Duke Energy Smart Grid Laboratory

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Computers have come to the electric grid, and the Duke Energy Smart Grid laboratory at The William States Lee College of Engineering is educating the engineers who will be running this improved grid and performing research to achieve top efficiency in the new digital world.

The modernizing of the grid with digital devices is known as Smart Grid technology. This new technology is so important to improving grid efficiency that Duke Energy donated $1.8 million to help establish the Smart Grid Lab within the new Energy Production and Infrastructure Center (EPIC) building on the UNC Charlotte campus. Additional funding from the State of North Carolina for building space, equipment and infrastructure totals $1 million.

“Grid modernization is a cornerstone of the type of research we are doing in EPIC,” said Electrical and Computer Engineering Associate Professor Dr. Sukumar Kamalasadan, director of the Smart Grid Lab. “As such, we have been given a very beautiful corner location in the EPIC building to build our lab. It is a key spot in the building for demonstrating our research and educational programs.”

The lab is important to both undergraduate and graduate education. “We are teaching the next generation engineers to join the power industry,” Dr. Kamalasadan said. “This lab provides the learning environment to educate students to work in the smart grid world. We are also giving them the skills to be able to engineer and design the next-generation power grid.”

At the heart of the lab’s extensive equipment are the Real Time Digital Simulators (RTDS). “RTDS lets us work in real time,” Dr. Kamalasadan said. “We can pull in digital information about generation and transmission from multiple sources all at the same time and see how the system react during changing conditions. We can then experiment methodologies to make the power grid more efficient without putting the real grid at risk.”

Advanced research and educational activities is being done in the Smart Grid lab by the EPIC Power Grid Modernization Cluster. This interdisciplinary group is composed of several faculty members and their associated graduate and undergraduate students.

Grid modernizing research deals with digitized equipment, micro-processors and micro-computers based Intelligent Electronic Devices (IED) being added to grid infrastructure to make it more reliable and efficient. Researchers collect and analyze data on how these digital systems, along with renewable energy, peaking power, redistributed loads and other components impact the grid.

“We have a huge amount of resource space that allows us to collect and analyze all of the data being sent to us by multiple utilities,” Dr. Kamalasadan said. “With RTDS we can determine how changing grid variables impact overall systems, and we can then suggest strategic grid level improvements. Most importantly, the lab will also serve as a vehicle for education and training related to grid modernization and thus help build next generation power grid workforce”

In the near future the Smart Grid Lab will be integrated with additional power systems laboratories on the ground floor of EPIC. This connection with the five labs of the Duke Energy Power Suite will allow for even greater research, education and analysis of power generation capabilities and variables.

For more information on the Smart Grid Lab contact Dr. Kamalasadan.