Grid Resilience

Sandia’s resilience research assists in the understanding and technology development of infrastructure protection and infrastructure disruption mitigation, response, and recovery options.

Why Reliability Is Not Enough

Grid reliability, which the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) defines as a combination of grid adequacy (having sufficient generation to meet load) and grid security (having the ability to withstand disturbances), is a conceptually sound but incomplete framework for the nation’s 21st century smart grid. Instead, our nation requires a grid that adapts to both large-scale environmental and unnatural events and remains operational in the face of adversity—minimizing the catastrophic consequences that affect quality of life, economic activity, national security, and critical-infrastructure operations. The concept of reliability must be augmented with a resiliency approach—one that looks at the grid not strictly as a flow of electrons but as a grid that services, interfaces with, and impacts people and societies. Put another way, it is the consequences, not the outages per se, that matter.

Research Areas

Because the complex network of electrical infrastructure that stretches across the United States is critical to our economic well-being and quality of life, grid owners and operators work hard to ensure the system is reliable and able to withstand the effects of any single component failing. To strengthen grid resilience, or its ability to minimize the consequences of extreme weather or malicious physical or cyber-attacks. Grid planners and operators must also have an understanding of the consequences of specific threats to the systems and an ability to prepare for them and react to them.

To help grid operators make effective, defensible decisions about protecting local and regional communities from catastrophes related to grid damage, Sandia has developed the Resilience Analysis Process (RAP), a comprehensive methodology for quantifying resilience and evaluating competing alternatives to improve resilience.

This multi-step method, which is based on Sandia’s extensive experience with critical energy infrastructure security, calls for working closely with stakeholders to identify the most crucial potential threats and high-level consequences in their region. Sandia analysts then create a detailed system model and evaluate the model against the specified threats to determine system consequences. Finally, the analysts apply stochastic optimization algorithms to identify both planning and operational improvements to the system that minimize consequences and achieve the greatest system resiliency.

Sandia has invested substantially in the development of analytic methods that can quantify and improve resilience using risk based, probabilistic methods as it relates to geomagnetic disturbances (GMD). In the case of this work, the high consequence events take the form of voltage stability margin or specific critical load lost. The threat vector is made of specific GMD scenarios. This framework, using an extended version of an AC optimal power flow, enables decision makers to optimally invest in resilience improvements, preventing voltage collapse and widespread blackout.

Sandia is working with several utilities and agencies to enhance the resilience of the grid to minimize the negative economic and community impacts of extreme weather events and physical security threats. For example:

  • Sandia is analyzing the resilience of part of the transmission system of American Electric Power—the largest utility in the U.S., serving 5 million customers in 11 states—against extreme weather events and physical security threats. Cost effective planning solutions as well as operational solutions are being developed to maximize their resilience to these events.
  • In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, Sandia helped New Jersey Transit Corporation develop the nations largest electric microgrid that will include a large-scale gas-fired generation facility and distributed energy resources (photovoltaics, energy storage, electric vehicles, combined heat and power) to supply reliable power during storms or other times of significant power failure.
  • As part of a multi-lab effort under the Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium, Sandia is working with the City of New Orleans and Entergy to develop priority distribution upgrades and advanced microgrid pilot projects that can help bolster community-level resilience for NOLA and other coastal U.S. cities.

Sandia’s Resilient Energy Systems Mission Campaign is a seven-year effort to develop new science and technology capabilities through a constellation of projects that address the resilience of the nation’s energy systems and related infrastructure at all scales of size and complexity. Research is organized into a research roadmap with three thrusts: Science of Vulnerabilities; Materials, Device, and Cyber Innovation; and System-Level Threat-Informed Computational Science.

Visit the Resilient Energy Systems Mission Campaign website.


Sandia’s grid modernization research relies on partnerships with a range of stakeholders, including other national laboratories, electric utilities, industry, federal and state agencies, universities, and international advanced grid consortia. These partnerships help the lab apply jointly developed tools and solutions, broaden technical capabilities, and gain insight into policy and regulatory issues. Learn more about partnering with Sandia.

Charles Hanley