Renewable Energy Center

Power Grid

Creating a Smarter Electric Power Grid

Have you ever worried about not having electricity to turn on appliances or cook at home after a day of work? Do you worry about spoiled food in the refrigerator or freezer due to lack of electrical power. The fact is, we have a reliable electrical power system in this country; this allows us the luxury of using huge amounts of electric power each day to run our computers and household appliances. The energy control centers at the electric utility companies are manned by three groups of operators on a continuous basis to manage the operation and delivery of this power. Running these control centers is similar to flying an airplane: the exact state of the system at any given time must be known for smooth operation. These control centers have access to the major equipment of the system through a two-way communication scheme for remote monitoring and control. For example, the operators can increase or decrease a generator output, change the power flow over a transmission line, change the tap setting on a transformer, or drop a load under an abnormal operating condition. The planning engineers constantly carry out contingency studies to figure out what switching sequences are needed to restore power in case of an outage due to events such as equipment failure, weather and accidents. Also, we often forget that the type of electric energy that we use cannot be stored and generators must stand by to provide what we need as soon as we ask for it.

The actual electric grid is a very complicated large-scale system that is reaching its upper capacity limit. Economic, political and environmental rules and regulations at the state and national levels influence and control the addition of major electric utility equipment. Due to the limits of the current infrastructure, we have recently been pushing the use of renewable energy. Fortunately, our country receives abundant solar energy and is referred to as the “Saudi Arabia” of wind. This means that solar and wind generators run on free fuel and air pollution will not increase due to these new “green” generators. Furthermore, the use of electric vehicles could reduce our $700 billion per year dependence on foreign oil.

The major obstacle for the development of renewable energy resources is the lack of transmission systems for bringing the generated power to the load center. To sustain reliable operation of the system, we also need new infrastructures and smarter control paradigms. In addition, the recent proliferation of renewable energy applications is only sustainable through incorporation of advanced technologies which will increase the efficiency of systems monitoring and control.

The term “smart grid” evolved from the proposed Electrical Power Research Institute’s “Intelligrid” of the early 2000s. Smart grid means different things to different people. The power engineering community tends to classify smart grid applications into three subtopics of transmission, distribution and electrical machines/power electronic systems, and strives to make the operation, monitoring and control of each “smarter” than it is now.

The power transmission system, which is the backbone of the entire electrical system, is a large-scale interconnected network spanning Mexico, the United States and Canada. This network is governed by regional transmission organizations and independent system operators and also involves electrical energy wholesale markets. Under the smart grid umbrella, advanced technologies are currently being researched and applied for faster and better monitoring and control of the large interconnections, as well as reliable integration of large-scale -- hundreds of megawatts -- renewable power generation.

Power distribution systems can be considered as pockets in the transmission system serving industrial, governmental and residential customers. These are governed by local utilities. Smart grid applications in distribution systems include smarter metering technologies for efficient integration of distributed small-scale -- tens of kilowatts to hundreds of kilowatts -- renewable power generation applications, fair pricing mechanisms and remote monitoring and control of electrical power consumption.
Smart grid applications for electrical machinery consist of smarter interfacing and control schemes for electrical machines by using advanced power electronics circuits and microelectronics. The increased integration of large- and small-scale wind farms require research on advanced energy conversion, monitoring, and control units as well as invention of new efficient storage systems that compensate for the intermittency of photovoltaic and wind resources.

The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus bill allocates $4.4 billion toward the development of the smart grid. This provides a great opportunity in all three abovementioned aspects of smart grid enhancement and renewable energy research and development.

The Electrical & Biomedical Engineering Department (EBME) has been actively involved in power system and energy conversion research and teaching over the past 25 years. The department has 11 active courses in the power systems and renewable energy areas and offers a renewable energy engineering emphasis. This option is designed for students seeking a  bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering with an emphasis on renewable energy. The department recently hired two faculty members to further enhance its research and teaching activities in renewable energy applications in electrical engineering.

Current Research Projects:

  • A. Trzynadlowski, “Communication Enhancement in Power Electronic Systems Using Spectral Nulls,” National Science Foundation (NSF).
  • A. Trzynadlowski, “High-Efficiency Gearless Power Conversion Systems with Silent Permanent-Magnet Machines,” NSF.
  • C.Y. Evrenosoglu, M. Etezadi and T. Batchman, “Assessment of Alternative Energy Applications at the Nevada Department of Transportation,” Nevada Department of Transportation.
  • Kira Lay and C.Y. Evrenosoglu, “Integration of Renewable Energy Based Power Generation into the U.S. Grid: Benefit and Challenges,” NSF EPSCOR Undergraduate Research Program.
  • M. Etezadi, “Rapid Charge Electric Service Station,” NV Energy.
  • S. Fadali, M. Etezadi, “PV Grid Connected System for an Emergency Health Clinic,” NSF.

Current and Pending Funding

Current and Pending Funding