Tech Insights

Using Quantum Computing for Grid Optimization

August 15, 2023 by Claire Turvill

As the options for energy generation continue to grow, so does the complexity of power grids, and classic computers are struggling to keep up. Researchers are looking at quantum computers to optimize power grid efficiency.

Power grids traditionally rely on central power generation from large fossil fuel or nuclear power plants, but global systems are rapidly evolving to incorporate renewable energy like wind, solar, and hydro.  


Close-up of a quantum computer

Close-up of a quantum computer. Image used courtesy of Adobe Stock


This shift toward renewable energy integration and the growing popularity of decentralized generation sources like rooftop solar panels and battery storage is causing power grids to become more complex. This growing complexity is straining the computational capabilities of classic supercomputers. 

National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) researchers, in collaboration with RTDS Technologies Inc and Atom Computers, have developed software to connect quantum computers to the power grid. Already, quantum computers are showing promise in supporting grid optimization.


Optimizing Grid Efficiency

Quantum computers are a rapidly emerging technology utilizing quantum mechanics to perform certain computations much more efficiently than classic computers.  

Researchers have previously delved into exploring the potential of quantum computers to enhance grid performance and secure power system communications. Leveraging the remarkable properties of quantum physics, such as superposition and entanglement, these futuristic computers hold the potential to address optimization problems effectively. 

However, a significant challenge lies in materializing quantum systems that can efficiently and reliably handle these tasks on a scale suitable for real-world applications.

Classic computing-based optimizers are ill-equipped to cope with the exponential growth in input parameters anticipated in the industry over the next two decades. With millions of inputs and outputs to manage, classic computers reach their limitations, while quantum computers come into their own, offering significant advantages in tackling such complex scenarios.



The NREL team’s Advanced Research on Integrated Energy Systems (ARIES) has developed an open-source software interface that utilizes a quantum-in-the-loop framework to convert optimization problems into quantum variables and interact with power system simulations in real-time.

Each sensor, home appliance, or electric vehicle is a variable in grid modeling. Data interaction can become so intricate that even analyzing the grid’s available power becomes computationally challenging. 

The novel interface streamlines the translation of optimization problems into quantum variables and enables seamless communication between quantum computers and power system simulations. 

For example, city officials must decide on the most efficient evacuation plan for a hurricane evacuation. This depends on the charge of electric vehicles, paths out of the city, and the availability of charging stations. Quantum computing can assess this multiobjective situation for high optimization. 

The research team successfully debuted their open-source interface near Boulder, Colorado, utilizing a stack of RTDS real-time grid simulators in conjunction with Atom Computing's innovative solution stack, which leverages its atomic-array quantum computing technology. 

This marked a historic milestone for both quantum computing and power systems. For the first time, quantum computing technology was seamlessly integrated into a dynamic electric grid research platform, ushering in new grid and hardware validation possibilities.


Scaling Quantum Computing

Still in its early stages, the impact of quantum computing on power systems has yet to be fully established, but the significance of the interface lies in its ability to address uncertainty. It allows for practical experimentation and assessment, enabling researchers to put quantum computing's theoretical promises to the test in real-world scenarios. 

Utilities must actively embrace and explore next-generation technologies, including quantum computing. This interface is a crucial tool for facilitating future research into emerging grid challenges, paving the way for power system optimization and problem-solving advancements.

Integrating quantum in-the-loop technology within ARIES proves to be exceptionally empowering, as it joins forces with various other cutting-edge technologies, including commercial renewable energy resources, system controllers, supercomputer-powered emulations, sensors, and substation equipment. ARIES is engineered to simulate power system experiments with a level of realism that closely mirrors real-world conditions. 

ARIES and other significant investments are expected to control 10,000 energy devices within the next year. This capacity provides a unique and informative opportunity for evaluating quantum algorithms and driving groundbreaking advancements in power systems research and development.

The first optimization problem the research team intends to solve is how to efficiently draw power from a variety of sources. They hope quantum computing can provide solutions from an economic lens and determine how to increase resilience and performance through improved power source switching.