MSL Launches “New Grid Paradigms” Initiative

In response to the urgent need for accelerated progress in grid modernization, MSL has launched a collaborative systems innovation approach under the rubric of “New Grid Paradigms” (NGP). The initiative seeks to catalyze a field of trans-disciplinary research, devoted to exploring and developing a fully integrated paradigm through a complex adaptive systems lens. This paradigm would be capable of eventually supporting the design, architecture, and implementation of a truly modernized, flexible, resilient, and decarbonized grid, using a systems innovation approach.

NGP is organizing a constellation of leading organizations, researchers, and practitioners drawn from the relevant disciplines. Participants include the Center for Energy Law and Policy at Pennsylvania State University and its Director, Dr. Seth Blumsack. Dr. Blumsack is also a member of the External Faculty at the Santa Fe Institute, the world’s leading center for Complex Adaptive Systems Science.

The Context

The electricity system impacts every aspect of life and well-being in the industrialized world; but its ability to operate effectively, delivering reliable energy to consumers, in a rapidly changing environment is becoming increasingly uncertain. And while many key stakeholders have embraced the need to re-design the system in support of decarbonization and resilience objectives, they are still largely viewing that challenge through the lens of a legacy, compartmentalized paradigm now over a century old.

This persists even as the evolving complexity of the system accelerates with electrification and growth of distributed energy resources (DERS), variability of renewable generation, and the convergence of centralized (national/regional) generation, transmission, and regulation with decentralized technologies and individual actors. These are compounded by exogenous factors such as climate change, extreme weather events, and cyber-terrorism. Incremental innovation has been the result so far; but transformational innovation is called for, merging disciplines (engineering, physics, complex networks, computational science, economics, social science, ecology) and sectors (research, technology, utilities, regulators) focused on the system architecture level.

Path Forward

We propose as a starting point a workshop bringing together thought and practice leaders (including utilities, regulators, startups, and NGOs) from these areas, designed to promote ideation and expand the universe of potential approaches. Anticipated outcomes include guidelines for a use-inspired and translational research agenda; identification of funding and publication opportunities; and a collaborative structure for those interested in continuing this work and developing practical applications. The systems innovation approach will also identify key leverage points for overall systemic impact. Deployment and implementation pathways could also be addressed.

Potentially Relevant Aspects & Fields

Considerable work has been done in many relevant areas. The New Grid Paradigms framework will bring together researchers from numerous disciplines with practitioners across sectors to share ideas and discoveries, identify adjacencies, generate novel syntheses, and map a path forward to develop the field. Areas of interest (and points of discussion) could include:

  • Complex Adaptive Systems: self-organization, emergent behavior, tipping points, phase transitions, fractal architectures, coupled systems, agent-based modeling
  • Energy Internet of Things: packetized energy; peer-to-peer applications; cybersecurity at depth; internet architecture, governance and standards; digital twins, virtualization
  • AI & Machine Learning: self-improving adaptive networks; federated machine learning
  • Socio-techno-economic interactions: innovation in governance, policy, permitting, and regulation; behavioral economics, finance, technologies; price signals, market and rate design; markets and power flow equilibria
  • Multi-level dynamics: DERS / distribution / transmission / generation; FERC-NERC / RTOs-ISOs / PUCs
  • Multi-system couplings and interdependencies: energy, water, telecom, mobility, food
  • Ecological system models: robustness, diversity, food webs, energy pathways

This will be a continuing development effort, and we will update this post periodically.