Tech Insights

SUPER Technology Aims to Enhance Grid Reliability

April 12, 2023 by Jake Hertz

A new approach to grid technology hopes to prepare the grid for a modern load.

Today’s modern electrical grid is beginning to face unprecedented challenges due to the increasing demand for cleaner energy and the rise in electric vehicles.  At the same time, the grid’s aging infrastructure and the lack of adequate investment in upgrades are working to only further compound the problem. As a result, power management and reliability are becoming more complex, and the traditional power grid infrastructure is struggling to keep up. 

Researchers at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) are working to modernize the power grid and enhance its reliability, starting from the ground up. The group has announced SUPER (Smart Universal Power Electronics Regulator), a smart grid approach that aims to address a number of these challenges.


Grid Challenges

Today, the U.S. electric grid faces several urgent challenges that must be addressed.  

One of the major challenges facing the electrical grid today is the increasing demand for electricity due to electric vehicles (EVs). As EVs become more widespread throughout the United States, they pose a unique load requirement on the grid, not only drawing large amounts of electricity at irregular intervals. The challenge is ensuring the electricity supply on the grid meets the increased demand and is readily available for use. The traditional infrastructure cannot handle the new demands for power flow, leading to increased blackouts and higher costs for the consumer.


The proliferation of EVs has led to irregular demands on the US electric grid. Image used courtesy of US Drive


At the same time, another challenge is posed by the grid's transition to relying more on renewable energy sources. Popular clean sources like wind and solar are intermittent, meaning they don’t produce a continuous or predictable energy output. Additionally, renewable energy sources may be located far away from where the demand is. This becomes an issue when trying to ensure supply meets demand, as grid operators have no control over the supply with intermittent sources. 

In the eyes of many, solving these challenges requires intelligent power management systems capable of monitoring and managing the energy transfer of the grid. However, the existing power management systems on the grid suffer from a lack of monitoring and control capabilities.


SUPER Technology

To address these challenges, ORNL has presented Smart Universal Power Electronics Regulator (SUPER).

On a high level, SUPER is a modular power system that consists of a number of stackable power electronics blocks, each of which features smart electronic features. These universal building blocks, thanks to their use of standardized interconnects, can be stacked together to make structures such as data centers, microgrids, or electrical substations

ORNL researchers working on SUPER. Image used courtesy of ORNL


At the heart of this system is the intelligent power stage (IPS), which consists of sensing and computational ability that allows for greater transparency into the energy transfer and health of the grid. Unlike traditional stackable systems, SUPER provides deeper and more insightful data, allowing for better-informed decisions and real-time control.

Overall, SUPER improves the grid by consistently monitoring equipment health, adding extra layers of security, and facilitating faster communication between equipment. This way, SUPER is poised to decrease grid downtime and ultimately create a more reliable and robust grid.


Modernizing the Grid

As the face of the grid transforms with electric vehicles and renewable energy sources, the underlying infrastructure also needs to change. With their new SUPER system, the ORNL researchers hope to provide an intelligent and economical approach to modernizing the grid, which can help ensure performance and security far into the future.