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Decision-Support Software for Grid Operators

Boston University (BU)
ARPA-E Award: 
Boston, MA
Project Term: 
04/19/2013 to 03/31/2016
Project Status: 
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 

Several emerging trends, including the rapid growth in renewable generation and greater emphasis on improving grid efficiency and resiliency, are leading to a critical need to modernize the way electricity is delivered from suppliers to consumers. Modernizing the grid's hardware and software could help reduce peak power demand, increase the use of renewable energy, save consumers money on their power bills, and reduce total energy consumption--among many other notable benefits.

Project Innovation + Advantages: 

The Boston University (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.

Potential Impact: 

If successful, BU's technology could save between $1-2 billion in annual generation costs, enable more renewable energy to be incorporated into the grid and reduce or delay the need for new transmission investments.


A more efficient, reliable grid would be more resilient to potential disruptions from failure, natural disasters, or attack.


Enabling increased use of wind and solar power would result in a substantial decrease in carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S.--40% of which are produced by electricity generation.


Active grid management could ease transmission congestion which costs the U.S. an estimated $4-8 billion each year.

Innovation Update: 
(As of May 2016) 
The Boston University (BU) team has designed an advanced control technology called Topology Control Algorithms (TCA). TCA was designed to help grid operators actively manage power flows and integrate renewables onto the electric grid by switching power lines in and out of service in coordination with traditional management of generators and demand. Since its ARPA-E award, the BU team has received additional funding from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Commission. The team is actively working with industry stakeholders to address topology control hurdles and to integrate topology control into grid operation decision making. Additionally, the BU team is strategically marketing their technology and utilizing established consulting entities that have the resources and networks to further advance the commercialization of TCA. 
The topology control technology identifies transmission line modifications in order to mitigate network congestion and improve system reliability. The BU team built on prior academic research in fast, computationally tractable algorithms and developed TCA to use fast optimization algorithms that take advantage of sensitivity information from the electric grid. Their algorithms identify incremental network topology modifications on a time scale that enables their implementation to improve reliability and decrease congestion costs. BU researchers worked on detailed, operational network models in order to demonstrate the system’s effectiveness. Using the network models, the team demonstrated that its technology could generate solutions on an operationally relevant time scale, save up to 50 percent in congestion costs, reduce renewable curtailments by 40 percent in a high-renewables scenario, and relieve significant overloads even under peak demand conditions. 
For a detailed assessment of the BU team's project and impact, please click here.

ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Timothy Heidel
Project Contact: 
Dr. Pablo Ruiz
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Release Date: