Upgrading the nation’s interconnected system of electricity production and transmission to improve reliability, security, and economy requires innovative solutions and highly qualified professionals to operate and maintain new smart grid technologies. NETL is playing an important role in both grid improvements and workforce development.

Take, for example, a new technology called a phasor measurement unit, or PMU, which monitors electrical properties like voltage, current, and frequency at precise locations and times throughout the entire grid. This data, called synchrophasor data, is critical to improve operations and manage power flow. With funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, more than 1,100 PMUs have been  installed at strategic grid locations. The PMUs cover almost all of the existing grid, but their effectiveness is challenged because there is a limited number of professionals with the expertise to analyze the high-speed, time-synchronized data generated by the devices.

The next generation of smart grid experts will need a wide range of skills because of the variety of information that PMUs can provide.  To properly analyze and use synchrophasor data, workers must master disciplines such as power generation, transmission, and distribution; high-speed communications networks; adaptive signal processing; hardware and software development; advanced computational systems; real-time measurement and control; and common time synchronization.

To address the challenge, the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), on behalf of the Energy Department’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, manages seven projects that put PMU data in the hands of university researcher-educators:

  • Washington State University (Pullman, Wash.): A Collaborative Educational Program on Synchrophasor Applications for Smart Electric Grid.
  • North Carolina State University (Raleigh, N.C.): Development of a Multi-user Network Testbed for Wide-Area Monitoring and Control of Power Systems Using Distributed Synchrophasors.
  • Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) (Chicago, Ill.): IIT-Industry Collaboration: Synchrophasor Engineering Research and Training.
  • University of Wyoming (Laramie, Wyo.): Advancing Synchrophasor Applications and Training Through Academic-Industry Collaborations.
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Blacksburg, Va.): Data Mining and Playback of Hybrid Synchrophasor Data for Research and Education.
  • Texas Tech University (Lubbock, Texas): Collaborative Industry-Academic Synchrophasor Engineering Program.
  • Clemson University (Clemson, S.C,): Synchrophasor Engineering Education Program. 

These universities are developing new courses in grid dynamics and modeling. Students are being taught how to evaluate the use of PMUs for different applications, and they are testing PMUs in new laboratory facilities. Students and researchers are also receiving simulator-based training to learn how power plants and systems respond dynamically to grid oscillations and system disturbances.

Much of the Nation’s security and economy depends upon an improved electrical grid system that is reliable and well-managed. Providing the next generation workforce to maintain deployed technologies is a critical part of the formula for success.

This month, NETL and many other of the Energy Department’s national labs are showcasing their contributions to “Electricity Across America.” For more information, please visit the Energy Department’s national lab webpage.