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INL unveils decadelong electric power test grid

  • Jan 14, 2022
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A 10-year project at Idaho National Laboratory is now coming into service, providing one of the nation’s most compressive electric power grid test beds.

INL announced the grid’s completion in a Wednesday news release. The $40 million test grid provides reliable power across the INL Site and frees up existing power lines for security testing.

“Real world testing and validation is a critical component of grid modernization efforts,” Patricia Hoffman, acting assistant secretary of the Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity, said in the release. “Optimized to represent the wide range of distribution system configurations found across the country, the newly energized grid test bed at INL enables greater flexibility in assessing new ideas and technologies to better advance innovation to protect the nation’s critical electric infrastructure. The enhanced test bed offers a collaborative environment for labs, industry, academia and the government to leverage shared resources and will be used to demonstrate cutting-edge technologies for vital advancements like distributed energy resources and grid-scale energy storage.”

The test grid has been outfitted with modern equipment, flexible infrastructure and advanced transmission and distribution capabilities representative of much of the nation’s power infrastructure, the release said. The grid allows experts from across the federal government and private industry to develop and demonstrate technologies that improve security and enhance resiliency.

INL officials decided to build the test grid to help defend against cybersecurity and climate change threats in 2013, with support from Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and the Office of Electricity. The project finished with construction and energizing the capstone transmission line, the release said.

“Protecting critical infrastructure, including the electric power grid, is one of our nation’s most important priorities,” Simpson said in the release. “The grid and cybersecurity experts at INL are among the best in the world, and I was pleased to support their vision to construct this test grid and create a research environment that will benefit all Americans.”

The electric grid test bed can be operated under a full range of climatic conditions including temperature range, wind, snow and ice that mirror national grid conditions, according to an INL fact sheet. It also “has been used to validate and demonstrate the effects of threats including GeoMagnetic Disturbances,” the fact sheet said.

Work also is underway to use the test grid to “validate select protective relay security methodologies and demonstrate, at scale, the effects certain classes of cyber exploits could have on critical grid operations,” the fact sheet said.

While the test grid is now in service, an additional 40,000-square-foot test pad and equipment storage building will be completed in 2022, the release said. It is rated up to 138 kilovolts and includes up to 32 miles of reconfigurable distribution line, 16 miles of transmission line, full fiber-optic communications and transformers capable of supporting demonstrations at 15, 25 and 35 kilovolts. Four 2,500-square-foot research pads designed to house large pieces of equipment for conducting power load testing, smart grid assessments and energy storage experiments are located at the grid, which is operated at an on-site command center.

Local subcontractors including the lab’s Facilities and Site Services and National and Homeland Security directorates, Idaho Falls-based Walsh Engineering and Wheeler Electric and the Utah office of Sturgeon Electric all helped build the test grid, the release said.

More information on the grid is available on an INL fact sheet at the lab’s website.

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