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Atom Computing and National Renewable Energy Laboratory Exploring Electric Grid Optimization Using Quantum Computing


Insider Brief

  • Atom Computing will collaborate with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to explore how quantum computing can optimize the electric grid.
  • Scientists demonstrated “quantum-in-the-loop” capability that can run certain types of  optimization problems on a quantum computer.
  • Optimization problems are considered “killer applications” for quantum computing.

PRESS RELEASE — Atom Computing and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National  Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) today announced a collaboration to explore how  quantum computing can help optimize electric grid operations.  

During this week’s IEEE Power and Energy Society general meeting, NREL researchers  demonstrated how they incorporated Atom Computing’s atomic array quantum  computing technologies into the lab’s Advanced Research on Integrated Energy  Systems (ARIES) research platform and its hardware-in-the-loop testing to create a  first-of-a-kind “quantum-in-the-loop” capability that can run certain types of  optimization problems on a quantum computer. 

Dr. Rob Hovsapian, a research advisor at NREL, called the new capability an important  step toward understanding how quantum computers can better balance energy loads  across an electric grid.  

“Electric grids are increasingly complex as we add new power generation resources  such as wind and solar, electric vehicle charging, sensors and other devices,” he said.  “We are reaching the point where electric grids have more inputs and outputs than what our classical computing models can handle. By incorporating quantum  computing into our testing platform, we can begin exploring how this technology  could help solve certain problems.” 

Optimization problems such as managing supply chains, devising more efficient  transportation routes, and improving electric grid and telecommunications networks  are considered “killer applications” for quantum computing. These are large-scale  problems with numerous factors and variables involved, which makes them well suited  for quantum computers and the way in which they run calculations.  

Keeping power flowing across an electric grid is a good example of an optimization  problem. Power plants, wind turbines, and solar farms must generate enough  electricity to meet demand, which can fluctuate depending on the time of day and  weather conditions. This electricity is then routed across miles and miles of  transmission lines and delivered to homes, businesses, hospitals, and other facilities in  real time. 

Initially, NREL and Atom Computing are exploring how quantum computing can  improve decision making on the re-routing of power between feeder lines that carry  electricity from a substation to a local or regional service area in the event of switch or  line downtime. 

“Right now, operators primarily rely on their own experience to make this decision,”  Hovsapian said. “This works but it doesn’t necessarily result in an optimal solution. We  are evaluating how a quantum computer can provide better data to make these  decisions.” 

Atom Computing CEO Rob Hays called the project an important example of how  private industry and national laboratories can collaborate on quantum computing  technology and valuable use case development.  

“Collaborations like this are extremely important for advancing quantum computing  and scientific research,” Hays said. “NREL is a global leader in renewable energy and  electric grids. We are proud to partner with them to advance their research.” 

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James Dargan is a writer and researcher at The Quantum Insider. His focus is on the QC startup ecosystem and he writes articles on the space that have a tone accessible to the average reader.

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