PNNL receives $1.6M DOE grant

By Annette Cary, Herald staff writerNovember 30, 2012 

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland will develop systems to make the electric grid significantly more efficient after winning a competitive grant.

The Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency -- Energy, ARPA-E, announced awards totaling $130 million this week for energy technology projects with breakthrough potential. It searched for proposed projects that show fundamental technical promise but need more development before attracting private sector investment.

PNNL, one of three winners in Washington, will receive $1.6 million for its project to develop sophisticated computer algorithms and software to analyze unused capacity on existing transmission lines.

"With this funding, we will aim to make today's network of transmission lines up to 30 percent more efficient using high performance computing and software tools developed at PNNL," said engineer Henry Huang in a statement.

That could relieve congestion on the existing transmission systems, postpone the need to build new transmission lines and reduce the cost of power generation, he said.

One software tool in development is Real-Time Path Rating, which addresses the very conservative operating constraints that grid operators use to ensure reliability, according to PNNL.

Planners without real-time information rely on past data to set conservative operation limits to keep the system stable. For instance, the Oregon-California intertie limits transmission to 4,800 megawatts, even though its theoretical limit is 10,500 megawatts, according to PNNL.

Because of the constraints tied to congestion, some higher-cost generation is dispatched rather than some lower-cost generation that would otherwise be used. If the grid could be better used, the Oregon-California intertie savings could provide a revenue opportunity of $800,000 to $1 million per day because more power could be send down the line, according to PNNL.

PNNL's Real-Time Path Rating is using high-performance computing to demonstrate the ability to estimate power grid dynamic states more accurately to allow fuller use of the grid, according to PNNL.

The 66 projects selected in the competition for energy technology grants represent "swinging for the fences and trying to hit home runs to support development of the most innovative technologies and change what's possible for America's energy future," said Energy Secretary Steven Chu in a statement announcing the winners.

Winners were chosen from thousands of concept papers and hundreds of full applications, according to the Department of Energy.

The University of Washington was awarded a $4 million grant to develop microbes that convert methane found in natural gas into liquid diesel fuel. The conversion could be done at lower cost and could be practical at a smaller scale than current methods.

Sharp Laboratories of America in Camas was awarded a grant of almost $3 million to develop a low-cost sodium-ion based battery for energy storage on the scale of the grid.

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