IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — Idaho National Laboratory’s electric grid testing area underwent recent upgrades to its infrastructure, allowing researchers to conduct full-scale experiments with new technology aimed at modernizing power systems.

The U.S. Department of Energy site in the desert west of Idaho Falls incorporated a wireless smart grid infrastructure to its 61 miles (98.17 kilometers) of transmission lines and seven substations, the Post Register reported .

The smart grid infrastructure aims to increase the resiliency of power systems, and it provides researchers with an environment to test combinations of new devices that could be integrated elsewhere, researchers said.

To implement the new technology on a power grid, Chris Irwin, the smart grid program manager, said it’s not as easy as updating a cellphone’s operating system.

“You can migrate to the next OS, but some of your applications may stop working. That’s fine on your iPhone; it’s not quite as good on the electric grid,” Irwin said. “Navigating that jump from legacy systems to new ones — every utility in the country will have that issue. Some of the problems are worth testing here.”

The upgraded facility gives researchers the opportunity to work out potential bugs in the devices before they’re integrated, said Jason Wayment, an electrical engineer at the facility.

“New technology is creating a lot of new, interesting problems that utilities are fighting,” Wayment said. “With this we can set all that up and model it. A lot of really complicated things can happen, and you don’t want to test them out on a regular neighborhood because there are too many risks.”

The facility is also able to replicate the grid environments found in areas across the country and simulate disasters — both natural and man-made.

“We have to do our homework,” Irwin said. “The power system’s biggest enemies are squirrels and trees. On the communications side, there’s corruption — having someone else interfere. We can simulate a bad day where a tree falls on a cell tower, but we can also simulate a cyberattack.”


Information from: Post Register, http://www.postregister.com