Ameren Illinois opened a $3.3 million testing facility to assist with research and development of smart grid technologies. The Technology Applications Center (TAC) will provide small businesses and entrepreneurs with the infrastructure and resources needed to test programs, technologies, business models and other smart grid-related energy improvements on a live electric grid.
The TAC is a component of the Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act (EIMA) passed by the General Assembly in 2011. Under EIMA, also known as the smart grid act, Ameren Illinois is investing an additional $643 million over 10 years, through its Modernization Action Plan, or MAP, to make improvements to the electric grid to make it more efficient and reliable and to create hundreds of new jobs.
Located west of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Research Park, the TAC also provides an opportunity for Ameren Illinois and the university to jointly research smart grid-related technologies and collaborate on testing and validation procedures, as well as test plan development.
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. The facility can accommodate both utility-scale testing as well as residential products testing, 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 access to larger utility system loads to perform equipment and systems testing.
Under EIMA, Ameren Illinois has also provided $7.5 million in seed money for Illinois business startups. The funds will be administered by the Energy Foundry, a non-profit funded by shareholder investments from Ameren Illinois and Commonwealth Edison, created to boost an understanding of smart grid in Illinois and to invest in and nurture startups with high-growth potential in the energy field.