Ameren Illinois today opened a new $3.3 million testing facility that will help facilitate research and development of smart grid technologies and support the state's economic development and job creation goals. 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 grid.

The TAC is a key component of the Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act (EIMA) passed by the General Assembly in 2011. Under EIMA, 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.

"The TAC will give promising businesses and entrepreneurs access to an on-grid testing facility to help take their innovations to the next level," said Richard Mark, president and CEO, Ameren Illinois. "We must continue to foster an environment of innovation if Illinois is to remain economically competitive and able to create jobs in the 21st century economy."

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 facility will provide an on-grid test environment that complements the university's off-grid testing and simulation capabilities. The collaboration will be further enhanced by a fiberoptic link between the TAC and the UI power lab, which supports a number of grid research activities.

"Academic-industry partnerships such as what we have with Ameren are essential to ensure that leading-edge research addresses key sector needs, and is adopted by utilities," said Professor William Sanders, interim head of the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) who heads the largest of the UI smart grid research projects. "In this way, we jointly promote the development of a smart grid that is resilient, accommodates innovation, and ensures a sustainable energy future."

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 which 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.

"We live in a technologically advanced world where people are connected like never before. Ameren Illinois' commitment to build a smarter grid will help ensure that wherever and whenever power is needed, our system will be ready," Mark said.

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.

"The Technology Applications Center is an excellent platform that will open the door for great innovations to turn into great businesses," said Jason Blumberg, CEO and managing director of Energy Foundry. "Ameren Illinois' cross-cutting test capabilities are impressive and Energy Foundry is excited to be a part of this unique commercialization initiative."