Success in a pivotal year

Researcher in FREEDM lab

Year seven was an exciting one for the Future Renewable Electric Energy Delivery and Management (FREEDM) Systems Center led by NC State.

FREEDM, a National Science Foundation (NSF) Engineering Research Center (ERC) headquartered on Centennial Campus, received positive feedback from NSF during a spring site visit and learned that the center will be fully funded through year 10.

At the same time, a $1.5 million gift made by the Duke Energy Foundation will help establish an endowment to ensure FREEDM’s future sustainability. The center is also ready to deploy its smart-grid technologies for field testing.

The NSF established FREEDM in 2008 to develop technology that will seamlessly integrate distributed renewable sources and energy storage into the electric grid infrastructure. The addition of the Nanosystems Engineering Research Center for Advanced Self-Powered Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technologies (ASSIST) in 2012 made NC State the only university in the country to lead two ERCs at once and one of only two schools (along with Carnegie Mellon University) to be awarded the lead role in three.

The center’s ultimate goal is to create a power system in which electricity will be generated close to the loads and managed with a distributed control system that is responsive to price signals, customer preferences and situational considerations flowing both ways. Instead of the current system that is based on centralized generation and one way power flow that only allows electricity to move from a utility’s power plant into a home or business, electricity produced by a residential solar installation or a commercial wind farm would also be able to flow back into the grid or to a nearby community through the grid.

It’s a key part of moving the country from a centralized, static system to a smart, plug- and-play distributed generation system, giving us a more robust power infrastructure.

“Why is distributed generation good and important?” said FREEDM Director Dr. Iqbal Husain. “Because that is the way to improve the resiliency and reliability of the power system so we don’t plunge into blackouts or are not affected by accidents like the meltdown at Fukushima. With FREEDM technologies, a single point of failure will not cause widespread catastrophic effects.”

A major next step is the testing of a small version of a FREEDM system in the field, possibly at a Duke Energy facility later this year. There are also plans to deploy an energy cell developed by FREEDM researchers in a microgrid (a small power system that can run autonomously but is also connected to a larger energy grid) in the Dominican Republic.

Within that system are components that represent significant advances and can be used by power utilities today, including novel power transistor technologies that can help existing power converter technologies be more efficient and a solid state transformer that allows two-way power flow with improved power quality and efficiency.

“We have a vision for changing the world with this advanced electric distribution system, but then within this we have technologies that would enhance pieces of the power grid or could go into various other applications,” Husain said.


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