A new technology that will help grid operators more actively manage power flows, reduce congestion, and help integrate renewables is under development by consultants at The Brattle Group, working in conjunction with Boston University and other researchers.

The technology, which is based on Topology Control Algorithms (TCA), allows for higher utilization of existing and new transmission projects, making transmission investments more valuable and the grid more reliable at very modest incremental costs.

The technology gives grid operators the ability to reliably transfer power flows to less utilized portions of the grid. In the event of transmission congestion, TCA quickly develops alternative network configurations to route some power away from and around the congested facilities by opening or closing selected circuit breakers. This active grid management could ease transmission congestion in grids with significant redundancy such as those in North America and Europe.

“The TCA technology will lead to an increasingly efficient, reliable grid that is more resilient to potential disruptions from failure, natural disasters, or attack,” said Pablo Ruiz, the project’s principal investigator and a Brattle senior associate. “Correspondingly, the technology will reduce the cost of integrating renewable resources by increasing utilization of the grid and reducing the necessary curtailments of these resources.”

PJM Interconnection and other transmission operators currently perform occasional grid reconfigurations by relying on operator experience. However, to date there is no software tool that systematically identifies the best reconfiguration under real-time operations.

The TCA technology has been simulated in operational PJM models for representative weeks of 2010 and 2013 conditions. Extrapolating results, these simulations show that the technology could save over $100 million in annual costs, which represents more than 50% of the total production cost increase due to real-time transmission congestion. Additionally, reduced congestion would decrease average power prices in constrained areas of the grid. These benefits would increase as higher levels of variable sources of power, such as wind and solar, are added to the grid.

A complete analysis of TCA’s impact in PJM RT markets under high renewables levels will be available by Q1 2014. By Q2 2014 the capability will start being actively rolled out to provide ISOs and RTOs an off‐line advisory operations planning tool.

The TCA team is currently also developing algorithms to co‐optimize transmission topology with unit commitment, with initial results targeted for Q4 2014.

The project is being funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). Other participants include Newton Energy Group, Tufts University, Northeastern University, Polaris Systems Optimization, AIMMS, and PJM Interconnection.