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$5.5M grant helps map new trajectory for energy system grid

April 22, 2011

The Power Systems Energy Research Center (PSERC) has been awarded a $5.5 million grant from the Department of Energy to investigate requirements for a systematic transformation of today’s electric grid.

The future grid needs to support high penetrations of highly variable distributed energy resources mixed with large central generation sources, energy storage, and responsive users equipped with embedded intelligence and automation. These sustainable energy systems require more than improvements to the existing system; they require transformative changes in planning and operating electric power systems.

Vijay Vittal, director of PSERC and Ira A. Fulton Chair in Electrical Engineering at Arizona State University, is leading a multidisciplinary, multi-university team to investigate these challenges and to seek solutions to achieve the needed transformation.

“The effective transformation of the grid will require identification and solution of major operating, planning, workforce and economic challenges,” says Vittal. “Changes are already occurring to enable sustainable systems, particularly with the growing introduction of smart grid technologies. Research is still needed to make it possible to achieve much higher penetrations of wind, solar and other distributed generation resources economically, efficiently and reliably.”

To date, the energy system architecture has been a hierarchically-connected network with tightly synchronized energy resources. The envisioned system is going to be very different. It will be more complex, heterogeneous and dynamic. The operating environment will be more uncertain due in part to the variability of renewable energy production, to diverse and distributed operating objectives, and to greater reliance on customer responsiveness to maintain power system reliability.

PSERC will be investigating innovations in network architectures; planning approaches; operation, control and protection paradigms; computational and analysis challenges; carbon policy implications; customer response programs; and resilient cyber-physical systems. For example, tight synchronicity and balancing constraints may be relaxed through an architecture based on autonomous local energy clusters and microgrids that localize the quality standards.

The future grid will also rely on an IT infrastructure with underlying communications networks that will enable the physical network to closely interact and support the performance objectives of sustainable energy systems. Regional differences in energy resources and the legacy electric power grid will affect requirements for the future grid.

“We are leveraging existing digital technologies that can enable effective end-to-end adaptation of renewable resources into the electric grid system,” says Vittal. “PSERC researchers will use their knowledge of today’s operating and planning paradigms for electric power grids, as well as their knowledge of the technologies, and market systems, as the starting point for introducing new paradigms and transition strategies from today’s systems.”

PSERC will also develop educational resources to ensure that the existing and future power and energy engineering workforce can enable a high penetration of sustainable energy systems by envisioning the requirements of the future energy system; and designing, planning, manufacturing, building and operating the diverse energy systems.

PSERC expertise incorporates three major research stems critical to planning the transformation of the grid system: power systems, electricity markets, and transmission and distribution technologies. PSERC university partners have a long-standing history in power system research and education. They are located around the country: Arizona State, Carnegie Mellon, Colorado School of Mines, Cornell, Georgia Institute of Technology, Howard University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Iowa State, Texas A&M, Washington State, Wichita State, and University of Wisconsin-Madison.

PSERC was founded in 1996 and is currently supported by 36 industry and government partners.

More information about PSERC can be found at the center’s website.