Back in June, the Department of Energy hinted at a new funding program in the works, aimed at supporting research and development of technology to integrate rooftop solar, energystorage smart buildings and utility software controls at the edge of the grid. Last week, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz unveiled the fruits of this effort: a three-year plan to direct $220 million toward 88 projects across the country.

The Grid Modernization Multi-Year Program Plan will bring a consortium of 14 national laboratories together with more than 100 companies, utilities, research organizations, state regulators and regional grid operators. The scope of this work includes integrating renewable energy, energy storage and smart building technologies at the edges of the grid network, at a much greater scale than is done today.

That will require a complicated mix of customer-owned and utility-controlled technology, all of which must be secured against cyberattacks and extreme weather events. And at some point, all of this new technology will need to become part of how utilities, grid operators, regulators, ratepayers and new energy services providers manage the economics of the grid. 

DOE has already started releasing funds to 10 “pioneer regional partnerships,” or “early-stage, public-private collaborative projects that address specific near-term grid modernization issues that are important to specific states and regional stakeholders,” David Danielson, assistant secretary of DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, said in a conference call last week.

The projects range from remote microgrids in Alaska and grid resiliency in New Orleans, to renewable energy integration in Vermont and Hawaii, and scaling up to statewide energy regulatory overhauls in California and New York. Others are providing software simulation capabilities to utilities and grid operators around the country, or looking at ways to tie the country’s massive eastern and western grids into a more secure and efficient whole.

Another six “core” projects are working on more central issues, like creating the “fundamental knowledge, metrics and tools we’re going to need to establish the foundation of this effort,” he said.

Those include technology architecture and interoperability, device testing and validation, setting values for different grid services that integrated distributed energy resources (DERs) can provide, and coming up with the right sensor and control strategy to balance costs and complexity.

Finally, the DOE has identified six “cross-cutting” technology areas that it wants to support, Patricia Hoffman, assistant secretary of DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, noted in last week’s conference call. Those include device and integrated system testing, sensing and measurement, system operations and controls, design and planning tools, security and resilience, and institutional support for the utilities, state regulators and regional grid operators that will be the entities that end up deploying this technology at scale. 

Much of the work is being driven by the power grid modernization needs laid out in DOE’s Quadrennial Energy Review, which called for $3.5 billion in new spending to modernize and strengthen the country’s power grid, while the Quadrennial Technology Review brought cybersecurity and interoperability concerns to bear. Secretary Moniz put together the pan-DOE lab consortium in November 2014, setting up each lab as a collaborator-slash-competitor for different projects across the three main R&D category types.

While many of the initial private-sector participation opportunities have already been taken, more are expected to emerge as projects keep growing, Hoffman said. As part of its core activities, DOE will also help utilities start integrating new technology with new grid policies, as is already happening in states like Hawaii, California and New York.

DOE will hold six regional workshops over the coming months to provide more details, Danielson said. We've already seen one come out this week -- the $18 million in SunShot grants for six projects testing out ways to bring storage-backed solar power to the grid at a cost of less than 14 cents per kilowatt-hour.

“We can’t look at one attribute of the grid at a time,” he said. “We’re not just looking for a secure grid -- we’re looking for an affordable grid, a sustainable grid, a resilient grid.” And one that can foster renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction at the state-by-state and national levels.

Here’s a map of the key regional partnerships, along with a link to the full list of projects -- be warned, it's a long one.