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Can Software Patch the Ailing Power Grid?

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Pacific Northwest National Lab

Engineers at the Pacific Northwest National Lab in Richland, Washington, evaluate how well the pieces of a massive smart grid project are coming together in a test this spring.

Credit: Courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Lab

A consortium providing the technology for a large-scale smart grid project says the software is nearly complete.

IBM's Ron Ambrosio expects the system to be operational by this time next year. The system will power the $200 million initiative to connect the fragmented grid infrastructure across five U.S. states and 11 utilities, including 95 smaller efforts to cut power consumption and manage the delivery of electricity to homes and businesses.

In a smaller test in Washington state from 2005 to 2007, the technology enabled utilities to communicate with smart thermostats and other equipment in homes, reducing peak electricity demand and responding to fluctuations in supply from intermittent resources.

The researchers say that a large-scale, smart system could save billions of dollars. The project will enable utilities to take advantage of renewable energy, accommodate electric cars, store power from the grid, and establish microgrids that could survive on their own during a power outage. Ambrosio says the goal is to be able to run transmission lines at 95 percent to 97 percent capacity.

From Technology Review
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