Dept. of Energy taps Penn State researchers to help modernize U.S. power grid |

Dept. of Energy taps Penn State researchers to help modernize U.S. power grid

Eric Felack | Tribune-Review
Penn State chosen to help modern the power grid

Penn State, University Park, announced Thursday it is one of 10 universities selected nationwide to work on a project for U.S. Department of Energy to modernize the nation’s power grid.

The Penn State team of researchers chosen for the DOE’s Grid Optimization Competition’s first challenge is led by Uday V. Shanbhag, the Gary and Sheila Bello Chair and professor in the Harold and Inge Marcus Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering.

“As the United States begins incorporating more renewable energy sources, there are some new and unique challenges that today’s infrastructure simply can’t handle,” Shanbhag said in a statement released by Penn State Friday.

DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy is heading up the project challenging researchers from universities and national laboratories to solve the fundamental issues facing the electricity infrastructure, while addressing the concerns that widespread renewable energy sources will introduce in the future.

“With a network as large as the U.S. power grid, the optimization problems we need to solve are incredibly large and complex,” Shanbhag said.

Not only does every power generation facility — including wind, solar, coal, nuclear, and hydroelectric sources — need to route their energy in a responsive, cost-conserving way, there are also an enormous number of contingencies that arise at a moment’s notice.

With the first round of funding, the teams are being challenged to design algorithms that address the next generation of security-constrained optimal power flow (OPF), essentially finding ways to provide electricity more quickly, efficiently, safely and reliably within the current grid. Distinct from past models, the new set of models are complicated by the need to model the flow of electricity, as governed by power flow equations, with much higher fidelity.

Using the mathematical principles of optimization, the software controlling the grid signals that a certain set of generators need to be “dispatched” to meet current demand. But if one of those generators fails, Shanbhag said, “Can the algorithm controlling the power grid take recourse and keep the lights on?”

“Providing for every contingency possible in a network like this, serving more than 65 million nodes, it’s a large and nasty problem,” Shanbhag said. “And it is one that has to be solved every ten minutes.”