Real-Time Testing Key To Grid Reliability

Entergy uses Hypersim simulation software to help guard against blackouts
Louisiana and three other Southern states may get to blast the air conditioning this summer, worry-free. Entergy Corp. of New Orleans is using new technology that will let it test its portion of the nation's power grid by simulating overloads and other events to analyze in real time how well the grid responds and recovers.

Doug Mader, director of technology delivery for transmission at Entergy

Entergy needs tools to analyze changing conditions, Mader says
"It's almost impossible to predict the needed transmission dispatch these days, because circumstances change in real time," says Doug Mader, director of technology delivery for transmission at Entergy, who's in charge of the utility's energy-management system and system-engineering research and development. "We really need to develop tools to allow online, real-time analysis in dynamic conditions, giving us necessary security against possible blackouts."

The timing couldn't be better. Last year's massive blackout in the Northeast caused a firestorm of criticism, and just last month a General Accounting Office report, timed with a congressional hearing, raised ongoing concerns over cyberattacks and a lack of advanced computer security in the utility industry.

Entergy will install next month real-time power-grid simulation software from TransEnergie Technologies, a subsidiary of Hydro-Quebec, a Canadian utility. Entergy hopes it will improve transmission stability, reliability, and utilization of power across Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, where it serves some 2.6 million customers. Developed by engineers at Hydro-Quebec, the software, called Hypersim, collects data from control systems, generators, and other power equipment that can be measured against custom scenarios to determine how a power grid would respond.

Hydro-Quebec has used simulation tools on its portion of the power grid since the 1960s. Typically, those tools have relied on slow analog processing. Hypersim, which leverages more-reliable and speedier digital communications, helps the utility simulate, in real time, thousands of faults each day, cutting the time it takes to test its energy operations from weeks to days.

Hypersim also can help utilities ensure that third-party dispatchers are secure and stable enough to run power across the grid, says Alain Vallee, CEO at TransEnergie. Third-party dispatchers are other utilities and companies that buy capacity on a portion of the grid to transmit their own energy across the lines. "With the simulator, they could optimize limits, increase third-party dispatches of energy going over the line, and effectively generate more revenue for the company," he says.

Hypersim runs on a Silicon Graphics Inc. Origin supercomputer and costs about $100,000, including implementation services, Vallee says.

Entergy has more plans for Hypersim. It will work with Tulane University, which will house a smaller-scale version of the software, to develop analysis and simulation applications that require much less customization. "I'm optimistic that we could have those application tools in two to three years," Vallee says.

SGI also is trying to develop applications for the energy industry and is working with Entergy and TransEnergie. SGI wants to create software that will let companies test, on a live transmission grid, almost any type of disruption, from simulated terrorist attacks to natural disasters. Jacci Cenci, an account executive at SGI Manufacturing, is spearheading the effort and drawing on her personal experience in the process. Says Cenci, "In California, we've lived through our share of brownouts."