Thursday, May 6, 2021

A Bridge to Grid Modernization

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EPRI and Utilities Use New Laboratory to Investigate Emerging Technologies Before Grid Deployment

At a new EPRI lab designed to evaluate emerging grid technologies, researchers recently spent several months prototyping, testing, and validating a low-cost device designed to prevent distributed energy resources (DER) from islanding. The team made several important adjustments intended to avoid technical problems that could compromise grid safety and reliability.

“The lab enabled us to refine the device and develop associated control software so that it would operate reliably in the field,” said EPRI’s Lindsey Rogers, project manager in EPRI’s Distribution Operations and Planning Program.

This example points to EPRI’s rationale for launching its Knoxville-based Operations, Protection, and Systems (OPS) Lab in 2019: to thoroughly vet the performance of new technologies and support their successful deployment in distribution grids.

“The lab is equipped with grid hardware,” said Rogers. “We can replicate a utility’s grid by using simulation software and configuring the hardware to act just as it would on that grid. This provides an ideal setting for utilities to investigate new technologies and understand how they may perform in the field. It’s an important, interim step before grid deployment.”

With an unprecedented level of change occurring in distribution grids, this interim step is essential. Utilities seek to integrate new technologies, such as sensors, advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), distribution automation, distribution management systems (DMS), distributed energy resource management systems (DERMS), and much more. According to a 2018 U.S. Department of Energy report, investor-owned utilities spent $27 billion on distribution grid upgrades in 2016, and annual smart grid investments are projected increase from $4.8 billion in 2016 to $13.8 billion by 2024.

“When utilities conduct pilot studies on new devices and software in the field, it can take months to fully test the technology under a range of grid conditions,” said EPRI’s Van Holsomback, who manages EPRI’s OPS lab. “It would be extremely time-intensive for utilities to go through this process for the dozens of new technologies they seek to deploy as they modernize their grids.”

For example, a comprehensive evaluation of a new device installed on a distribution grid might include its response to a voltage increase, extreme weather conditions, and load fluctuations. These conditions can have a negative impact on a distribution system, so it’s preferable to examine them in a lab.

“Because our lab can replicate the behavior of much of the distribution system, we can evaluate numerous system conditions in a matter of weeks,” said Holsomback.

The lab contains various grid hardware and software, including a supervisory control and data acquisition system (SCADA), DMS applications, DERMS, and distribution automation devices. Researchers configure devices so that they behave in the same manner as the devices used in a particular utility’s grid. This enables the utility to study the implications of the hardware and software combinations and configurations that it is considering as part of its grid modernization activities. With EPRI’s OpenDSS tool, users can test relays, regulators, and other grid hardware under various simulated grid scenarios.

In one project, EPRI is working with a utility to test different fault location, isolation, and service restoration (FLISR) schemes. “The lab lets the utility simulate faults in different parts of the grid and then examine how switches and other devices would react in these scenarios,” said Rogers. “Before we launched the lab, utilities would need to implement expensive, labor-intensive tests to evaluate these applications and devices on their systems.”

EPRI and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority also are using the lab to test new DMS applications, including volt-var optimization. “We’re developing algorithms for volt-var optimization to help integrate large numbers of DER with other grid assets,” said Rogers.

Key EPRI Technical Experts:

Lindsey Rogers, Van Holsomback
For more information, contact

Artwork by James Provost