By Hala Ballouz
President, Electric Power Engineers
I am excited to announce that EPE was recently awarded a two-year contract with Texas A&M University’s Electrical & Computer Engineering Department in the development and implementation of “a seamlessly integrated Power System Control Center of the future.” Texas A&M will utilize our ENER-i distribution system analytics platform at the Smart Grid Center at CIR (Center for Infrastructure Renewal). Of the many goals this effort will work towards, one will be to utilize ENER-i as a platform for the university to conduct short courses for utilities, researchers and students to study and fuel the design of of DER (Distributed Energy Resources) integration into the grid.
Engagement Kick Off: EPE at Texas A&M Control Room Lab (CRL) with Lab Director Dr. Overbye & several other distinguished professors, students and consultants.
We hope to fuel innovation at the CIS Control Room Lab (CRL) through a consolidated GIS interface of the Electric Grid Network that connects to Customer Big Data, with USE cases that enable clean energy by optimizing the use of technology in power system operation.
This effort is funded by the Governor’s University Research Initiative (GURI) to help “Texas public institutions of higher education recruit distinguished researchers from around the world to the State of Texas.”
Tom Overbye is an Eminent Professor with the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) Smart Grid Center and is the Original Developer of the PowerWorld Software and co-founder of PowerWorld Corporation
I know that’s a lot of acronyms, but let me explain why we are so thrilled: at EPE, we’ve long held a vision that the smart grid of the future was going to be highly data-intensive, requiring modular and easily adaptable software. We have believed that such an approach will be necessary in helping planners and operators integrate and account for the quickly growing number of different distributed resources across the transmission and distribution grid.
The implications of this relationship
With that vision in mind, we have made critical investments over the last few years to build a platform to make this happen. This award from Texas A&M recognizes that hard work and foresight, and provides us with a vehicle to catapult this endeavor to the next level. Working with the Smart Grid Center will allow us to extend all the amazing advancements in research to our customers and more broadly to the entire industry. We will be able to combine the insights of A&M’s team of researchers with our decades of deep utility knowledge and create opportunities to apply new value to the industry.
This engagement is timely, given the growing awareness in the industry of the need to combine what’s happening at the local feeder level with the implications for the larger grid. It should help us further develop our tools to answer critical questions, such as whether we need to upgrade a line or a transformer versus deployment of demand response or aggregated renewables with energy storage (non-wires alternatives). The advanced analytic tools to make such decisions will require multiple levels of deployment of optimization engines, machine learning and neural networks to optimally solve the economics and reliability of the grid.
DER’s & Technology as Non-Wires Alternatives: We must deploy advanced engines to operate & plan for optimal economics & reliability
The initiatives at hand
A&M Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Control Lab (CRL) – led by Dr.Thomas Overbye – is engaging with us on two specific tasks: first, to help embed our ENER-i DER analytics platform into the CIR Control Lab Center; and second, to develop synthetic grid models that will behave realistically and allow critical research tests to be undertaken. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that the lab can create an effective tool with advanced technology that will enable researchers and industry innovators to run simulations and test technology. “This unique facility will empower students and young professionals in the industry to become the next generation of leaders who will serve the public, government, industry and academia.”
Commercial applications in the near future
There are certainly other tools out there, including fine ones being developed at the national labs. What sets this joint effort apart is the specific goal to utilize this quickly, practically, and commercially, taking advantage of our broad and lengthy ties in the utility space.
We know there is a lot more to learn and refine. That’s why we also have formal relationships with researchers at the University of Texas and the University of Florida, with numerous opportunities for cross-pollination of new ideas and concepts. All of these partnerships – and particularly the one with Texas A&M and Dr. Overbye’s team – help to make real a vision we have been waiting for.
This is a mission for us at EPE. ENER-i is not a product; rather, it is a service to empower our industry. We want to bring a platform to the fingertips of utilities to allow them to configure powerful tools to both plan and operate DERs within the T&D grid. These utilities will need tailored powerful tools that are not available off the shelf to catch up with the fast pace of technology development and aid in the creation of more efficient and optimized power grids. We want to help them answer the relevant important questions, and create forecasts relating to the location and deployment of large numbers of diverse DERs, with the flexibility to add modules to a continuously growing suite of tools. Soon, smart grids will be everywhere. The question is just how ‘smart’ they can be. With the right tools, properly designed and applied, the answer will be ‘very smart indeed.’