Creative energy: In new building, microgrid lab will spark practical solutions

Posted on 20. Apr, 2012 by in Academic Departments, Economic Impact, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Energy Independence, Issues, Research, Spring: Magazine

Wisconsin Energy Institute building exterior, under construction

The new microgrid is being built into specialized high-bay lab space at the Wisconsin Energy Institute (WEI), which is slated for completion in early 2013. A facility that will obtain LEED certification, the WEI building features an open atrium that brings in natural light and serves as a meeting place for energy researchers from around the UW-Madison campus.

When the Wisconsin Energy Institute building opens on the UW-Madison campus in early 2013, it will include a high-power microgrid that will combine real and simulated power sources capable of reproducing the inherent technical challenges associated with intermittent energy sources. “We want to be able to create all of the different operating conditions that are associated with renewable energy sources, including high- and low-wind days, bright sunlight and overcast skies, to develop improved techniques that will enable microgrids to adapt more naturally to these fluctuations,” says Grainger Professor of Power Electronics and Electrical Machines Thomas Jahns.

Microgrids are distributed generation systems that are designed to operate as self-contained local electrical power grids with a combination of sources and loads. They can operate equally well when they are connected to or disconnected from the utility grid, often incorporating on-site renewable energy sources such as wind turbines and solar panels as well as electrical energy storage systems.

Microgrids can provide highly reliable power for commercial buildings, residential neighborhoods and factories, with flexible capabilities that include the ability to export excess power to the grid and operate independently as “islands” when utility blackouts occur. Microgrid research will be a major early focus of the Center for Renewable Energy Systems (CRES), an initiative that aims to help corporate partners explore applications in the fast-growing microgrid industry. Jahns is CRES research director.

The sister organization to the Wisconsin Energy Research Consortium, which directs sponsored research with companies and government agencies, CRES is a synergistic partnership combining the knowledge and skills of the extensive community of energy, power and control researchers with world-class laboratories at Wisconsin’s four largest research engineering schools: UW-Milwaukee, UW-Madison, Marquette University and the Milwaukee School of Engineering.

CRES will take on applied R&D projects with individual companies or groups of partnered companies that are interested in commercializing the technology.
WERC and CRES together seek to stimulate both scientific discoveries and technology innovations that will lead to new products and processes, positioning Wisconsin as a nationally recognized hub for energy, power and controls research. Until the Wisconsin Energy Institute opens, CRES researchers will use an existing lower-power R&D microgrid at UW-Madison to initiate CRES-supported projects.Bucky Badger head

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