FSU to partner in NSF-funded energy research center, national power-grid coalition

The Florida A&M University-Florida State University College of Engineering and FSU’s Center for Advanced Power Systems (CAPS) have been chosen by the National Science Foundation as partners in a new national research center that will work to revolutionize the nation’s power grid and speed the arrival of renewable electric-energy technologies into every home and business.

CAPS has also joined a prominent national coalition that seeks to transform the nation’s electric power systems. CAPS is now a member of the GridWise Alliance, a group of 69 leading companies and academic institutions whose goal is to combine their knowledge and innovation in an effort to increase the safety, reliability and capacity of the U.S. power grid.

“Energy is an urgent issue for our nation as well as globally,” said Ching-Jen “Marty” Chen, dean of the College of Engineering. “The college has worked to contribute to the solution of the energy crisis. This research center comes at the right time for the college to strengthen its research efforts to enhance sustainable energy and work on energy storage.”

The NSF’s Engineering Research Center (ERC) for Future Renewable Electric Energy Delivery and Management (FREEDM) Systems, to be headquartered at North Carolina State University, will partner with universities, industry and national laboratories from 28 states and nine countries. The center will be supported by an initial five-year, $18.5-million grant from the NSF, with an additional $10 million in institutional support and industry membership fees. More than 65 utility companies, electrical equipment manufacturers, alternative energy start-ups and other established and emerging firms have committed to joining this global partnership.

Steinar Dale
Steinar Dale

“We are very pleased to be part of this prestigious NSF-sponsored engineering research center,” said Steinar Dale, the director of CAPS and the FSU campus director for the ERC. “Our researchers will use the unique power-systems research, simulation and test facilities established at CAPS to contribute to core aspects of the research program at N.C. State. And researchers from the other university partners will come to FSU to utilize the real-time digital power-system simulator at CAPS and the power test facility to meet the objectives of the ERC.”

The new center will work to develop technologies to transform the nation’s century-old, centralized power grid into an alternative-energy-friendly “smart grid” that can easily store and distribute energy produced from solar panels, wind farms, fuel cells and other energy sources. This “Internet for energy” would enable millions of users to generate their energy from renewable sources and sell excess energy to the power companies. Researchers envision consumers using this “plug-and-play” system anytime, from anywhere.

“The center’s multidisciplinary and system-level approach is key for a successful integration of the various new component technologies into the next-generation power system,” said Mischa Steurer, senior scientist and principal investigator of power systems at CAPS. “The center’s cutting-edge research on individual subsystems such as renewable electrical power sources, ‘intelligent’ energy storage elements, smart grid controllers and advance system protection is necessary to enable all of the desired features of the next-generation power system and will allow the nation to migrate toward real independence from fossil fuels. Moreover, the integrated system approach is what makes this center so unique and what will eventually enable the long desired ‘plug-and-play’ functionality that guarantees a more flexible and resilient power grid of the future.”

Transforming the nation’s power grid is vitally important as alternative-energy technologies prepare to flood the marketplace. Center researchers foresee widespread adoption of plug-in hybrid cars over the next several years, for example, but today’s power grid would not be able to handle energy demand during peak charging times, such as when people return home from work in the evening. The smart grid developed at the center will also allow consumers to sell energy back to the power companies when demand is low, preparing the utilities for times when demand is greatest.

This new energy paradigm will speed the development of vehicles, appliances and other devices that can both store energy and send it to the grid. By merging advanced battery technology with windmills and solar collectors, the researchers will combine renewable energy production with electric energy storage in a network. The center’s energy storage research will focus on storage technology with longer life.

In addition to FSU, FAMU and N.C. State, researchers from Arizona State University, Missouri University of Science and Technology, RWTH Aachen University in Germany and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology will collaborate on the project. Industry partners supporting the research will work directly with the center’s faculty, students and unique facilities, speeding innovations developed at the center to the commercial marketplace.

Founded in 2003, the GridWise Alliance (www.gridwise.org) advocates a vision of an electric system that integrates the infrastructure, processes, devices, information and market structure so that energy can be generated, distributed and consumed more efficiently and cost-effectively. Its members include utilities, IT companies, equipment vendors, new technology providers and educational institutions.

According to Dale, “FSU CAPS’ resources will support the GridWise Alliance by helping to develop, analyze, demonstrate and ‘de-risk’ new technology and new approaches to power delivery.”