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Green Electricity Network Integration

The projects in ARPA-E's GENI program, short for "Green Electricity Network Integration," aim to modernize the way electricity is transmitted in the U.S. through advances in hardware and software for the electric grid. These advances will improve the efficiency and reliability of electricity transmission, increase the amount of renewable energy the grid can utilize, and provide energy suppliers and consumers with greater control over their power flows in order to better manage peak power demand and cost.
For a detailed technical overview about this program, please click here.

AutoGrid, Inc.

Highly Dispatchable and Distributed Demand Response for the Integration of Distributed Generation

AutoGrid, in conjunction with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Columbia University, will design and demonstrate automated control software that helps manage real-time demand for energy across the electric grid. Known as the Demand Response Optimization and Management System - Real-Time (DROMS-RT), the software will enable personalized price signals to be sent to millions of customers in extremely short timeframes--incentivizing them to alter their electricity use in response to grid conditions. This will help grid operators better manage unpredictable demand and supply fluctuations in short time-scales--making the power generation process more efficient and cost effective for both suppliers and consumers. DROMS-RT is expected to provide a 90% reduction in the cost of operating demand response and dynamic pricing programs in the U.S.

Boston University

Transmission Topology Control for Infrastructure Resilience to the Integration of Renewable Generation

The BU team is developing control technology to help grid operators more actively manage power flows and integrate renewables by optimally turning entire power lines on and off in coordination with traditional control of generation and load resources. The control technology being developed would provide grid operators with tools to help manage transmission congestion by identifying the facilities whose on/off status must change to lower generation costs, increase utilization of renewable resources and improve system reliability. The technology is based on fast optimization algorithms for the near to real-time change in the on/off status of transmission facilities and their software implementation.

California Institute of Technology

Scalable Real-Time Decentralized Volt/VAR Control

Caltech is developing a distributed automation system that allows distributed generators--solar panels, wind farms, thermal co-generation systems--to effectively manage their own power. To date, the main stumbling block for distributed automation systems has been the inability to develop software that can handle more than 100,000 distributed generators and be implemented in real time. Caltech's software could allow millions of generators to self-manage through local sensing, computation, and communication. Taken together, localized algorithms can support certain global objectives, such as maintaining the balance of energy supply and demand, regulating voltage and frequency, and minimizing cost. An automated, grid-wide power control system would ease the integration of renewable energy sources like solar power into the grid by quickly transmitting power when it is created, eliminating the energy loss associated with the lack of renewable energy storage capacity of the grid.

Cornell University

GridControl: A Software Platform to Support the Smart Grid

Cornell is creating a new software platform for grid operators called GridControl that will utilize cloud computing to more efficiently control the grid. In a cloud computing system, there are minimal hardware and software demands on users. The user can tap into a network of computers that is housed elsewhere (the cloud) and the network runs computer applications for the user. The user only needs interface software to access all of the cloud's data resources, which can be as simple as a web browser. Cloud computing can reduce costs, facilitate innovation through sharing, empower users, and improve the overall reliability of a dispersed system. Cornell's GridControl will focus on 4 elements: delivering the state of the grid to users quickly and reliably; building networked, scalable grid-control software; tailoring services to emerging smart grid uses; and simulating smart grid behavior under various conditions.

General Atomics

Magnetically Pulsed Hybrid Breaker for HVDC Power Distribution Protection

General Atomics is developing a direct current (DC) circuit breaker that could protect the grid from faults 100 times faster than its alternating current (AC) counterparts. Circuit breakers are critical elements in any electrical system. At the grid level, their main function is to isolate parts of the grid where a fault has occurred--such as a downed power line or a transformer explosion--from the rest of the system. DC circuit breakers must interrupt the system during a fault much faster than AC circuit breakers to prevent possible damage to cables, converters and other grid-level components. General Atomics' high-voltage DC circuit breaker would react in less than 1/1,000th of a second to interrupt current during a fault, preventing potential hazards to people and equipment.

General Electric

Resilient Multi-Terminal HVDC Networks with High-Voltage High-Frequency Electronics

GE is developing electricity transmission hardware that could connect distributed renewable energy sources, like wind farms, directly to the grid--eliminating the need to feed the energy generated through intermediate power conversion stations before they enter the grid. GE is using the advanced semiconductor material silicon carbide (SiC) to conduct electricity through its transmission hardware because SiC can operate at higher voltage levels than semiconductors made out of other materials. This high-voltage capability is important because electricity must be converted to high-voltage levels before it can be sent along the grid's network of transmission lines. Power companies do this because less electricity is lost along the lines when the voltage is high.

General Electric

Nanoclay Reinforced Ethylene-Propylene-Rubber for Low-Cost HVDC Cabling

GE is developing new, low-cost insulation for high-voltage direct current (HVDC) electricity transmission cables. The current material used to insulate HVDC transmission cables is very expensive and can account for as much as 1/3 of the total cost of a high-voltage transmission system. GE is embedding nanomaterials into specialty rubber to create its insulation. Not only are these materials less expensive than those used in conventional HVDC insulation, but also they will help suppress excess charge accumulation. The excess charge left behind on a cable poses a major challenge for high-voltage insulation--if it is not kept to a low level, it could ultimately lead the insulation to fail. GE's low-cost insulation is compatible with existing U.S. cable manufacturing processes, further enhancing its cost effectiveness.

Georgia Tech Research Corporation

Prosumer-Based Distributed Autonomous Cyber-Physical Architecture for Ultra-Reliable Green Electricity Networks

Georgia Tech is developing a decentralized, autonomous, internet-like control architecture and control software system for the electric power grid. Georgia Tech's new architecture is based on the emerging concept of electricity prosumers--economically motivated actors that can produce, consume, or store electricity. Under Georgia Tech's architecture, all of the actors in an energy system are empowered to offer associated energy services based on their capabilities. The actors achieve their sustainability, efficiency, reliability, and economic objectives, while contributing to system-wide reliability and efficiency goals. This is in marked contrast to the current one-way, centralized control paradigm.

Michigan State University

Transformer-Less Unified Power Flow Controller for Wind and Solar Power Transmission

MSU is developing a power flow controller to improve the routing of electricity from renewable sources through existing power lines. The fast, innovative, and lightweight circuitry that MSU is incorporating into its controller will eliminate the need for a separate heavy and expensive transformer, as well as the construction of new transmission lines. MSU's controller is better suited to control power flows from distributed and intermittent wind and solar power systems than traditional transformer-based controllers are, so it will help to integrate more renewable energy into the grid. MSU's power flow controller can be installed anywhere in the existing grid to optimize energy transmission and help reduce transmission congestion.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Magnetic Amplifier for Power Flow Control

ORNL is developing an electromagnet-based, amplifier-like device that will allow for complete control over the flow of power within the electric grid. To date, complete control of power flow within the grid has been prohibitively expensive. ORNL's controller could provide a reliable, cost-effective solution to this problem. The team is combining two types of pre-existing technologies to assist in flow control, culminating in a prototype iron-based magnetic amplifier. Ordinarily, such a device would require expensive superconductive wire, but the magnetic iron core of ORNL's device could serve as a low-cost alternative that is equally adept at regulating power flow.

Sandia National Laboratory

Improved Power System Operations Using Advanced Stochastic Optimization

Sandia National Laboratories is working with several commercial and university partners to develop software for market management systems (MMSs) that enable greater use of renewable energy sources throughout the grid. MMSs are used to securely and optimally determine which energy resources should be used to service energy demand across the country. Contributions of electricity to the grid from renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are intermittent, introducing complications for MMSs, which have trouble accommodating the multiple sources of price and supply uncertainties associated with bringing these new types of energy into the grid. Sandia's software will bring a new, probability-based formulation to account for these uncertainties. By factoring in various probability scenarios for electricity production from renewable energy sources in real time, Sandia's formula can reduce the risk of inefficient electricity transmission, save ratepayers money, conserve power, and support the future use of renewable energy.

Smart Wire Grid, Inc.

Distributed Power Flow Control Using Smart Wires for Energy Routing

Smart Wire Grid is developing a solution for controlling power flow within the electric grid to better manage unused and overall transmission capacity. The 300,000 miles of high-voltage transmission line in the U.S. today are congested and inefficient, with only around 50% of all transmission capacity utilized at any given time. Increased consumer demand should be met in part with a more efficient and economical power flow. Smart Wire Grid's devices clamp onto existing transmission lines and control the flow of power within--much like how internet routers help allocate bandwidth throughout the web. Smart wires could support greater use of renewable energy by providing more consistent control over how that energy is routed within the grid on a real-time basis. This would lessen the concerns surrounding the grid's inability to effectively store intermittent energy from renewables for later use.

Texas Engineering Experiment Station

Robust Adaptive Topology Control (RATC)

The RATC research team is using topology control as a mechanism to improve system operations and manage disruptions within the electric grid. The grid is subject to interruption from cascading faults caused by extreme operating conditions, malicious external attacks, and intermittent electricity generation from renewable energy sources. The RATC system is capable of detecting, classifying, and responding to grid disturbances by reconfiguring the grid in order to maintain economically efficient operations while guaranteeing reliability. The RATC system would help prevent future power outages, which account for roughly $80 billion in losses for businesses and consumers each year. Minimizing the time it takes for the grid to respond to expensive interruptions will also make it easier to integrate intermittent renewable energy sources into the grid.

University of Washington

Energy Positioning: Control and Economics

The University of Washington and the University of Michigan are developing an integrated system to match well-positioned energy storage facilities with precise control technologies so the electric grid can more easily include energy from renewable power sources like wind and solar. Because renewable energy sources provide intermittent power, it is difficult for the grid to efficiently allocate those resources without developing solutions to store their energy for later use. The two universities are working with utilities, regulators, and the private sector to position renewable energy storage facilities in locations that optimize their ability to provide and transmit electricity where and when it is needed most. Expanding the network of transmission lines is prohibitively expensive, so combining well-placed storage facilities with robust control systems to efficiently route their power will save consumers money and enable the widespread use of safe, renewable sources of power.

Varentec, Inc.

Compact Dynamic Phase Angle Regulators for Transmission Power Routing

Varentec is developing compact, low-cost transmission power controllers with fractional power rating for controlling power flow on transmission networks. The technology will enhance grid operations through improved use of current assets and by dramatically reducing the number of transmission lines that have to be built to meet increasing contributions of renewable energy sources like wind and solar. The proposed transmission controllers would allow for the dynamic control of voltage and power flow, improving the grid's ability to dispatch power in real time to the places where it is most needed. The controllers would work as fail-safe devices whereby the grid would be restored to its present operating state in the event of a controller malfunction instead of failing outright. The ability to affordably and dynamically control power flow with adequate fail-safe switchgear could open up new competitive energy markets which are not possible under the current regulatory structure and technology base.

The electric grid was designed with the assumption that all energy generation sources would be relatively controllable, and grid operators would always be able to predict when and where those sources would be located. With the addition of renewable energy sources like wind and solar, which can be installed faster than traditional generation technologies, this is no longer the case. Furthermore, the fact that renewable energy sources are imperfectly predictable means that the grid has to adapt in real-time to changing patterns of power flow. We need a dynamic grid that is far more flexible. This video highlights three ARPA-E-funded approaches to improving the grid’s flexibility: topology control software from Boston University that optimizes power flow, gas tube switches from General Electric that provide efficient power conversion, and flow batteries from Harvard University that offer grid-scale energy storage.

Smart Wire Grid's DSR technology (Discrete Series Reactor) can be quickly deployed on electrical transmission lines to create intelligent mesh networks capable of quickly rerouting electricity to get power where and when it's needed the most. With their recent ARPA-E funding, Smart Wire Grid has been able to move from prototype and field testing to building out a US manufacturing operation in just under a year.

Strong strategic partnerships can be the difference between those technologies that only achieve success in the lab and those that actually break into the marketplace. Two ARPA-E awardees—AutoGrid and APEI—have forged strategic partnerships that have positioned their technologies to achieve major success in the market. This video features remarks from ARPA-E Technology-to-Market Advisor Josh Gould and interviews with technologists at AutoGrid and APEI, who each tell the story of how their company leveraged relationships with strategic partners to broaden their customer base and bring their technology to life.
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