Eight-lab simulator linkup aims to boost future electric grid stability
IDAHO FALLS — A team of researchers in the U.S. and Europe is poised to globally integrate electrical grids in a way that resonates with the creation of the internet more than 50 years ago.
The group convenes at Idaho National Laboratory Tuesday, Sept. 26, for a live demonstration of the Real-Time Super Lab (RT Super Lab) concept, which will study how electricity can be rerouted across vast distances to address disruptions. The team envisions that large-scale blackouts can be prevented by moving electricity intercontinentally, the same way utilities currently do regionally but at a much larger scale. Such global interaction can prepare America for next-generation power system challenges, reduce the cost of outages and make electrical power grids of the future more resilient.
The effort builds on work done between the U.S. Department of Energy’s INL and National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories and five universities, two of them in Europe, have joined INL to explore the idea that electrons can be sent around the world the same way as digital packets of zeros and ones over the internet.
“This is more than computers talking to each other,” said Rob Hovsapian, INL’s Power and Energy Systems department manager. “We are developing capabilities for geographically distributed real-time grid simulation with shared assets at INL, other national labs, universities and utilities.”
In 2015, INL and NREL successfully demonstrated the capability to connect grid simulations at their two labs for real-time interaction over the internet. Both INL’s Power and Energy Real-Time Laboratory and NREL’s Energy Systems Integration Facility have the capability to merge computer-based simulations of the power grid with actual hardware such as wind turbines, solar inverters, batteries and electric vehicles — a capability called “power hardware in the loop.”
The two national laboratories were able to connect their Digital Real-Time Simulators and achieve grid simulation such that the hardware or software at one lab could directly interact with hardware or software at the other lab.
Leveraging assets and expertise at other national labs and academic institutions, the RT Super Lab concept brings more assets into the mix, with the following participants contributing specific capabilities:
- Sandia National Laboratories’ Distributed Energy Technologies Laboratory
- Colorado State University’s high-performance computer-based energy management system
- Washington State University’s Smart Grid and Microgrid Laboratory
- University of South Carolina College of Engineering and Computing’s InteGraL: Integrated Grids Laboratory
- RWTH Aachen University’s co-simulation framework
- Polytechnic University of Turin’s high-performance computer-based Energy Management System
- NREL’s Energy Systems Integration Facility
- INL’s Power and Energy Real-Time Laboratory
“Joint collaboration via a Ph.D. researcher exchange between RWTH and INL was a key factor in creating scientific tools and techniques featured in this demonstration,” said Manish Mohanpurkar, INL’s Power and Energy Systems group lead. “INL and NREL research also made the project possible by addressing data latency issues and improving available bandwidth.”
The Wide Area Network demonstrations that took place between INL and NREL showed that most data packets took less than 17 milliseconds to travel from point to point. To mitigate data latency issues (like those that create cellphone echoes and delays), researchers used advanced methods from the fields of signal processing, filtering theory and data compression.
Along with rapid strides in interconnecting grid laboratories globally, another active research approach will enable additional significant measurements to be exchanged between two connected real-time simulators. The preliminary results are promising and the method will be utilized for geographically distributed real-time simulations connecting laboratories all across the world.
Power systems around the world are undergoing fundamental transitions to achieve long-term sustainability, reliability and affordability. The RT-Super Lab allows simulation of large-scale systems, simultaneous development across different domains and a flexible collaboration that preserves the confidential details of individual groups.
The ability to move electricity around the globe rather than only within isolated networks holds the possibility of vast savings on infrastructure and energy consumption.
“It’s always easier and cheaper to transfer electrons than fuels,” Hovsapian said.