Scrum lights the way for grid modernization

Dec. 15, 2016
The United States’ power grid is dated and faces a future for which it was not designed.

A modern electricity grid is vital to the nation’s security, economy and quality of life. The United States’ power grid, however, is dated and faces a future for which it was not designed. In

Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Mark Buckner

2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers Report Card gave the nation’s electrical grid a D+ for reliability, citing aging equipment and increasing disruptions.

The Grid Modernization Initiative (GMI) was designed to help shape the future of our nation’s grid. The initiative aims to mitigate growing cybersecurity threats as well as integrate conventional and renewable sources with energy storage and smart buildings. The goal is to design a grid that will deliver resilient, reliable, flexible, secure, sustainable and affordable electricity to consumers where, when and how they want it.

As part of the GMI, the Department Energy Department announced funding in January 2016 for DOE National Labs and partners. Included in this funding is the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in East Tennessee. The ORNL facility is the largest U.S. Department of Energy science and energy laboratory, conducting research to deliver transformative solutions to compelling problems in energy and security.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Power and Energy Systems Group has been focusing its research on grid modernization strategies and solutions, including microgrid control and synchronization; energy storage system design and integration, including innovations in secondary battery energy storage; renewable energy deployment and integration; wide-area grid monitoring and dynamic modeling; advanced metering infrastructure interoperability; SCADA design, controls, and testing; power reserve modeling and projection; real-time power simulation impact studies; and load-as-resource and buildings integration.

While technology is part of the answer, so is collaboration.

An open research framework

“We’ve developed an open research framework, which allows our researchers to go from ideas to implementation and back again as quickly as possible,” explained Mark Buckner, senior research scientist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and leader of the Power and Energy System Group, in his recent presentation at the Smart Industry 2016 conference in Chicago.

The main initiative being implemented to create this “open framework” for accelerated grid research is Scrum, defined as an agile framework within which teams can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value. Scrum is based on the theory of empirical process control. With Scrum, decisions are made based on observation and experimentation rather than on detailed initial planning. The Scrum process makes efficacy of project management clear so that improvements can be made.

Buckner, a certified Scrum Master, noted that “scrum is common sense but not always common practice.” Scrum can be seen as an agent of cultural change, and cultural change
often does not come easy. Changing people’s mindset, says Buckner, is often the greatest challenge.

The Scrum framework consists of Scrum Teams and associated roles, events, artifacts, and rules. Each element of the framework is essential to Scrum’s success. Scrum, like its rugby namesake, builds the intensity of the team towards its goals. “We are smarter than any one of us,” said Buckner.

Humanity and world around us exist in a rapidly changing landscape of challenges, facing what Buckner refers to as “Big Hairy Audacious Problems.” As industry looks to solve these problems, advance its digital transformation and build the complex systems of systems represented by the Industrial Internet of Things, “we’re going to need interdisciplinary, cross-functional teams that bring together a broad range of skills,” Buckner says. “The real key to our future is agility.”

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