FERC, DOE labs aim to coordinate on grid technologies, policy input

With research on smart grid technologies and improving grid security taking place at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) laboratories, FERC would be wise to make use of the research as it develops market rules and policies to meet changing grid dynamics, DOE officials said at the April 21 FERC meeting.

The latest developments in energy storage, improved integration of renewable resources, enhanced security measures and incorporating more distributed energy resources (DER) were among the topics addressed at the meeting by DOE lab representatives.

Improving grid operators’ situational awareness through the addition of synchrophasors and work on changing the control of the grid to match supply and demand fluctuations – particularly as more intermittent renewable resources are added – also were discussed.

FERC Chairman Norman Bay said the research highlighted by the DOE lab representatives is exciting and has the potential to be transformative for grid operations.

“We look forward to more collaboration with DOE and the labs,” Bay said during the meeting.

DOE, along with the labs, can support some of the analytical work FERC is doing around energy storage, for example, noted Patricia Hoffman, assistant secretary for the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability at DOE.  

With improved coordination among DOE, FERC and the DOE labs, FERC may be able to examine research on storage or other new technology developments as it considers any market rule or policy changes that incorporate new technologies, Hoffman said at the meeting.

Having senior staff from FERC participate in some of the task forces or groups involved with the DOE lab work can help inform those groups and the commission to ensure that policymakers are informed about market developments and new technologies, added Chuck Goldman of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL).

An Energy Zones Mapping Tool, incorporating wind speed, transmission lines and power plants, was originally developed for the Eastern Interconnection, but it is now being extended to the entire United States, Goldman noted in the LBNL presentation.

FERC tries to be aware of market trends to have the “technology push and policy pull” working together, and having the DOE labs test things before they are used on the grid is a valuable resource, noted FERC Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur.

On integrating renewables, the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) recently completed research on how utility-scale solar photovoltaic facilities can provide regulation services in short periods of time to address intermittency issues, Bryan Hannegan of NREL noted in his presentation.

As TransmissionHub reported on that research, NREL said fostering ancillary services or somehow compensating solar plant owners for having controllable features for projects will be key as solar penetrations climb.

Historically, grid operators have forecast demand and dispatched supplies to match that demand, but in the future they may be forecasting supplies available and dispatching demand to match those supplies, said Jeff Dagle of the Pacific Northwest National Lab (PNNL). Such changes, aided through the research of PNNL and other DOE labs, will help the grid become more resilient and flexible to accommodate generation changes, Dagle said.

With the grid evolving toward more use of DER, PNNL is working on new grid control solutions that will help the transition to have more DER participation and enable the grid to operate with leaner power supply reserve margins, Dagle noted in his presentation.

DOE earlier this year announced a Grid Modernization Initiative that includes research projects slated to receive up to $220m over three years, as well as several efforts focusing on transmission planning, Hoffman said. That work includes a multi-year plan to fill any gaps in existing DOE lab work and develop a Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium with regional outreach, Hoffman noted in the DOE presentation.

At the Idaho National Lab (INL), battery durability and storage technologies are being tested, including road tests with electric vehicle batteries and different charging preferences, noted Kev Adjemian of INL. The question being addressed with the EV testing is whether charging the batteries at different voltage levels and at different temperatures affect the battery life and durability, Adjemian noted in his presentation.

Among the work being done at the Sandia National Lab (SNL) is research on cybersecurity and making the grid more resilient to withstand physical or cyber attacks and storms or weather-related events, added Juan Torres of SNL. Because the bulk power grid has so many legacy systems and was designed decades ago, security tends to be “bolted on after the fact,” which makes it a challenge to protect the grid from emerging threats, Torres told the commissioners.

SNL is working on developing a resilient microgrid in New Jersey that would be capable of providing power to the transportation sector during a bulk power grid outage, Torres noted in his presentation. When it is completed, the microgrid would be able to generate 100 MW to serve critical transportation assets operated by Amtrak and the New Jersey Transit Corp., according to the SNL presentation.