Central America’s regional electricity grid is more robust and reliable today, thanks to technical support provided through a partnership between Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Energy Resources (ENR) and Central America’s regional power system operator Ente Operador Regional (EOR).
EOR manages regional electric power reliability and power trade among six countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. EOR and national utilities jointly serve more than 10 million customers. However, for years the region has been challenged in its efforts to increase the volume and efficiency of electricity trade between countries, along with integrating renewable energy.
Addressing these challenges through technical support can optimize power delivery, lower system costs and enhance reliability for the region’s electric grid. Such improvements can also reduce energy costs for residents and foster economic growth, raising the standard of living and increasing regional stability.
The ENR-led Power Sector Program provides technical assistance to foreign governments to create more solvent, reliable, transparent and sustainable power sectors around the world. Between 2013 and 2019, PNNL, the ENR and EOR collaborated on multiple projects that included analysis of transmission expansion, grid stability, cross-border regional markets, continuity of operation of the regional control center, and resource integration in Central America.
Such improvements can also reduce energy costs for residents and foster economic growth, raising the standard of living and increasing regional stability.
Results of several technical assessments became the basis of U.S. policy engagement on electricity integration in Central America. Regional and national power system operators, planners and regulators adopted recommendations from these assessments related to cross-border and national electricity transmission investment requirements, and renewable integration rules proposed in these assessments were adopted for use in the regional electricity market in October 2018.
Another result of this collaboration was a rapid transfer of software tools for power system analysis to individual nations served by EOR. Through the partnership with the State Department, PNNL secured approval to use government use rights to grant permission to individual EOR member nations for their national utilities to use PNNL’s proprietary tools without a license. This unique strategy for technology transfer enabled utilities to access the software within weeks of their requests, rather than the many months that would have been needed to secure individual licenses for each utility.
“Never in my 11 years of doing technology transfer at a DOE laboratory have I worked with another government agency to transfer rights this way before,” said Peter Christensen, deputy director for licensing at PNNL.
As part of the technology transfer plan, PNNL engineers trained more than 28 engineers from six countries to use the software. Today, EOR and three of the national electric utilities still use several of the tools transferred, working to build technical capacity, improve grid security, and integrate more variable renewable energy in the years ahead.
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