What is a smart grid?

According to the United States Department of Energy, the grid is what transports electricity to your home from the place where it was generated. There are several steps to get to this point, the process begins with generation.  

Electricity can be generated in a number of ways, such as solar panels, power plants, and wind turbines. Then comes powerlines, which deliver electricity from the generation point to homes, businesses and anywhere else that needs electricity. 

The nation is working to move towards a more green, sustainable future. The Advanced Grid Institute (AGI) is trying to research how to obtain this goal.  

The WSU-PNNL Advanced Grid Institutes (AGI) is a program whose goal is to uphold the grid and to run simulations that can help us better understand the current situation and prepare for the future. The program is run by two Co-Directors, Dr. Noel Schulz and Jeff Dagle.  

Dr. Noel Schulz has a masters level degree in electrical engineering from Virginia Tech and a PhD in electrical engineering from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Dr. Schulz is the first lady of Washington State University and along with being a co-director at AGI, she is the lead of UI-ASSIST, and focuses her studies on power systems. 

Jeff Dagle of PNNL has worked with the United States Department of Energy and Department of Homeland Security. He has a Master of Science in electrical engineering from Washington State University.  

Dr. Anamika Dubey says that AGI wants to set itself at the forefront of the region as a research and education institute.  

The term “green energy” is a broad term, and there are many different types of power that are considered green. Hydro-generated power, wind turbines and solar-generated power are three of the most common types of green energy. 

Dr. Dubey says that balancing the amount of energy produced and the energy consumed is important, and an imbalance of the two can cause potential blackouts.  

“How much you are consuming is how much you should be generating,” Dr. Dubey said, “That moment by moment balancing of these two things, the generation and demand is very crucial for us to have a stable operation of the grid. If that gets out of step, then we get into blackouts because the system becomes unstable.”  

That’s where battery storage comes in, while very expensive, Dr. Dubey says that storing power in batteries would be helpful. 

A resilient power supply is also crucial, extreme weather due to climate change and cyberattacks are legitimate threats to our grid.  

Dr. Dubey is a joint appointee at PNNL and WSU, she helps establish new projects and further research between the two organizations. 

PNNL (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory) is based in Richland, Washington and is recognized by the Department of Energy in multiple capacities.  

WSU and PNNL have also partnered to create a graduate level program that has students’ study at Washington State University and complete their program with PNNL researchers. 

“I recently became a joint appointee with PNNL, I have previously been working with PNNL for a long time on different projects,” Dr. Dubey said, “As a joint appointee, what I really do is facilitate some of these conversations, look for new opportunities that help PNNL and WSU in establishing some new project avenues, look for students and how they can be mentored at WSU as well as PNNL and work on different research projects.”   

AGI also works with smart grids, Dr. Dubey says that the “smart” term more functions as a new era rather than the grid being smarter, or better than it was previously.  

Smart grids allow scientists and grid operators to view real-time analytics at the distribution level. More analysis at the distribution level is important because it provides feedback quicker and can even provide future projections of energy needed.