Research Helps Move Industry Forward

By Mark McGranaghan, Electric Power Research Institute

Ask people what drives effective research and development (R&D), and you can expect answers such as “vision” and “funding” and “commitment for the long haul.” Ask us at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), and we include “collaboration.” It is from our collaborative R&D model that we draw our vision for what is needed, the funding to get us there, and a shared commitment for the long haul.

Our collaborative model brings together perspectives from utilities, regulators, advocacy groups and other stakeholders to drive an R&D portfolio that helps meet the needs of the electricity sector and society.

As we look ahead to the long haul, we have established three broad goals for our power delivery research programs. First, increase research collaboration within the industry. The broader the participation in defining and coordinating the research agenda, the greater the value that can be achieved with the collaborative model.

Second, expand coordination and participation with industry organizations. By working closely with regulatory agencies, technical and business associations and other research organizations, EPRI can better align research programs with industry priorities better. This also can provide additional technical assessment and validation of research results.

Third, increase international participation and coordination. Power system problems and issues are similar throughout the world. Broadening international engagement brings the potential to increase the value and return our members realize from R&D funding.

During the past few years, our industry has changed rapidly as new technologies were introduced. There is much enthusiasm for a smart grid, and we expect its role in the industry will only grow. The opportunities presented by smart grid technologies–customer participation and managing renewables, for example–also bring challenges that must be addressed in a collaborative manner. Smart grid road maps and demonstration projects will help the industry bring new technologies and processes to the market and ensure that customer benefits are realized.

Even as we transform grid technology we must focus on maintaining the infrastructure and extending the life of major assets. We see significant opportunities to develop equipment diagnostic processes, to apply sensors to alert utilities to asset problems before they fail, and to develop risk assessment processes to identify the areas that need timely attention. Combined, such solutions can help defer capital investments.

New technologies are important to the industry’s future in many ways. Developing solutions include topics from asset management to energy consumption. For example, we are working on a transmission line robot that offers the potential to traverse transmission lines several times a year using inspection technologies to identify high-risk vegetation and right-of-way encroachment and to assess component condition. A solid-state transformer offers a fluid- and gas-free device bringing the potential to improve overall system efficiency compared with conventional distribution transformers. Smart inverters could provide optimized volt/VAR support when implemented with grid-tied solar photovoltaic technology and battery storage systems. Smart appliances offer consumers a tool to manage their energy use.

There are tremendous opportunities ahead for the electricity industry. Research can serve as a major driving force in the industry’s progress. Beyond that, effective technology transfer can provide utilities a better foundation for adopting new technologies and processes that eventually can lead to greater reliability, efficiency, affordability and overall customer satisfaction.

In all of this work, research drives the industry forward. To drive the research, vision, funding and commitment are essential. From where EPRI stands, collaboration is the key.

Mark McGranaghan is vice president of power delivery and utilization at EPRI.

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