Engineers Receive $2.9 Million to Transform Power Distribution on the Grid
San Diego, Calif. Oct. 27, 2016 -- A team of researchers from the University of California San Diego and the University of Illinois has been awarded a $2.88 million grant by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), a government agency that advances high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that are too early for private-sector investment. The researchers, led by Professor Sonia Martinez from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UC San Diego, will develop methods that are poised to transform the way electric power is distributed on the grid.
The three-year project is focused on how to distribute energy resources generated by a wide range of sources, including solar panels, batteries and more to commercial, industrial and residential users. The key to solving this problem is sophisticated control algorithms, architectures and software, Martinez said. The researchers will test these on a hardware test bed at the University of Illinois.
The research will help utilities meet federal and state requirements that require them to incorporate an increasing amount of renewable resources in their portfolio. For example, California requires all its state-regulated utilities to get 33 percent of their energy from renewables, such as wind, solar and hydroelectricity by 2020 and 50 percent by 2030.
The system the researchers are designing would use an intermediate layer of aggregators with control over a portfolio of customers. The aggregators would act on the customer’s behalf while also responding to requests from large-scale utilities and operators.
Researchers will design decentralized algorithms that will make this system easier to manage. The UC San Diego team includes Martinez, mechanical engineering professor Jorge Cortes, computer science professor Tajana Simunic Rosing and electrical engineer William Torre. They will focus on developing the control algorithms; determine which software architectures best support the project; and create power grid simulations. Bryon Washom, the campus’s director of strategic energy initiatives at UC San Diego, will help the effort of bringing the technology to market.
One of the researchers’ goals is to make sure that customers retain the freedom to control energy usage in their home while still providing energy to the grid.