Ameren Illinois today opened a new $3.3 million testing facility that will offer small businesses and entrepreneurs the opportunity to evaluate technologies, business models and other smart grid-related energy improvements on a live grid.
The new Technology Applications Center (TAC), located in Champaign, also will support the state’s economic development and job creation goals. Indeed, the center is one of the key initiatives in Ameren’s Modernization Action Plan (MAP)—mandated under the Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act (EIMA) passed by the Illinois General Assembly in 2011. Under EIMA, Ameren Illinois is investing an additional $643 million over 10 years to make the electric grid more efficient and reliable for its 1.2 million customers statewide, and to create hundreds of new jobs.
"The TAC will give promising businesses and entrepreneurs access to an on-grid testing facility to help take their innovations to the next level," said Richard Mark, president and CEO of Ameren Illinois. "We must continue to foster an environment of innovation, if Illinois is to remain economically competitive and able to create jobs in the 21st century economy."
Specifically, the TAC features a substation and two distribution circuit feeders that will enable developers to test smart grid-related equipment by connecting to 69,000- and 12,000-volt systems on the utility's energy distribution network. Both utility-scale testing and residential-level device testing, can be accommodated at the TAC, which will include 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 opened a secondary testing site in Decatur in 2012 that provides companies with access to larger utility system loads to perform equipment and systems testing.
"We live in a technologically advanced world where people are connected like never before. Ameren Illinois' commitment to build a smarter grid will help ensure that wherever and whenever power is needed, our system will be ready," Mark stated.
An Academic Partnership
Located west of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Research Park, the TAC also provides a facility at which Ameren Illinois and the university can jointly explore smart grid-related technologies and collaborate on testing and validation procedures, as well as test plan development. TAC’s on-grid test environment will complement the university's off-grid testing and simulation capabilities. The collaboration will be further enhanced by a fiber optic link between the TAC and the UI power lab, which supports a number of grid research activities.
"Academic-industry partnerships such as what we have with Ameren are essential to ensure that leading-edge research addresses key sector needs, and is adopted by utilities," said Prof. William Sanders, interim head of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), who heads the largest of the UI smart grid research projects. "In this way, we [can] jointly promote the development of a smart grid that is resilient, accommodates innovation, and ensures a sustainable energy future."
Under EIMA, Ameren Illinois also has provided $7.5 million in seed money to Illinois business startups. The funds will be administered by the Energy Foundry, a non-profit organization funded by shareholder investments from Ameren Illinois and the other regional utility, Commonwealth Edison.
"The Technology Applications Center is an excellent platform that will open the door for great innovations to turn into great businesses," said Jason Blumberg, CEO and managing director of Energy Foundry. "Ameren Illinois' cross-cutting test capabilities are impressive and Energy Foundry is excited to be a part of this unique commercialization initiative."
Edited by Alisen Downey