2017 Research Portfolio

Technology Innovation


The Technology Innovation (TI) program delivers strategic insights and advances promising concepts to help lead the global electric power industry in new directions. It accelerates development of breakthrough technologies that offer significant and potentially revolutionary impacts. A focus on thought leadership, exploration, and applied R&D help maintain a full innovation pipeline for commercial deployment through collaboration with EPRI's Generation, Nuclear, Power Delivery & Utilization, and Environment sectors, electric utilities, and other public stakeholders.

A number of cross-sector initiatives have launched under the TI program, including advanced component manufacturing and fabrication methods as well as advanced nuclear energy systems. The goal of these programs is creating the foundation for next-generation power plants, which are expected to operate at higher temperatures and efficiencies than are currently available.

Strategic R&D investment is also underway in the areas of sensing and control, distributed energy storage, and electrification. In tandem, existing renewable energy and grid planning and controls programs are being updated to pursue transformative cost, performance, and flexibility objectives.

Additional examples of thought leadership and applied innovation are described in the Breakthrough Technologies section and integrated throughout EPRI's 2017 R&D portfolio.

Innovation Scouting

EPRI innovation scouts have an important mission—identify emerging technologies that will be critically important to the energy industry over the next 10-15 years. The innovation scouts monitor developments in key areas such as energy storage, data analytics, cyber security, and renewable energy, among others.

EPRI's innovation scouts gather insights, build networks, and identify leaders across university, national laboratory, and other R&D groups. This involves consideration of future market drivers as well as regulations, policies, and economic factors that may affect the power system.

The Incubatenergy Network, launched by EPRI and the DOE in 2015, is a key element of this effort, providing access to entrepreneurial inventions, innovators, and business models. Promising technologies identified by innovation scouts are pursued through collaborative R&D across EPRI's sectors.

Breakthrough Technologies

Creating the Next-Generation Electric Heat Pump

The EPRI-developed next-gen electric heat pump integrates defrost, compression, control, and other innovations to offer at least a 50% gain in full-range efficiency relative to current technology. Conceived in 2011 and advanced to field demonstration in 2015 as the world's first demand-responsive heat pump, this breakthrough is expected to deliver unprecedented efficiency and load management capability across all seasons. By expanding residential use of this technology in temperate and cold-weather climates, it will also displace fossil-fired heating systems and drive significant reductions in carbon emissions.

Designing Step-Weld Joints for Flexible Operations

Innovative dissimilar metal weld designs for tubing and piping systems are being created by EPRI to enhance their safety, performance, and lifetime under the creep and fatigue conditions experienced during flexible operations of coal-fired plants and heat recovery steam generators at natural gas combined-cycle units. Building on a successful proof-of-concept study in 2014, step-weld transition joints engineered to increase damage tolerance under cycling duty and prevent catastrophic failures are scheduled to be ready for in-plant demonstration testing by 2017.

Enabling Secure Enterprise-Wide Interoperability

Key to realizing the Integrated Grid, an end-to-end open enabling platform is being developed to lay the foundation for seamless, secure, enterprise-wide integration of utility information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure. Information models, specifications, architectures, and standards emerging through strategic EPRI research and outreach planned through 2017 are expected to help streamline adoption of ICT advances and connectivity-enabled devices—both wired and wireless—for enhancing the performance of power generation and delivery systems and extending interoperability beyond the meter.

Creating Compact Inverters for Diverse Applications

Inverter designs being advanced for solar power, battery storage, and other distributed energy resource applications leverage wide-bandgap semiconductors to provide enhanced power handling and grid support capabilities. Gallium nitride devices with advanced thermal management and packaging techniques demonstrate power density performance that exceeds 20 times that of existing inverter technologies. In coordination with the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, EPRI developed a 2kVA DC-AC prototype—the size of a paperback rather than a suitcase— that was selected as a finalist in Google's Little Box Challenge. EPRI plans follow-on field demonstrations through 2017 of power electronics with revolutionary cost-performance characteristics.

Accelerating Long-Term Damage Assessment

EPRI is developing a breakthrough approach for simulating the aging of stainless steels in light water reactor environments up to and beyond 60 years of operation. Surrogate heavy-ion and high-flux neutron radiation exposure techniques are being applied to achieve high fluence levels far more quickly, and at much lower cost, than today's methods. Based on mechanical and microstructural evaluations of irradiated samples, a new fluence-dependent damage model is expected by 2020, providing revolutionary capabilities for evaluating component integrity and ensuring safety across extended operating periods.