Quantum: Atom Computing and NREL Explore Electric Grid Optimization

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BOULDER, CO, July 20, 2023 – Atom Computing and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) today announced are exploring how quantum computing can help optimize electric grid operations.

During this week’s IEEE Power and Energy Society general meeting in Orlando, NREL researchers demonstrated how they incorporated Atom Computing’s atomic array quantum technologies into the lab’s Advanced Research on Integrated Energy Systems (ARIES) research platform and its hardware-in-the-loop testing to create what Atom and NREL said is a first-of-its-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 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 apps” for quantum computing.  In electrical grids, power demand from various sources fluctuates depending on time of day and weather conditions. Electricity is routed across transmission lines and delivered to homes, businesses, hospitals and other facilities in real time. It’s a multi-variable optimization problem on an enormous scale that is suited to the way quantum computers run calculations.

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 said 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,” said Rob Hays, CEO of Atom Computing, which is building scalable quantum computers with atomic arrays of optically trapped neutral atoms. “NREL is a global leader in renewable energy and electric grids. We are proud to partner with them to advance their research.”