DOE Chooses NRECA to Research and Reduce Economic Losses from Weather-Related Power Outages

(ARLINGTON, Va.) — The Department of Energy (DOE) has announced that it will award a $1.8 million grant to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) and its partners for research on reducing the economic impact of extreme weather events that can knock out power. The grant is part of $220 million in grid modernization funding announced Thursday by the agency, which has set a 2025 goal of reducing the economic costs of power outages by 10 percent.

The grant will support development of an open-source software tool, LPNORM, that will aid in the design of more resilient distribution grids. Led by a principal investigator at Los Alamos National Laboratory, NRECA’s Business and Technology Strategies department will work with the project team to develop the software along with partners at the University of Michigan and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

“The tool will identify the most cost-effective upgrades that utilities can make to improve grid resiliency,” says Jim Spiers, NRECA’s vice president of Business and Technology Strategies. “The goal is optimal resiliency.”

Currently available planning tools lack the sophistication to adequately help utilities plan for extreme weather events that “pose an enormous threat to the nation’s electric power distribution systems and the associated socioeconomic systems that depend on reliable delivery of electric power,” according to the grant proposal. The number and severity of events such as Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina are increasing.

Other factors are also making resiliency more critical to grid reliability. As coal-fired power plants shut down and sources of reliable backup energy diminish, the system could become less able to tolerate outages.

The LPNORM software tool will incorporate distribution and communication models, data about extreme weather events, resiliency criteria and verification of design-solution quality. The goal is to find practical ways for reducing outages and, when outages do occur, shortening restoration times.

“Modernizing the U.S. electrical grid is essential to … keeping the lights on,” said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, in a prepared statement.

NRECA and its research partners will deliver the LPNORM software tool to utilities in three years. It will be incorporated into the Open Modeling Framework (OMF), a platform that provides utilities with power system simulation and cost-benefit analysis models.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is the national service organization that represents the nation’s more than 900 private, not-for-profit, consumer-owned electric cooperatives, which provide service to 42 million people in 47 states.