NICTA starts a new collaboration with Los Alamos National Laboratory

Published on June 26, 2014

Los Alamos and NICTA

The global demand for efficient ‘multi-fuel’ electricity generation has brought together some of the world’s leading computer scientists in an exciting R&D effort aimed at creating systems to connect and manage electricity and natural gas supplies on a shared platform. The work will take place under a twelve-month Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) between NICTA and Los Alamos National Laboratory, announced today.

Controlling and managing coupled energy systems is challenging, but as the US gas network grows, it is becoming increasingly important to meet these challenges. Gas has numerous advantages over coal as a fuel to deliver electricity. It stores energy at larger scales, for instance, and pressure in a gas line is easier to control than in a coal-fired plant. It is also faster to heat up a gas-fired plant when there is a sudden spike in demand – such as during a heat wave or during an unexpectedly cold winter.

“The most efficient way to maximise the use of natural gas, reduce our reliance on coal, and exploit renewable sources of energy is to find the best way to integrate the two infrastructure systems holistically onto the same management platform,” said Prof. Pascal Van Hentenryck, Optimisation Research Group Leader, NICTA. “At the moment, we treat each infrastructure independently despite evidence that such an approach misses crucial details. That’s what we are aiming to fix with the R&D agreement announced today.”

“Increased production and lower prices are driving higher levels of natural gas-fired generation in U.S. electrical grids,” said Melissa Fox, Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Applied Energy Programs. “This means tighter coupling between the gas pipeline and the electrical grid infrastructure, which increases the possibility of coupled failures. Analysis tools and reliability metrics available today don’t easily show these coupled vulnerabilities. The LANL/NICTA collaboration will develop these new analysis algorithms with the ultimate goal of developing tools that will reduce the likelihood of these coupled failures.”

As the United States’ premier national-security science laboratory, Los Alamos has a mandate to use cutting-edge science and technology to enhance the nation’s energy security. Under this CRADA agreement, funded jointly by U.S. Department of Energy and NICTA, Los Alamos is tasked to build model reduction methods for coupled power grid and natural gas systems. NICTA’s role is to build a standalone software module for modelling and optimizing joint gas and electricity network design and operation. Together, the parties will use their respective capabilities to build a new algorithm for optimal design of coupled gas and electricity networks.

Hugh Durrant-Whyte, CEO, NICTA, said: “In this exciting international collaboration, NICTA is applying its research strengths to energy infrastructure challenges of immense economic importance. Working with the Los Alamos National Laboratory is a privilege. Their formidable track record and global pre-eminence in the areas of national security, energy and infrastructure research, will amplify the impact of this project.”