February 25, 2013

Building a smarter power grid

By adcomweb

Endowed professorship fuels UW’s research in smart grid technology

Kirschen headshot

UW Professor Daniel Kirschen

Imagine a future where drivers all around the Puget Sound plug in their electric cars at night to be recharged by clean, renewable solar and wind energy. But with thousands of drivers plugging in around the same time, the electrical power grid could be overwhelmed. Unless, that is, we can develop a power grid that is smarter than the one we have today—able to adjust to the fluctuations of supply and demand in a way that is invisible, inexpensive and green.

That’s the challenge that UW Professor Daniel Kirschen and his team are working to solve in the UW’s Renewable Energy Analysis Lab (REAL).

REAL’s development of smart grid technology is at the heart of Daniel’s work as the inaugural Donald W. and Ruth Mary Close Endowed Professorship in Electrical Engineering, created by a generous gift from two UW alumni. The smart grid will use computer algorithms to direct a subtle ebb and flow of electricity over the existing power grid of electrical transmission lines and generating stations. Think of it as the Internet brought to our electric system.

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Support smart research like Daniel’s by contributing to the Donald W. and Ruth Mary Close Endowed Professorship in Electrical Engineering Fund.

“It’s a lot cheaper to do things with ‘smarts’—with computing technology—than with traditional power technologies that involve a lot of steel, copper and concrete,” Daniel says.

Faculty, postdoctoral and graduate students at REAL are looking for solutions that will meet increased demand while incorporating sources of energy, like solar and wind, which are as unpredictable as the weather. The lab’s research innovation has attracted funding from the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.

The lab’s growing prominence and increased federal funding was sparked by a local gift. The endowment was established by two true purple Huskies, Donald and Ruth Mary Close. Their professorship supports REAL, and helped the UW recruit Daniel from the University of Manchester (UK), where he was professor of electrical energy systems and head of the Electrical Energy and Power Systems research group for 16 years.

Don Close received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the UW in 1937 and went on to found his own electric contracting business with special expertise in unusual or technically complex projects. Ruth Mary Close received her degree in accounting in 1938.

After Don passed away in 2006, Ruth Mary fulfilled his commitment to establish an endowed professorship. They hoped to foster the Department of Electrical Engineering as a powerhouse in advancing renewable energy. And the couple wanted to enhance the UW’s ability to attract and retain stellar faculty with a research focus on electrical energy.

Recently, Ruth Mary had the chance to zip around Mercer Island in a Tesla Electric Car – the same kind of vehicle that will be plugging into the smart grid Daniel and his researchers are creating.

Ruth Mary thinks Don would have been ecstatic to see the progress being made at the UW. “Because he had a keen interest in energy efficiency, he would be very pleased to see the commitment from his alma mater to lead in this arena,” she says.

Ruth Mary Close with Electrical Engineering faculty members David Allstot, Leung Tsang and Mohamed El-Sharkawi (left  to right).

Ruth Mary Close with Electrical Engineering faculty members David Allstot, Leung Tsang and Mohamed El-Sharkawi (left to right).

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