Transmission operators: New software helps you cope with summertime stresses


By: SGN Staff


By Jason Black


When summer temperatures soar, grid operators really feel the heat.


Summer heat waves like the one in the Northeast this past July stress the grid to its maximum capacity. On top of this, changes in supply, demand and transmission patterns have combined over the last decade to make the power grid more brittle than it used to be.


These trends are only going to accelerate. As we continue to integrate higher percentages of renewable energy and transmit electricity over longer distances, transmission operators at the front lines need new tools to respond to changing conditions in real time.


Why we're heading for trouble

Here are a few of the trends that are putting added stress on transmission companies:


A changing supply mix: As we retire dirty-but-reliable coal burning power plants, transmission companies are losing a highly stable power source. Some of them will be replaced by more efficient (but equally stable) natural gas plants. But many parts of the country are mandating that a certain percentage of electricity must come from renewable sources like wind and solar. Until we have better solutions for power storage, integrating these unpredictable energy sources makes the whole grid more unstable.


Higher peak demand: While overall demand has remained fairly stable over the last 20 years, peak demand has increased over 12% from 2001 to 2011 according to the Energy Information Agency, even with dramatic drop from 2007 to 2009 due to the economic crisis. This is largely due to the increased use of central air conditioners in both commercial and residential areas. No longer a luxury item, air conditioning can cause dramatic spikes in demand when temperatures go up. Heat also stresses generation and transmission equipment: gas generators can’t produce as much power, and equipment can overheat and cause failures.

How new software can help

How can transmission companies meet the challenges of an increasingly stressed and brittle grid? New software options give transmission operators unprecedented visibility into grid conditions and precision, real-time control in a crisis.


For example, Battelle’s Grid Commandâ„¢ Transmission, powered by HELMâ„¢ technology from Gridquant, helps transmission companies be more responsive to changing grid conditions and avoid costly blackouts. It allows grid operators to monitor grid conditions in real time, even up to the point of collapse. When the grid is stressed, it gives operators step-by-step prescriptive instructions to help them return it to maximum performance and stability.


By helping operators optimize grid performance, Battelle Grid Command can help transmission companies avoid costly brownouts and blackouts, restore the system faster if a blackout does occur, and get the most out of the equipment they already have.


The HELM platform uses a unique mathematical approach that is fundamentally different from traditional iterative methods. The new platform gives operators a more accurate view of actual grid conditions so they can respond appropriately. "Traditional iterative methods become inaccurate just when operators most need precision: when the grid is stressed to the point of collapse. HELM uses advanced modeling and mathematical techniques to ensure that operators have complete visibility under any conditions,” said Steve Krak, Open Innovation Manager, Energy & Environment at Battelle.


The new software may be just what grid operators need to keep their cool when the next heat wave hits.


Jason Black is Research Leader, Energy Systems at Battelle, where he leads a team working on grid solutions. He formerly led research in demand response for General Electric's smart grid initiatives.