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Vermont smart grid project begins to surge

SUBNET Solutions Inc | Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A partnership between Vermont, the University of Vermont and the U.S. Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratories has been developing what could be the next big improvements to the nation's electric grid.

On Monday, December 12, officials from all of the participating organizations announced that the talks had culminated into one big idea - the development of a Center for Energy Transformation and Innovation, according to the Burlington Free Press.

The center would be a $15 million effort to span three years with funding provided by the Department of Energy, Sandia, the Vermont state government and the University of Vermont.

Governor Peter Shumlin gave all the credit for attracting the project to Senator Bernie Sanders, who Shumlin stated was "like a dog with a bone" on the issue, according to the Vermont Digger.

The center is expected to focus on three areas. Integrating renewable energy onto the current grid is said to be one issue Vermont will excel in tackling, while providing capacity for electric vehicles and ensuring reliability and security for the fast-developing smart grid will also be major focal points for the center.

Sandia vice president Rick Stulen stated the center will provide "a way to understand all of the challenges that face all states," adding that large of amounts of integration have already taken place at the university and within private utilities and stakeholders.

University of Vermont assistant professor Paul Hines has been working at the Sandia labs in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to determine how smart meters can help the electric grid become more efficient and resilient. Hines studied computer software that he says could simulate "how the power grid can fall apart in interesting and terrifying ways," and remedies for such situations.

While the smart grid's most visible benefits will be seen in smart meters in consumer's homes, smart grid technology will also play a significant role behind the scenes, Hines said.

With the implementation of new technologies, utilities will be able to improve their reliability dramatically, as the source of power outages and other grid malfunctions will be identified in seconds.

"Vermont Electric Co-op is the first in the state to have almost universal coverage of smart meters," Senator Sanders said. "During Irene, they were able to get electricity restored very quickly, and they saved substantial amounts of money doing it."

The Vermont Digger reports another focus of the center will be to ensure reliable service, especially in the realm of cyber security.

"[We will be] anticipating any cyber challenges that may be opened up, or vulnerabilities that may be opened up as we move to this new future," Stulen said. "Sandia is very much in the forefront of cyber research."

And although Sandia research has found that new cyber threats have opened due to the smart grid, Stulen stated that it was still a manageable situation, and that the benefits far outweigh the risks.

"The federal government has invested $4 billion in smart grid technology," Sanders noted, "and they want to know that we’re going to work out some of the problems as other states follow us. So Vermont, in a sense, becomes a resource for other states to learn how to do it, how to overcome problems that may arise."

SUBNET, a solutions provider that offers expert guidance and software on substation automation and remote access integration, is well equipped to help utilities on their voyage into the new grid.

The company's Unified Grid Intelligence model uses a holistic approach to real-time integration of intelligent utility systems, all while ensuring compliance with NERC CIP standards.  

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