners to address key, cross-cutting grid modernization challenges. Realizing a secure, flexible and resilient power grid is one of PNNL’s defining objectives.
PNNL’s research-driven innovations and work output are also made available to industry. Often this means providing open-source software solutions or licensing agreements to utilities and technology providers so they can harvest the value of PNNL’s work for their businesses.
PNNL provides hosting support for unique data sets and high-performance computing resources to enable advanced modeling and simulation tools to support innovative grid research. PNNL is also home to a unique facility that serves as a proving ground for new grid technologies and innovations. The Electricity Infrastructure Operations Center (EIOC) is where PNNL combines real-time data from the grid with advanced computation and analytics in a utility control room environment. Shaped with input from utilities, technology vendors, and researchers, the EIOC serves as a unique resource and facility for researching, developing, and testing technologies to improve grid management. The EIOC is available to utilities, vendors, government agencies and universities interested in grid-related research, development or training.
Solutions to Big Challenges
These product innovations, resources and facilities meet key utility needs or enable technology vendors to fill holes in their product development roadmap and accelerate their time to market. For example, a significant barrier to utilities realizing the value of advanced distribution management system (ADMS) applications is the lack of standardized data exchange between the growing ecosystem of connected devices in the field and applications that create value from their data, whether those applications are running in the cloud, the control room or at the edge of the network. This lack of standardization makes it more difficult and costly for utilities to add new functionality in their distribution operations.
With sponsorship from the DOE’s Office of Electricity, PNNL developed and recently released GridAPPS-D™, an open-source platform to accelerate development of portable applications to support advanced distribution management use cases. GridAPPS-D does this by standardizing the data models, programming interfaces, and data exchanges for these devices and applications. The GridAPPS-D platform provides testing tools and applications, robust simulation capabilities, a reference architecture and application development kit, and is free and available to industry users on GitHub.
At the transmission level, PNNL focuses on grid resilience, reliability and security through its leadership in the North American Energy Resilience Model (NAERM); the North American SynchroPhasor Initiative (NASPI) and the Advanced Grid Modeling Program (AGM). Each of these programs benefits from DOE Office of Electricity support and broad involvement of other national laboratories and industry stakeholders.
Protecting the Grid
PNNL also plays a key role in protecting the grid from an increasingly threatening cyber environment, providing cybersecurity solutions that can be deployed today while also looking ahead to what the transactive and distributed energy marketplace will require. PNNL scientists and engineers are developing and testing advanced cyber protections for critical energy infrastructure and deployed operational technologies. These include both software-defined network solutions (SDN) and next-generation “automomic” cybersecurity solutions to quickly detect and take appropriate defensive actions in response to continually evolving and sophisticated threats.
In one of the largest blockchain grid-cyber projects of its kind, PNNL recently teamed up with DOE and a broad network in utility and industry partners to test and demonstrate blockchain’s ability to increase the cybersecurity resilience of electricity infrastructure. In March, the team demonstrated two of the project’s first use cases. The first use case focused on securing critical data stored and exchanged between the distribution management and energy delivery systems. The second use case demonstrated how blockchain can help improve asset management and supply chain security for critical energy delivery systems.
Grid-scale Energy Storage
The DOE’s Office of Electricity has identified the accelerated development of grid energy storage as a national priority for modernizing the power grid and unlocking a broad array of economic and environmental benefits. Accordingly, PNNL has accelerated development of advanced capabilities in grid-scale battery testing and validation under realistic grid operating conditions and use case scenarios.
How fast will a battery technology degrade under realistic grid operating conditions? How do the technologies perform when subjected to prolonged grid-scale cycling? What battery technology is best suited for a specific use case based on its attributes, performance and projected lifecycle costs? How safe is the technology and how can it be made safer? These are some of the key challenges for grid storage technology that PNNL is taking a leadership role in solving.
The Power of Collaboration
PNNL also plays a leadership and coordinating role in grid modernization projects that benefit from collaboration among multiple national laboratories and their industry partners. The Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium (GMLC) includes 13 national laboratories working on more than $250 million in DOE-funded grid research and development projects, with an additional $80 million in new GMLC project funding expected for the next three years. These GMLC projects span a broad array of grid modernization domains, including grid security and resilience; modeling and analytic tools; system operations and control; sensing and measurement; and a new generation of devices and integrated systems to provide grid services.
PNNL is continually seeking industry partners -- whether utilities, system operators, technology vendors, regulators, research institutions, or industry groups -- to broaden the foundation of its scientific research and to ensure the applicability of the lab’s work to real-world grid challenges. The GMLC’s initial project portfolio includes dozens of utilities, technology vendors and research institutions working closely with PNNL and other national labs.
In January, PNNL announced a new agreement with Avista to partner with the Washington state-based utility in several areas on the leading edge of grid modernization. These include development of a test bed for advanced distribution management system applications; collaboration on new battery and thermal storage technologies; application of transactive building controls to support grid resiliency and reliability; and development of algorithms and analytics to drive greater consumer engagement in demand response and energy efficiency.
PNNL, along with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, also announced an agreement earlier this year with Siemens to collaborate on a variety of technologies to integrate innovative power electronic devices with the electric grid, including smart inverters for solar panels, batteries, and electrical vehicles.
PNNL is also partnering with leading research universities to advance the frontiers of science and technology in support of grid modernization. For example, the Advanced Grid Institute, which combines smart-grid talent and resources from Washington State University and PNNL, is creating and implementing a national-scale grid simulation platform and data framework to enable advanced controls and operations for the complex power systems of the future, while also cultivating a new generation of talent to plan and operate the grid of the future.
Focus on the Future
While delivering innovative solutions to grid modernization challenges that can be applied and deployed today, PNNL is also looking ahead and building the scientific foundation for breakthroughs that will define the power grid of the 21st century. PNNL scientists are working with artificial intelligence, machine learning and high-performance exascale computing to develop advanced tools, technologies, and system approaches to improve the real-time observability, flexibility, and secure operation of the electric power system and other energy infrastructure. PNNL is also leading development of future grid architectures to identify new paradigms and business models to enable better approaches to grid planning and operations.
Ultimately, with the continuing support of DOE and productive partnerships with industry, these advances will help us realize our widely shared goal of significantly increasing the overall performance, resilience, and security of the U.S. power grid.