At its April 21, 2016 meeting, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) invited representatives from the Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to discuss their collective efforts to modernize the nation’s electric grid. The panelists emphasized that a combination of a changing electric supply mix, threats to resiliency and reliability from extreme weather to cyber terrorism, an aging infrastructure and new market opportunities all make grid modernization an important priority, both for DOE and the nation as a whole. To meet these challenges, DOE has undertaken a five-year grid modernization initiative with the goal of developing a grid that is “resilient, reliable, flexible, secure, sustainable, and affordable.”

Among the issues highlighted by the panelists is DOE’s research into advanced computing to allow for more effective integration of renewable generation. With better modeling, wind and solar generation can be balanced alongside conventional power to maintain grid stability. DOE is also involved in several multiyear, multimillion-dollar research and development projects to enhance grid systems operations and control. Working with a variety of private partners, it hopes to develop by 2020 the “architecture, framework, and algorithms for controlling a clean, resilient, and secure power grid.” Energy storage is another area of focus for DOE’s grid modernization efforts, especially given the likely increase in battery and electric power vehicles. Finally, DOE’s representatives noted the importance of security and resilience in any grid modernization project; this includes identifying, detecting and protecting the grid from any threats or hazards, as well as improving response and recovery once incidents occur.

DOE’s presentation was followed by a discussion with the FERC commissioners on potential areas of collaboration between the national laboratories and the Commission. Among the ideas considered were including FERC staff in many of the laboratories’ consulting committees, opportunities for using FERC’s knowledge of electric markets in bringing DOE’s research into practical application and working with FERC to develop test markets for various grid innovations. FERC Chairman Norman C. Bay emphasized that grid modernization was a major priority for the Commission and that he hoped to develop a productive working relationship with DOE’s national laboratories.