September 19, 2016

Department of Energy Grant Boosts Cornell’s Power Systems Research

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Cornell has been chosen to play a leading role in the push to update America’s crumbling infrastructure. Patricia A. Hoffman, the Assistant Secretary at the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability — a branch of the Department of Energy — announced in late August that Cornell was one of five universities chosen to receive a grant for research into how to  mend America’s beleaguered power systems.

An aspect of the Department of Energy’s Grid Modernization Initiative — which, on top of striving to make baseline improvements to the nation’s energy grid also seeks to make the system more open to renewable energy sources and energy efficient structures — the grant totals $1.8 million to be split between the schools.

Alison Kennedy, senior advisor at the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, summed up the GMI as “a comprehensive DOE effort to help shape the future of our nation’s electric grid and solve the challenges of integrating conventional and renewable sources with energy storage and smart buildings, while ensuring that the grid is resilient and secure to withstand growing cyber security and climate challenges.”

As stated in 2015’s Quadrennial Technology Review — a report on the nation’s energy needs produced by the DOE — recent natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy have made the need for an updated, more reliable and more responsive energy grid all the more prescience.

Kennedy pointed to this need and numerous other problems currently facing America’s power systems.

“Factors include a changing generation mix, evolving consumer needs, and growing recognition of expectations for a resilient and responsive grid in face of natural, or man-made, events,” he said.

He also mentioned other issues pointed out in the QTR, including the need for new manners of detecting failures in the system, as well as the adoption of smart grid technologies.

OE oversees many of the DOE’s ongoing power-related projects with a host of partners.

“DOE in partnership with universities, states, industry and other stakeholders is helping to shape the future of the power systems,” Kennedy said. “The Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability has primary responsibility within DOE for this effort.”

Cornell’s project, which was chosen after submitting a proposal in the OE’s competitive selection process, is entitled “Management of risk and uncertainty through optimized co-operation of transmission systems and microgrids with responsive loads.” The team, which received $360,000 of an estimated $450,680 project cost, will be working on microgrids and transmission, with a specific focus on storage, renewable sources, and efficient energy demand response.

Renewable sources of energy are less certain than conventional sources, like oil, and as such require updated systems that can respond to disruptions in production. This aim, too, will be a focus of Cornell’s project, as will the relationship between micro and macro-grids, helping make improvements to the energy system on both a large and small scale.

The project also seeks to address the concerns that helped spur the OE into action and produce the grant contest, in the first place. The devastating effects natural disasters can have on an ill equipped energy system are a primary focus of the project. Specifically, the Cornell team plans to analyze how low-voltage systems can smoothly react to response demands.

Research into power grid systems is nothing new to Cornell — the recent DOE grant is a small part in a long history of research into power systems. Home to the Cornell Energy Institute, Cornell’s engineering department is a founding member of the Power System Engineering Research Center, which, since its founding in 1996, has sought to modernize electric grids through research like that now being aided by the DOE grant.

Other grant winners are the University of California, Riverside, Iowa State University of Science and Technology, Clarkson University, and The University of Texas at Austin.