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ASU, Washington State on team to map new trajectory for energy system grid

January 23, 2012

Editor's Note: Arizona State University men’s basketball will take on Washington State at 3 p.m., Jan. 28, in Tempe. ASU women’s basketball will play Washington at 2 p.m., in Seattle. Read more about ASU's collaborations with Pac-12 schools.

Arizona State University is leading a multidisciplinary, multi-university team to investigate requirements for a systematic transformation of today’s electric grid. One of the partners in the Power Systems Engineering Research Center (PSERC), headquartered at ASU, is Washington State University.

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.

Last spring PSERC was awarded a $5.5 million grant from the Department of Energy. Vijay Vittal, director of PSERC and Ira A. Fulton Chair in Electrical Engineering at ASU, is leading a team of researchers from 13 universities 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 will be more complex, heterogeneous and dynamic.

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.

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. The other Pac-12 university involved is the University of California, Berkeley.

Research projects associated with the future grid initiative are making excellent progress, according to Vittal. About 132 participants attended a one day workshop on Dec. 7 at University of California, Berkeley and provided feedback and comments.

Gerald Heydt, Regents' Professor and site director of PSERC at ASU, also is actively involved in the initiative and is a leader for the thrust entitled “Integrating Transmission and Distribution Engineering Eventualities.”