Syracuse University Magazine


Smart Grid Lab director Tomislav Bujanovic (left) and doctoral students Mohammad Mojdehi and Liwen Sun G'12 monitor a simulation on the lab's smart grid power system.

Photo by Steve Sartori

Powering the Future

In a corner of the Smart Grid Lab in Link Hall, electrical engineering and computer science (EECS) doctoral student Savit Vajpayee is in control of the sun and wind. With one click of a switch, he can simulate wind speed with a shoebox-sized generator to activate a turbine and produce power. A few steps away, he turns on a halogen light that rests above a photovoltaic cell. With adjustments to the light, he can create the conditions of a brilliant sunny morning, or even a gray Central New York winter afternoon, and determine how much solar power is generated. “We use the simulations to integrate these alternate power sources into the smart grid system here,” Vajpayee says. “It allows us to see how they work and how to use them in our day-to-day system.”

Through such simulations, students learn to control the sources, experiment with them, and determine how to optimize their positioning to efficiently generate quality power, says EECS research professor and Smart Grid Lab director Tomislav Bujanovic. “The idea is to provide energy to the grid,” he says. The simulations are components of the lab’s smart grid power system, a collection of sophisticated electronic equipment that serves as a model for a modernized electric power infrastructure. Another component, for instance, replicates a 300-kilometer transmission line. “Students can learn how to protect the grid from a fault in the system and make improvements,” says EECS doctoral student Mohammad Mojdehi. “They can see it on a computer here. Everything is in real time and can be controlled.”

With the Smart Grid Lab, the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science is well positioned to educate the next generation of power engineers, as well as assist current utility workers in updating their skills. The $400,000 lab was established as part of a $2.5 million stimulus grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) awarded in 2010 to a partnership of SU and five other New York colleges and universities. Working in collaboration with National Grid and other energy-sector businesses, the schools have established labs and infused their curricula with smart grid technology— advancements in such areas as communications, sensing and measurement, networking, and cyber-security designed to improve power generation and distribution and enhance energy monitoring, diagnostics, conservation, and consumption. “There are not enough people yet who can actually build or operate a smart grid,” says EECS department chair Chilukuri Mohan, the project’s principal investigator. “But we will get there.”

The lab also allows students to gain hands-on experience with analog and digital voltage control; explore smart home technology featuring a wireless energy management system; and experiment with synchrophasors, devices that synchronize real-time measurements of the voltages and currents along multiple points in a system’s transmission lines. In conjunction with the lab, educational offerings have expanded as well. The EECS department hosted a professional development workshop for energy-sector engineers this summer. Courses—including one on the integration of renewable energy sources into the grid—have been added, and an interactive audio-visual online course is in the works for next summer. “Our students are learning what we think the future will be,” EECS professor Prasanta Ghosh says.

As power companies begin to incorporate smart grid technology, one of the major concerns they face—aside from myriad regulatory and policy issues—is how to transition from the present infrastructure. “We have many ideas,” Bujanovic says. “The problem is the transition will be very expensive. It will happen step by step, but the system should be optimized.” The EECS students in the lab appear ready to help make that transition happen. “It’s interesting to learn so many different things that we’ll use as we head into the future,” says doctoral student McCleve Joseph G’13. Fellow doctoral student Liwen Sun G’12 agrees. “It will be exciting to take part in building up a big system that in the future everyone will be able to use,” he says. “It will be a very promising thing to do.”     —Jay Cox