Ameren opens smart-grid test facility near UI

Ameren opens smart-grid test facility near UI

CHAMPAIGN — Ameren Illinois has opened a $3.3 million testing facility near the University of Illinois campus that companies can use to try out smart-grid technologies on a live grid.

The utility's new Technology Applications Center, at 2001 Griffith Drive, C, is equipped with a substation and two distribution circuit feeders.

Those will help developers test smart-grid equipment by connecting to 69,000-volt and 12,000-volt systems on the utility's energy distribution network.

Using a live-scale lab, researchers can test anything from household appliances to industrial capacitor banks, said Ameren Illinois President and CEO Richard Mark, who was in town Wednesday for the grand opening.

"Smart grid" refers to an electrical grid that uses information and communications technologies to improve electrical production and distribution.

For example, the grid could take information on consumer and supplier behavior and use that to operate more efficiently.

The Technology Applications Center can accommodate both utility-scale testing and residential products testing.

The center is equipped with a simulated working kitchen with smart grid-enabled appliances, as well as advanced meters that can be used to test smart grid-related devices.

Ameren Illinois is seeking small businesses and entrepreneurs interested in using the center.

The facility also gives the utility and the UI the opportunity to do joint research on smart-grid related technologies and to work together on testing and validation procedures.

A fiber-optic will connect the center and a UI power lab that supports several grid research projects.

UI Chancellor Phyllis Wise said power reliability will continue to be important in the years ahead. She noted ongoing initiatives on campus, including the Center for Trustworthy Scientific Cyberinfrastructure and the Illinois Center for A Smarter Electric Grid.

Smart-grid research on campus focuses on advanced technology to enhance the security, reliability and resiliency of the power grid.

The Technology Applications Center was developed as a result of the Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act passed by the General Assembly in 2011.

In accordance with that act, Ameren Illinois is providing $7.5 million in seed money for Illinois business startups.

The money will be administered by the Energy Foundry, a nonprofit organization underwritten by shareholder investments from Ameren Illinois and Commonwealth Edison.

The Energy Foundry was created to increase understanding of the smart grid in Illinois and to invest in startups with high-growth potential in the energy field.

Jason Blumberg, CEO of the Energy Foundry, called the new center "an excellent platform that will open the door for great innovations to turn into great businesses."