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Breakthroughs Magazine

Special Report - Creative Energy: PNNL researchers are generating real-world solutions to a global problem

Operations center is the real deal

Grid operators who spend their days managing a piece of the nation's electric grid could walk into the Electricity Infrastructure Operations Center (EIOC) at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and feel right at home.

Complete with $3 million in energy management system software provided by industry leader Areva T&D, secure computer networks, 30 work stations, more than 100 servers, 25 special-purpose computers and a 115-square-foot video wall, the EIOC is a fully capable control center with access to real data from North America's eastern and western power grids.

"We have created a platform for research and development that serves as a point of departure for grid operations," said Ross Guttromson, EIOC manager. "That means this facility picks up where industry currently leaves off."

By adding utility-specific grid models and SCADA data, the EIOC actually could control part of the grid just like the 130 existing control centers in North America. Its primary purpose, however, is to provide a real operations environment for researchers to develop, assess, test and deploy tools for managing the grid.

The functionality and data available in the EIOC make it possible to try out new technologies without the cost and risk of potentially negatively effecting an actual system. As a safe test bed, researchers can work more quickly through the iterative process of developing and refining technology, which includes manufacturers, researchers and users. "I like to say you can get about 80 percent of the benefit of a full-blown demonstration for about 20 percent of the cost," Guttromson said.

Some research in the EIOC is focused on helping operators understand what's happening on neighboring systems, how it might affect their own system and what to do once they know there is a problem. "It's about understanding what you need to know at the right time and knowing what to do with it," Guttromson said.

In addition to visualization technologies and improved predictions of grid behavior, the EIOC is home to human factors research. By understanding the psychology of operators, the way they approach their jobs and their workplace culture, researchers can address those aspects in new technologies so they actually get used instead of sitting on the shelf.

The EIOC also supports operator training, exploring uniquely realistic simulations and scenarios that include failing indicators and computer hackers.

DOE and government agencies can use the EIOC to test solutions and understand the potential benefits of technologies. This facility also could be used by utilities trying to solve a particular problem or by manufacturing companies interested in safely testing new technologies, vetting them with users and integrating them with actual data—all within the same environment where the technology eventually will be put to use.


A closer look at the Northwest hydro system

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory brought together public and private utilities, technology vendors and research institutions from across the Northwest to gather insight into challenges and opportunities for the region's power grid.

The group helped set the research agenda for the Electricity Infrastructure Operations Initiative, including identifying a desire to better manage the Northwest hydropower system. "You can't treat individual dams like separate power plants," said Rob Pratt, initiative leader at PNNL. "We have an asset that's complicated to operate and fully subscribed, given constraints in place for international treaties, fish, irrigation, transportation and recreation."

As a result of the group's input, PNNL is investing in projects designed to squeeze more out of the hydro system by improving forecasts of snowpack and runoff and developing water management tools. Probability-based forecasts and advanced optimization techniques can bring management of the hydropower system closer to real time.

"We think we can save more fish and get more power from the system by understanding the opportunities better," Pratt said.

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