Research & Innovation

Bringing Small-Scale Sustainable Energy Supplies onto the Grid

Stevens electrical and computer engineering researcher Lei Wu is helping create a better way to incorporate local sources of renewable energy into the large-scale power grid

As more and more individuals and communities install rooftop solar panels, backyard wind turbines and other sustainable energy solutions on a local level, the entry of more green energy options is great for the environment — and greatly challenging for the utilities that still have to maintain a viable power grid in this evolving landscape.

Stevens Institute of Technology is collaborating on a research project to find ways to effectively integrate these small-scale energy suppliers into the grid.

Funded by the Department of Energy (DOE) and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the three-year, $225,000 grant brings together Stevens, project lead Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Midcontinent Independent System Operator to study integrating distributed energy resources (DER) using advanced unit commitment models and DER aggregation methodologies.

The goal of the DOE grant is to form a viable strategy and mechanism to assist power system operators in integrating the growing volume of small-scale energy supplies into the grid so they can be used as effectively as the supplies from traditional large-scale power plants.

Lei WuLei Wu“FERC has recently required large-system operators to find a better way to integrate all these millions or even billions of small-scale energy generators,” explained Lei Wu, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Anson Wood Burchard Chair Professor who is leading the project work for Stevens. “Integrating these resources into the grid presents a huge computational challenge for the system operators who make decisions to prepare for demand and keep the energy flowing safely and smoothly.”

“We are working to address this challenge from a mathematical model and a computational point of view,” Wu said. “Eventually, we will build decision-making tools to support system operators.”

Additionally, the project will consider effective participation in the electricity power market to assess how these small-scale resources should be treated in a market of primarily large coal, gas, oil, nuclear and other power generators that energy providers are already equipped to deal with.

This research is a natural progression from Wu’s own interests.

“I study the development of power and energy systems and the potential technologies that can help our society reduce our carbon footprint,” said Wu, who joined Stevens in 2019. “This grant poses a pure, abstract problem that matches what interests people in real life.

This type of research is also closely related to the institutional priorities at Stevens, which has made energy resiliency and sustainability one of its strategic goals. In addition to installing solar panels and electric vehicle chargers on campus, in 2021 the university became New Jersey’s first college to voluntarily use renewable sources for 100% of its electricity needs.

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