Arizona State University

ASU helps re-engineer power grid for renewable energy

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Source: Arizona State University

Arizona State University researchers will help create a framework for re-engineering the nation’s power grid to make it adaptable to renewable electric-energy technologies such as solar and wind power.

A team of faculty members in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering and School of Sustainability are part of a new National Science Foundation (NSF)  Engineering Research Center formed to develop technology to transform the United States’ centralized power grid into a “smart grid” that will be able to store and distribute energy produced from wind farms, solar photovoltaic panels, fuel cells and other alternative energy sources.

“The goal is to enable greater use of renewable energy sources to make us a more green-energy-based society,” says Gerald Heydt, a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering.

Heydt will head an ASU team that includes fellow electrical engineering faculty George Karady, Keith Holbert, Raja Ayyanar and Dan Tylavsky, along with Jay Golden from the School of Sustainability, who also is an affiliate faculty member in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

They will work with NSF’s new Engineering Research Center for Future Renewable Electric Energy Delivery and Management (FREEDM) Systems, led by North Carolina State University.

An NSF grant of $18.5 million and an additional $10 million in support from various institutions and industry membership fees will fund establishment of an effort that will involve several universities in addition to national laboratories and industry laboratories in 28 states and nine countries.

More than 65 utility companies, electrical equipment manufacturers, alternative energy start-up ventures and other businesses have committed to the global partnership, according to the NSF.

Described as an “Internet for energy,” the “smart grid” is to enable millions of users to not only generate energy from renewable sources but sell excess energy back to utility companies.

Heydt says developing the new system involves not only providing for vastly more renewable-energy generation but building a sophisticated infrastructure that offers a variety of options for energy distribution.

The technology will advance the development of plug-in hybrid vehicles, appliances and other devices that can both store energy and send it back to the power grid.

The ASU team’s role focuses on its expertise in power systems engineering, particularly the use of computers and semiconductors for operating power systems.

“We have to draw a blueprint for the kind of network needed to deliver and manage large-scale distributed renewable-energy resources,” Heydt explains.

“We will need to develop controls for power systems that can provide several routes for both delivering and redistributing power from clean-energy sources,” he says.

Such systems have the potential to reduce the need for transmission lines, and will likely be able to operate with smaller generation stations than necessitated by current power systems.

Golden says the project will enable ASU to further establish and expand its leadership in sustainable engineering and science.

“We will be addressing the complex system interactions involved in creating and implementing a sustainable energy future,” Golden says. “That means examining technological advances in light of their environmental, economic and social impacts on both a domestic and global scale.”

The $18 million grant to North Carolina State University and its partners, including ASU, is a five-year commitment that is renewable for an additional five years.

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