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A major step toward the wiser use of energy

Rick Blum, director of the INE research cluster, said small power-distribution facilities known as microgrids could serve as useful prototypes of the larger smart grid.

Experts from companies seeking to streamline the generation and transmission of electric power gathered at Lehigh last week to help the university sharpen its focus on a critical new research endeavor.

Toward the Smart Grid,” a workshop held Jan. 20, drew more than 200 people, including leaders of utilities, businesses and engineering firms, and faculty and students.

The goal was to help Lehigh shape its new research cluster in Integrated Networks for Electricity (INE), which has chosen its theme as “Integrated Networks for Electrical, Information, and Financial Flows.”

The workshop featured five outside speakers and a panel discussion. Guests were welcomed by S. David Wu, dean of the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science.

Rick Blum, professor of electrical and computer engineering and INE cluster director, said the smart grid would integrate “sophisticated information technology” with the existing electrical grid.

Giving more power to consumers

This will make generating, transmitting and distributing electric power more efficient, more environmentally friendly and less expensive, Blum said, if a number of challenges are overcome.

Power generated by renewable power sources such as wind and solar, which are highly variable, must be integrated with power from carbon-based sources such as coal, oil and natural gas, he said. This requires new ways of storing electricity from renewable sources and pricing systems that reflect the variability of power.

Other challenges include cyber-security and developing systems that diagnose and correct disturbances and faults in real time.

The smart grid will match supply with demand more efficiently by determining when consumers need power and how much they need. Information on real-time electricity prices will be channeled to energy management controllers that help homeowners buy power when it is priced most cheaply.

This leveling effect will help utilities avoid costly periods of peak demand and even costlier outages like the 2003 Northeast Blackout, which caused $6 billion in damage and cut off power to 50 million people in the eastern U.S. and Canada.

Five invited speakers addressed the workshop. Anna Scaglione, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of California-Davis, discussed “Why Information Networks Can Pave the Way to Green Electricity.”

Timothy Mount, professor of applied economics and management at Cornell University, spoke on “Utopia Electric: Developing a Smart Grid that Customers Can Afford.”

Anjan Bose, director of the Power Systems Engineering Research Center at Washington State University, discussed “The Evolution of Control for the Smart Transmission Grid.”

Fred S. Roberts, director of the Command, Control and Interoperability Center for Advanced Data Analysis (CCICADA) at Rutgers University, discussed “Algorithmic Decision Theory and the Smart Grid.”

Jeffrey D. Taft, engineer and chief architect for Cisco Connected Energy Networks,” spoke on “Cisco and the Smart Grid.”

The panel discussion featured Hassan Farhangi, director of the Group for Advanced Information Technology at the British Columbia Institute of Technology; Ken Geisler, director of business strategy for Siemens Energy Inc.; Monique Rowtham-Kennedy, deputy general counsel for environment and installations for the U.S. Department of Defense; and Joe Callis, senior applied solutions engineer at PJM Interconnection.

The discussion was moderated by Martha Dodge, director of Lehigh’s Energy Systems Engineering Institute. The research projects of faculty and students were featured in a poster presentation.


Photos by Douglas Benedict

Story by Kurt Pfitzer

Posted on Tuesday, January 24, 2012

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