Smart grid lab seeks ways to thwart blackouts, save energy, and deliver on customer preferences

Washington State University researchers are building the most comprehensive “smart city” laboratory in the U.S. to test smart grid technologies and address the critical national need for a reliable and secure electric power grid. Working with a $500,000 grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, they are building a model city of the future with simulated windmills, solar panels, fuel cells, power substations and smart meters.

Leading the effort is Chen-Ching Liu, director of WSU’s Energy Systems Innovation Center. Working closely with Battelle/Pacific Northwest National Laboratories, Avista, and other partners, the center recently helped complete the $178M Northwest Smart Grid demonstration project, which included making Pullman one of the nation’s only smart grid cities. Other center activities include a National Science Foundation-funded study to build resiliency against coordinated cyber-attacks, and a smart distribution system for the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington.

Cities of the future will use more renewable energy to meet power needs, creating technical issues and requiring more flexibility from the power grid. Meanwhile, the power grid’s complexity is only growing with the addition of information-age technologies.

WSU researchers expect the test lab will help utilities answer questions such as how to better prevent and stop blackouts, save energy and incorporate smart meters, which provide feedback to utilities about customer choices and desires. The test bed will have comprehensive, advanced facilities for studying the power grid at the systems level and for including complex interactions between subsystems and components. Ultimately, the test bed will surmount many of the difficulties of real-life testing, speeding up the adoption of smart grid technologies.